31 may. 2011

Theology and Aesthetics

Once anyone begins using aesthetic analogies to justify religious positions, all is lost. Aesthetics is the realm of the contingent, the subjective, the relative. Mozart, if he were alive, might hate Morton Feldman, but who cares? In aesthetics you can never appeal to a "higher authority" to settle a dispute. You can't go back to an authority figure or a scripture.

Religion is that way too, actually. The difference, though, is that theology arrogates to itself the realm of the non-contingent, the absolute. Its methods are just as relativistic, just as subjective, as aesthetics, but it pretends to concern itself with the truth. So the aesthetic comparison is the liberal's way out. It basically concedes that religion is just a form of aesthetics whose truth claims depend on contingent, arbitrary factors.

Debates about aesthetics are useful and fun because the participants no there is no theology behind these debates. They know that there are limits to how far you can go before you just have to throw up your hands and disagree. Even I know this, despite my embodiment of "Mayhew's Fallacy."

The other place where aesthetics come in handy is because, while we don't know quite what causes it, there is such a thing as religious experience. In other words, subjective feelings that people choose to call by this label. For a person devoid of such experience, aesthetics is the closest comparison at hand.

8 comentarios:

Clarissa dijo...

I think I missed the posts on Mayhew's Fallacy and there is no search function on this blog (which would be a great thing to have, by the way.) Could you give a link to them?

Jonathan dijo...

http://jonathanmayhew.blogspot.com/2011/05/mayhews-fallacy.html

Jonathan dijo...

Also, http://jonathanmayhew.blogspot.com/2004/08/mayhews-fallacy-at-unquiet-grave.html

Vance Maverick dijo...

(Clarissa, you know about site search in Google? If a simple search from google.com isn't narrow enough, you can add e.g. "site:jonathanmayhew.blogspot.com".)

Jonathan dijo...

In the upper lefthand corner of the blog I see a search box that works for me. That's how I find my own posts.

John dijo...

I've known a number of Christian ministers who demur from the non-contingent and the absolute. And my (limited, outsider's, amateur) understanding of mainstream Hinduism is that in that religion, the absolute isn't apprehensible by humans except through metaphor, image, and non-verbal (or, perhaps, non-rational) experience. In the words of the contemporary Indian writer Gita Mehta, "It is fortunate that the elaborate Hindu pantheon is really a dance routine only meant to hold your interest until you get over being stagestruck, and does not culminate in a Zeus or a Jehovah waiting to let you have it with a lightning rod for the crime of blasphemy." To me, the religions are metaphor systems for the vast and awesome Unknowable. (I probably picked up that line of thinking from Blake.)

mlle dijo...

But what if I wasn't interested in religion at all until the aesthetics of Madonna's Like a Prayer video?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSVbwwsLPqw

Enjoying your discussions on the subject of theology. ;)

Thomas dijo...

I would think (not knowing too much about it) that theology, as an academic discipline, never appeals to a "higher authority" in its investigation of what the deity wants, thinks, or is. One always appeals to "the evidence", often the scriptures (but in some traditions also a personal "questioning", etc.), and in so far as there is debate on issues (disagreement among scholars) the contingency of theological judgments is acknowledged.

A lot of work in aesthetics has to do with proving that Beauty has an independent existence. There are no doubts "constructivist" theologies.