The Beautiful


On one particular evening, the man invited some of his friends, who were still worshippers of Lord Smiley-Face, to hear an orchestra. His friends chatted happily before the performance began, and it seemed as if their accents had been affected by something, for they suddenly sounded slightly polished and nasal. Thankfully, they returned to normal after the concert.

The concert was masterfully executed by the musicians. The piece of music told its story, weaving through twists and turns, adding variation upon variation on the central theme. The composer never surrendered to the desire to create effects for their own sake, nor to be bombastic, obnoxious or sentimental. He did not tickle those who wanted their emotions tugged, nor did he reward lazy ears. He did not manipulate the hearer, but artfully drew him into the story, unfolding it layer by layer, building it layer by layer.

When it was over, the man invited his friends over to his home. He was desirous to hear their impressions.

They were smiling, as holy worshippers of Smiley-Face did.

“It was very impressive,” said one, sipping his coffee.

“I especially loved the part when the trumpets went pum-pa-pum-pum-pum,” said another, poorly mimicking the part in question.

“There really is depth to this music,” said a third, looking self-consciously serious, munching on a ginger cookie.

The others nodded, with solemn hums.

The man masked his disappointment with these responses and ventured what was on his heart.

Did you think it was beautiful?”

Of course, beautiful, beautiful,” they clucked, as if they had been asked if the sky were up or if the earth were round.

The man swallowed, and pushed on, half-sensing that the pleasantries of the evening were about to end.

“What do you mean when you say it was beautiful?”

They looked genuinely startled by the question, and shuffled uncomfortably. They glanced at each other. One let out a nervous laugh. “Well…what does anyone mean by that, eh? I mean, the eye of the beholder, and all that sort of thing, right?”

“Do you simply mean that the music was enjoyable to you?”

“Yes, exactly – enjoyable!” said one of the friends, his face displaying visible relief.

The man paused.

“Do you think some people would not enjoy it?”

“Well… sure.” They began to look suspiciously at the man, wondering where this was going. “This kind of music isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, you know!” said the loudest one of the group.

The man waited a moment and pressed on.

“If some did not enjoy it, and you say that enjoyment is the essence of beauty, then perhaps the performance was not beautiful.”

Not beautiful for them, you mean,” said one friend, happy to know he had spotted the error in the man’s thinking. “Beauty is a matter of personal taste,” he said, looking momentarily philosophic.

“In that case, the music and its performance are not beautiful in any real way. Beauty is simply the feeling of pleasure that some people have when they hear it.”

The momentary silence betrayed the fact that his friends were in uncharted intellectual territory.

And then they broke into a simultaneous chorus of “I wouldn’t put it that way” and “not exactly” and “that’s not what we’re saying”.

Finally one spoke for them all. “The music is beautiful. But not everyone appreciates this kind of thing. We’re all different.” He didn’t seem to realise that he hadn’t answered the man, or said anything different.

The man knew his friends were running out of patience, but he hoped for a breakthrough. He prayed inwardly, and began speaking quietly, and directly.

“The way I see it, there are only two options to choose from. The first is that the music is not beautiful in reality. When it is heard, different minds react to its otherwise meaningless form to produce pleasure or disdain. When those who like it call it ‘beautiful’, they are actually referencing their own psychological event of pleasure.”

His friends seemed to be listening, their eyes occasionally darting to each other and back to the man.

“The other is that the music is beautiful in itself. It approximates the Beautiful, that is, what is beautiful in God’s mind. Since man has been created to love beauty, when some people love what is beautiful, and others dislike it, it is a reflection on their own ordered or warped souls. The different reactions are not random reactions, but good hearts loving what is good, and bad hearts hating it because it is good.”

The last statement set the cat amongst the pigeons. Violent head-shaking and verbal negations followed. They seemed to be climbing over each other’s sentences to respond. One emerged on top of the others. “Are you trying to say that the people who didn’t like tonight’s performance are evil?” he demanded, his voice rising to a near-shriek on the last word.

The man waited to answer, and deliberately lowered his voice.

“There could be good reasons for not liking the music tonight. You could find fault with the musicians’ execution of the piece. You could hypothetically fault the composer for music that was unsymmetrical, disorderly, unimaginative, juvenile, or even lawless. But that would be another way of saying it was not beautiful. Which would be saying that it did not honour God and the reality which art is supposed to portray. If the music was false in its portrayal of reality, then those who love truth should dislike it. If the music was not beautiful in its use of musical symbols, then those who love beauty should dislike it. But if it was beautiful, then it truly would be wrong to dislike it.”

So, you’re saying it would be a sin to dislike the music we heard tonight?” asked one, sounding like a journalist.

“I’m saying it is a sin to hate what God loves, and it is holy to love what He loves.”

And how do you know if God loved the music tonight?”, asked one in a tone that suggested she wanted to poke a bony finger into his chest.

The man scanned the faces of his friends, and then dropped his gaze, looking at his shoes with sadness.

“I’d hoped that a group of God-lovers would agree on that very point.”


One Response to “The Beautiful”

  1. A parable on beauty | Religious Affections Ministries Says:

    […] parable on beautyScott Aniol David DeBruyn writes […]

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