Yesterday there was a knock on my door. A frumpy woman with pink cheeks handed me a paper about Christ. It was actually not so much about Christ as it was about her church, where it was located, and how it had answers to life’s questions. Christ was there in the form of a soft, comforting portrait, and that was about it. I found it odd that the only people here excited about Easter were crackpots like this Jehovah’s Witness. Our culture has sucked Christ out of everything, so much so that respectable people think Easter is about painted eggs and soy-filled, chocolate bunnies. The left loves this because it undermines religion. The Republicans love it because it’s good for business. A reactionary, however, understands that a beautiful tradition is dying. I’m not even a Christian. I’m a crypto-Confucian, a Sunday Buddhist; I’m something Eastern hiding behind a Western man’s face. But I’ve always considered Christ to be universal: his message, his ethic, and his image belong in the West. America needs Easter more than Easter needs America.
Socialism is good at ruining a nation’s economy while capitalism is good at ruining a nation’s aesthetic. Like most people I love comfort too much, of course, to embrace something as hideous as Marxism, and so I must choose the lesser of two evils: the aesthetic will simply have to suffer. I will patiently ignore a countryside clogged with billboards, a bus stop covered with concert fliers, and an e-mail inbox overloaded with advertisements for extra flyer miles and penis pills. But I can only stomach so much of it.
Our culture had its rudder knocked completely off course when it shifted its focus from art to entertainment. The visual arts went from Raphael and Rembrandt to the Big Bang Theory. Literature went from Dostoevsky and Melville to the Amazing Spider-Man. Whatever love our culture once had for aesthetics has been spurned for tasteless kitsch.
Perhaps the best solution is not necessarily a drastic one, but rather, a humble reintroduction to the study of aesthetics. We have to train our children to respect aesthetics, to see the beauty in a thing, and to be able to analyze why they think it is beautiful. Their spines should tremble slightly in awe when they read a well-composed verse, not because the subject matter appeals to them, but because they can recognize the aesthetic genius that went into its composition. Their hairs should stand on end when they look at a photograph not because they find the content of it moving, but because they can see the underlying order, the kind of principles that differentiate a snapshot from a masterpiece. Perhaps then our culture will reject the spam mail and billboards not due to law, but because our people will have no tolerance for them. Then, as before, our culture will be able to rediscover what is beautiful.
You can read my latest essay, Henry’s Rabbit Hole and You, over at Social Matter.
Social Matter was kind enough to publish one of my articles. You can find it here. While you’re there, be sure to check out the hundreds of quality articles the magazine has published by other writers.