Aesthetic Theology

What is Aesthetic Theology?
Aesthetics & Consciousness
Its Universal Nature
Theology & Aesthetics
Theology & Aesthetics Part 2
The Bible & Aesthetics
History of Aesthetics
Music and Theology
Science & Aesthetics
The Spirit & Architecture
Aesthetics & Education
Morality & Aesthetics
Aesthetics & Survival
Aesthetics in Action
Aesthetic Theology News
Aesthetic News Archive Links
Home site of Author, Stuart Gray

Do Aesthetics represent universal values?

Are Aesthetics sufficiently universal to help Theology be holistic and open to all cultures & open religions, or does (indeed should) exclusivity always reign in religion? Is the trend in religions and life in general an irreversible move towards fundamentalism?

Often we have the misconception of aesthetics as being relevant only to certain strata of society, or indeed to certain religions or denominations, even to such phenomena as say art, music or architecture. Often it appears as somehow historic or elitist, a by-product of life - as relevant to the few as football, fashion or television to the many. Rarely do we include nature, politics, morality, our interaction with each other and the world, or even how open we are to new ideas, especially in science and religion, and their holistic relevance to how we live our lives. When we dismiss aesthetics as elitist or irrelevant are we really aware that it is the left hemisphere of the brain guiding our decisions? Of course we would deny it!

Aesthetics have both an inner and outer way of speaking to us. Essentially they affect us at a deep level of our consciousness, creating an immediate sense of holistic well-being and understanding. Our subconscious somehow relates what we see or hear to all our other experiences. We are aware of the big picture, us and the object in a unifying way. There is an interconnection which satisfies, often producing a transporting “ah, yes” in which time falls away. We listen to Bach, for example. We are in the moment, our senses overwhelmed and transported onto another plane of existence by the beauty of expression, by the sheer intricacy of order and form conditioned by a grandeur of feeling beyond our comprehension.

That is the inner side. Aesthetics, however, does not give itself easily. In its outer manifestation, i.e. in the music, works of art, architecture, poetry etc. which we create it is a state of understanding to be achieved, yet it remains open to all of whatever creed, colour, or ability. It is a hard gift of creation, but as with all creation there are exceptions. Nature, i.e. God's creation, is perhaps the most easy to understand and to affect us all, the grandeur of a vista, the birth of a new born lamb. These are feelings universally felt by all humanity of whatever creed, colour, gender or race. It requires very little effort on our part, only awareness and acceptance.

Aesthetics - evolution at work. Yet most of our appreciation is the result of external hard work. The problem is that mysterious, indeed unquantifiable, yet inbuilt philosophy of the universe, evolution. Humanity does not and cannot stay still. It must always find new experiences, new ways of doing things, new inventions, new forms of relationships, even new religious experiences. This is where aesthetics outer revelation of itself requires effort. The more sophisticated we become, the more complex our aesthetic output. Consequently all the arts which humanity has produced require that we engage in the struggle not only to produce them, but also to understand them. This is not some esoteric process. From birth, for example, we struggled to speak and learn communication. Then we engaged in understanding and developing relationships, and when we reached the stage of education we struggled to learn to read and write, maths, history, physics, geography etc.. Life is one expanding compendium of attaining knowledge. Even on a daily basis we struggle to understand the latest technology, computers, mobile phones, twitter, networking etc.. It is a never ending process. The demands of time and the minutiae of coping with our increasingly complex physical existence govern both our attitudes and our reactions.

Understanding and developing our need for aesthetics has become lost in the need to obtain points for university, to obtain good employment, and enhance our surface lifestyle through product purchase of the latest technology or holiday. Consequently we are in danger of developing a humanity with, on a quasi educational basis, 'graduate' qualifications in our lifestyle and work environment, but with 'primary school' qualifications in understanding aesthetics.

For theology to be aesthetic it also must conform to universal principles. It needs to be as universal as nature, and as easily understood. It is, after all, our understanding of God's presence here on earth, available to all of whatever creed, colour, race or sex. It has to be understood by a child as well as an educated, sophisticated person, and with universal unfettered access. Here there is an obvious problem - how can you have an aesthetic theology capable of being understood by the 2 extremes? Simple. As in all life there are gradations of ability but governed by defined guiding principles which increase in complexity and understanding with experience. In music, for example, having learnt the basics one might learn to play a simple Bach minuet, and derive as much pleasure as someone playing a Beethoven sonata, such is our ability to understand at any given point of our evolution. The guided daubings of a child are as valuable to that child as the 'daubings' on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Both are steps along the way, as is, I believe, the belief in Father Christmas, the bringer of gifts.

The problem with Church Theology is twofold, lack of any evolutionary principle and too left hemisphere based. First it does not have a graduated system of teaching. Instead it has developed a rigid system of belief based largely on 4th century philosophy: all humanity has sinned starting with Adam: humanity cannot do anything to reconcile itself to God: therefore Jesus died on the cross to redeem humanity by paying for the sins of all humanity; belief, reconciliation and salvation comes only through being baptised and participating in the sacraments which are the sole province of those ordained by the Church. In so doing, this dependence on words and left hemispherical logic deduced from them has caused it to move away from its holistic, universal beginnings. Further, this rigidity has caused it to view all historic documents, particularly the Hebrew Bible, not as an unfolding cultural history of humanity's evolutionary search for the Divine, but as a relevant modern document. (For a greater explanation please see Aesthetics and the Bible). Second, which is the properly authorised Church? There must be 100s which claim this 'gift'! Hence Christianity, in all its manifestations, has developed ever increasing sets of rules and regulations to cope with this, i.e. a true 21st century representation of left hemisphere thinking where 'logical' thinking and its need for organisation of minutiae predominates and the overall holistic picture is lost.

For a solution in Christianity we need a return to universal and holistic basics. Jesus was faced with a similar situation we find in Christianity, an excessive dependence on rules and regulations. His right hemisphere approach was simple and overwhelming. First, love God and then love your fellow human being. He made no distinction between race, religion, or even politics. It was, no - is a message capable of being understood and practised by all, by the child learning about human relationships as much as by the sophisticated seeking to deepen their spiritual dimension by the appreciation of music, art, architecture, nature or poetry. Equally his message implied a never ending journey of discovery of what it was to be human. Loving God, for example, demands forms of meditation and understanding which have no beginning or ending. Overall it was an holistic approach to life seen, not through logic, words or organisation, but through individual acceptance of responsibility and striving.