Rejection and Detachment


Once again Disputations provides some excellent food for thought. Would that my thoughts were so good as the food that engenders them. Nevertheless, please accept these meagre ruminations for what they are--a kind of riff spun off a more substantial discussion.

The excerpt that caused this spin-off:

(from Disputations)

But there's nothing in this model of the intellect that requires the concepts to be concepts relating to beauty. They can be concepts related to race, or to risk, or to toxicity. An absolute mistrust of perceivable beauty -- of that which is beautiful -- amounts to an absolute mistrust of perceivable creation, which ought to be unthinkable for a Christian. There is no barb in beauty, unless the Author of Beauty placed it there.

It may be, though, that a mistrust of the human intellect, a recognition of the frequency with which it makes mistakes regarding beauty, is expressed as what might be called a prudential mistrust of beauty. If we can't make the intellect work better, we can at least avoid giving it things it works poorly on.

What occurred to me, and what I started to spell out in the comments there is that there is another form of distrust of beauty that occurs in religious circles. That form might be called the seduction of beauty.

The chain of reason goes something like this. To become more like God, we are called to detachment. Detachment is difficult enough in itself, and far more difficult when the good we are attached to is beautiful, therefore as a step in detachment, we must reject what is beautiful even though it might be good because we are held bound by it.

The response to this is multiple. First, detachment is the means to an end, not an end in itself. It is the path travelled, and frankly may be only one of many such paths to travel, whose destination is intimacy with God. To treat detachment as an end is to the miss the point, and to align all things in life to achieve an end which is only a means redefines the means as an end equal to the true end. That's a complicated way of saying that if you do this you are missing the point of detachment.

What I didn't say in my comment, and what is by far the more subtle error in this type of reasoning is that when one does this one has become attached to the idea of rejection. That is, we substitute attachment to a real thing (one that grace can more readily conquer) for attachment to an idea or an ideal (a far more hazardous and difficult a barrier).

If, as a Christian, you think you are being called to reject the beauty and goodness of God's creation my best advice to you would be to seek out a wise spiritual advisor to help you discern what is really going on. God did not put all of the beauty He has on the Earth to be ignored. Detachment from that beauty does not mean rejection of it or lack of recognition of it. There may be some beauty that we are called to prudentially restrain our interest in. (For most males I know, the beauty of the female form is something like this.) Nevertheless, what a miserable and small place the world would be if we did not recognize and relish this beauty as is licit and correct.

So my only real response is that it is a distorted understanding of detachment to suggest that it would require rejection of beauty. (And let me make explicitly clear, this was in no way implied by what Tom wrote--but I respond to what he writes as the person I am and express the interests that I have.) Now, it is possible that particular vulnerability to a type of beauty (aforementioned feminine pulchritude) may prudentially require not so much a rejection but a careful screening of such beauty (If thine right eye offend thee, pluck it out.) But it would be nonsense, and dangerous nonsense, to claim that what is good and truly beautiful is not so. It would be equally dangerous to reject all of God's beauty because some part of it particularly appeals, or because a distortion in our own view and character makes of the object of beauty an object of temptation.

In short, detachment does not require rejection of beauty. In fact, to be able to even consider attachment, immersion in the beauty of the world seems a salutary thing. You would come to realize that you cannot own it, hold on to it, keep it, or even remember it as lovely as it is outside of the moment. It teaches you to appreciate the good things of God and to let them go freely, always knowing that God's goodness ever exceeds His goodness as we come to know and love Him.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 25, 2005 2:48 PM.

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