If you ever want to get me fired up about a topic, tell me that you think Christian media is good.
The movies are sub-par at best. The music is repetitive and most often lackluster. The books are extremely limited and the writing poor. The theology is often shallow and/or wrong, but we will still buy up every feel-good devotional, t-shirt, and bumper-sticker that supports our team. Did I say team? I meant religion.
Does this set the tone for how I feel? Good.
But why is it so bad?
There was a time when Christians defined Art. They painted, drew, sculpted, wrote, and while most of it depicted narratives or themes from the Bible, that wasn’t what made it great. It was just good art because of its quality. I haven’t seen a time like this in my lifetime, and I doubt I’ll see it again.
But there is Good art out there, and the Christian community tends to ignore it because of its overwhelming desire for something to hold the label of Christian.
Let’s start by establishing what is Good and what isn’t.
If you believe that mankind is made in God’s image and likeness, then it follows that we are reflections of our maker, albeit messed up ones. At the same time, the things we create also bear our image in a sense. Whether it be a painting or a poem, the author or artist reflects part of themselves in their work. This is why Dante Alighieri refers to art in Inferno, Canto XI, as the Grand-child of God. We represent God in a sense, and our creation represents us. So art in itself is to be held in high-regard, for it is a creative expression of God’s power seen in man.
It was interesting times in the days of 700-900 A.D. when Christian artwork was destroyed and outlawed. Not by enemies of the Church mind you, but by the Christian, Byzantine Empire. Their fear was that if you depicted any religious image, specifically for Jesus Christ or God, it would become an idol that removed your attention from the real thing, instead of an aid to help you to focus on what the object represents.
This happens again, in a less extreme manner with the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. Again, the fear was the same: that the icon would become an idol. But their fears weren’t without warrant. The modern Church makes Jesus and God to be the idol they hear in the worship song, or see in the movie. Too often God is limited to an American, Conservative, Christian God, or a Liberal, counter-cultural, pacifist Jesus. We box in who they are, and make ourselves idols out of the media we see them in. This isn’t to say that Christian media shouldn’t be allowed to depict God, but it also means that Christians don’t get to keep God as an exclusive commodity, and should be reminded that God is bigger than Christianity. You can paint picture of God all you want, just don’t believe that what you think God looks like, is how He actually is.
So the destruction of Art is bad, but the construction of God is worse. Then it’s idolatry. Then what is good?
Have you ever seen someone who was beautiful? Regardless of your opinion, they were just eye-catchingly attractive to look at. Maybe it’s Matt Bomer’s eyes, or Natalie Dormer’s smile, just someone who everyone can agree is beautiful.
You’ve probably also seen someone who is ugly. Try to be as sensitive as you want on this one, but at least admit it: there are ugly people out there.
There might be things you prefer, like hair or eye color, but you and everyone else can agree that this person is objectively good-looking, and the other is not.
Or how about paintings? Let’s say you go to an art museum, and you see the great pieces they have strung up on the walls. Sure, there might be some Andy Warhol pieces, but there are also some Van Gogh’s and some Vermeer’s. Eventually you find a piece of paper lying on the ground and you pick it up. It’s some child’s drawing of stick figures using the classic medium of crayon to express himself. You look at the scribbles you found on the ground and then you look at the paintings on the walls. Which one is better? This isn’t a trick question. It’s the paintings on the wall. Even if you don’t like Andy Warhol, the Tomato Soup can is still light years ahead of whatever that kid was drawing. Sure, the kid’s work might be good, but those artist’s work was more good.
I’m trying to say that there is objective beauty. There are things we can all agree are beautiful, and beauty is good.
But I won’t ignore the fact that there is Subjective goodness as well. We give value to the things we invest in. We find our significant other subjectively attractive despite the fact that they might not be the objectively most attractive person in the world. It’s not the objective level of beauty that makes that person have subjective value to you. They are special to you for insubstantial and incalculable reasons.
This is Subjective value in things that we give value to, and that can be good as well.
Anytime we create, in some part we are acting in the image of God and that is good. Even if it is a poor job, or doesn’t look beautiful, it is still good. Sometimes it’s a lot less good than others, and sometimes it’s really good compared to others. We usually refer to things of much less good as bad.
So there really isn’t bad art, just a not-so-good. Yes, there is art that can be used for evil, and yes there is ways that art can depict something evil, but the act of putting brush to canvas is still good.
P.S.- This is a series. There will be more.