In my recent article “Listen to Your Feelings“, I discussed the often overlooked relationship between beauty and virtue:
…it is through an emotional attraction to beauty that we are motivated to make moral judgments and to order our lives according to transcendent realities. Through the sense of beauty we are moved out of indifference to become emotionally invested in pursuing one outcome rather than another. For example, when Eve succumbed to the temptation to disobey God (Gen. 3:6), it was because the beauty of the tree and its effects (“pleasant to the eyes… desirable to make one wise”) captured her imagination with greater force than the beauty of remaining faithful to the will of God. That example might lead us to disparage the role of beauty in moral decision-making, and yet the same principle also works in the other direction as the Holy Spirit sanctifies our feelings and imaginations. Through a sense of Christ’s beauty, we become emotionally invested in following Him. For example, when we observe character traits in Bible characters and saints that are worthy of emulation, when we identify certain things as honorable or shameful, when our praise of God is rooted in heart-felt admiration, or when we order our actions based on a longing for outcomes that lie outside the scope of the present life but which are attractive to our imagination—all these things partly arise from a sense of “the beauty of holiness.” (Ps. 96:9) A rightly-ordered sense of beauty is thus central to the moral imagination of the believer.
In C.S. Lewis’s book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, there is a fascinating dialogue that happens after the company from Narnia voyage to an island at the beginning of the end of the world. The Narnians meet a star named Ramandu, who dwells on the island with his beautiful daughter.
When the company are told that Ramandu is “a retired star”, Edmund announces, “In our world a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”
Ramandu replies: “Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.”
That’s an important distinction. What a thing is made of is not always the same as what a thing actually is.
The Brain-Plasticity Revolution
I thought of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader last week when I came across an intriguing article by Dr. Michael Merzenich, one of the leading pioneers in the burgeoning field of neuroplasticity.
One of my favorite movies is the 2002 science fiction film Equilibrium. Written and directed by Kurt Wimme, the film is set in a future society called Libria. In Libria it is against the law to feel.
The main character of the film, John Preston (played by Christian Bale) is a law enforcement officer tasked with destroying objects that could incite emotion, including art, poetry and classical music. He is also required to kill rebels, known as “Sense Offenders”, who choose to experience illegal emotions.
The citizens of Libria have been brainwashed to believe that feelings are the cause of war, suffering and conflict. Accordingly, the citizens willingly participate in their own enslavement by taking a daily injection of a drug, known as Prozium II, which suppresses all emotion.
One day, when Preston accidently misses his dose of Prozium II, he gradually begins to be awakened to beauty through works of art he was hired to destroy. Gradually he begins questioning the disordered sense of morality that had previously motivated his actions. Using his skills in martial arts, Preston works to overthrow the leader of the police state and assist the rebels in restoring human emotion to society.
This post was originally published back in April, but I am reposting it after adding some more information on Stoicism and adding footnotes to the source material used in my research.
Ryan and Claire came from very different backgrounds. When Claire was growing up, she lived in constant fear of making her father angry. To the outside world, Claire and her six siblings appeared the very model of well-behaved children. In fact, once they were even featured on the cover a homeschool magazine. However, few people knew what life was really like for them—how their father would fly off the handle at the slightest provocation and how all the children lived in fear of making him upset. Claire developed a habit of keeping her deepest thoughts and feelings bottled up inside, sometimes even hidden from herself. As an adult, Claire was terrified of conflict and tended always to say what she thought the other person wanted to hear instead of expression what she really felt.
Readers occasionally approach me with requests for links to the articles I wrote for the Chuck Colson Center. From 2011 to 2014, I maintained columns at the Center, usually supplying three articles a month. These articles endeavored to apply the Christian worldview to areas that included art, music, culture, philosophy, relationships and theology.
Earlier this year the Center had to migrate their content over to a new server, and unfortunately they had a limited amount of time in which to do so. Lots of archives were lost during this process, including all of my articles. A number of readers have been asking if there is any way they can access these articles, especially my 7-part series on Nominalism. My response has always been, “Sorry, they’re lost.”
A couple days ago I found an external hardrive in one of my drawers that had a complete set of all my Colson Center articles as Word documents. Over the next few days I will be endeavoring to upload these articles to this blog, retroactively dating them to the time they were originally published. When this process is complete (be patient and give me to the end of the week), you should be able to access all the articles via this portal. I can’t promise that all the internal links (links within articles to other articles) will work, but over time I hope to update all the URLs.
Oh, and by the way, the reason I stopped writing for the Colson Center was purely practical – we did not have a falling out, nor did they become suspicious of me following my conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy in 2013. I remain on good terms with the people at the Center. However, in 2014 I was swamped with graduate work at King’s College London and was not able to maintain such an intense writing schedule. A couple years later when I was in a position to resume the column, the Center was no longer able to pay their authors. Meanwhile, as my professional interests shifted to other areas, I found that this blog provided the best outlet for my ongoing reflections on key issues.
Anyway, here is the link. As I get articles uploaded, I will change the title in the list to bold.
Complete List of my Colson Center Articles