Art and Atheism

I don’t envy the Atheist, for he lives in a world of which he can only explain one half. The other half he can only guess at. By the other half, I mean all the things which are not explained by science: Morality, Happiness, Love, Religion, Art, etc. Of course, the Atheist has explanations for all these things, but none of them are really satisfactory. The animals get along fine without them; why shouldn’t we? That is a difficult question for the atheist.

But it is a question we need to ask. In the cold and cruel universe of atheism, all these things would make life more inconvenient and less efficient. They certainly do not make it simpler. The orangutan never asks why he exists, and so he doesn’t commit suicide when he gets no answer. He also doesn’t build a cathedral when he does. All these human things contradict the machinery of evolutionary efficiency. They should not be. Art is one example that is worth considering.

Animals are not artists. If the lion developed a sudden artistic attachment to its prey, we would hardly call it an advancement. We certainly wouldn’t call it efficient. Lionic poetry about the leaping grace of gazelles would not contribute to the evolution of more advanced and efficient lions. Lions are efficient because they don’t romanticize gazelles–they eat them.

It is the difference between utility and beauty that is the insurmountable gulf between animals and man. It is conceivable that an animal could learn to use tools to survive. But it is inconceivable that an animal would decorate its tools until they were unusable. It is perfectly efficient and reasonable for an ape to turn a rock into a tool for cracking nuts. It is inefficient to the point of insanity for an ape to turn a rock into Ulm Cathedral.

Art is not useful. It contributes nothing to the evolutionary process. Utilitarian beauty was a brief Victorian mood, but the fact remains that useful art is a contradiction in terms. A Ming vase may be perfectly suited to hold trash, but the idea of actually using it as a wastebasket is appalling. Some things are too beautiful to use, and this fact is proved by the existence of museums.

That art is wasteful and impractical is almost too obvious to mention, but this lack of utility is an enigma from an evolutionary perspective. Even if an ape could have evolved the intelligence to build a house, it would have never evolved the desire to decorate it. Art is something larger than reason and utility.

I’ve said until this point that art is useless, but that’s not exactly true. It is only true from a naturalistic perspective–not from a super-natural perspective. There is a use for art that can only be explained by spirit: Art is the language of living souls. It is the attempt of one spirit to express to another the inexpressible nature of things–to say something beyond words. Realistic art has never been very popular because the point of art is not to be realistic. Why reproduce what we can see with our eyes? Art is often exaggerated because it is what we cannot see, but still know, that art tries to capture.

The atheist might say the purpose of art is to make the world mean something. This is true, but the most reasonable explanation for it is that the world does mean something. We do not create art to invent meaning that isn’t there; we create art because we know meaning is there. All art and music and poetry are simply attempts to remember what the world means.

Back of everything that is, we can sense the purpose of an unseen Will, the breathing of a tremendous Life. We feel Its power as certainly as we feel we are alive, and the sensation is both strange and vaguely familiar. It is familiar because it is the echo of a distant memory. It is strange because we should not have forgotten it.

The insane sublimity of art is simply the striving of the soul to remember and to name this sense. It is the attempt to recall and remake the wonder and innocence of a home long forgotten, and the name of its Maker. It is the struggle to recover the glory and grace of a Garden, a place with two rivers and two trees at the very heart of the world–a place where a man could hear God walking in the cool of the day.

St. Augustine On the Nature of the Catholic Church

“We believe also in the holy Church, that is, the Catholic Church; for heretics violate the faith itself by a false opinion about God; schismatics, however, withdraw from fraternal love by hostile separations, although they believe the same things we do. Consequently, neither heretics nor schismatics belong to the Catholic Church; not heretics, because the Church loves God; and not schismatics, because the Church loves neighbor.”

St. Augustine, Faith and the Creed, 393 A.D.

You’re Doing What?

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his coming Easter, God willing, my wife and I will be received into Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church. For us, this will be a happy day, a joyous day—the culmination of a journey of many months, and for me, many years.

To many of our friends and family, however, this will not be a joyful day because they believe we are making a grave mistake. Likely, they think we have been somehow deceived or mislead, and sooner or later we will come to our senses.

Yet, now that it has come to it, I am more certain than ever that the Roman Catholic Church is Christ’s church, and that it is absurd for any Protestant sect or denomination to stand in judgement of this Church.

As I grew toward this decision, I began to realize that the Lord had been drawing me for many years—even since childhood. I began to “connect the dots” and to see a pattern of Catholic thinking beginning many years go. I hope to catalog this journey further in a future post.

But while many factors have led me to this point, I first consciously decided to look into the teachings of the Catholic Church when I began to question the claims and assumptions of Protestantism. I began to question things that I had always taken for granted—and I quickly realized that Protestantism made no sense.

Here are just a few of the questions I asked myself (there are many more):

How did we get the Bible?
From a working knowledge of Church history I knew there were many false gospels circulating in the early Church. Examples include the Gospel of James, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Peter. Many of these false gospels claimed to be apostolic in origin and to contain the truth about Jesus Christ. Yet, they contained teachings that were contrary to the Faith once delivered to the saints.

We know the Bible didn’t fall from the sky in leather bound ESV study Bible form. So who decided the Canon? Who had the kind of authority to definitely decide what gospels and other Scriptural books were canonical and which were non-canonical? What books did the early Church confirm as canonical? Are they the same books in the Protestant Bible? If the Protestant denominations had the same task today, would they be able to come to an agreement? Who would have the final say?

These and other questions raised doubts. It seemed that every Protestant I knew constantly appealed to Scripture (even to prove that Scripture was inspired) without ever asking where Scripture came from. The Bible was an assumption, a presupposition. Even renowned scholars such as R.C. Sproul could only answer that Scripture is a “fallible collection of infallible books.” Which raised many more questions.

Heresy? Orthodoxy? Says who?
Again, from Church history, I knew there have been and still are many heretics, claiming things such as Jesus isn’t fully God, Jesus isn’t fully man, there is no Trinity, there is no hell. Not to mention all the simply weird teachings out there generated by men like Harold Camping. All these people claim to be getting their beliefs from the same Bible.

Who’s to say their interpretation is wrong and heretical? Who’s to say what interpretation is right and orthodox? If Protestants truly believe and firmly hold to the idea that the ultimate interpreter of Scripture is the individual and his conscience, then Christianity becomes an interpretive free for all, and no one can be truly condemned as a heretic and outside of orthodox faith. In essence, there is no orthodox faith.

If the oneness Pentecostals interpret Scripture to say that there is no Trinity, they should be free to do that. If Rob Bell reads Scripture and is convinced by the “plain meaning” that there is no Hell, who’s to say he is wrong? There is no authoritative magisterium of the Church. Canons and councils and sacred tradition mean nothing. Only the individual interpretation matters? Right?

I found this concept incredibly disturbing and even impossible to sustain. The fact that Protestantism hasn’t decayed into more theological chaos than it has is only because Protestants (fortunately) don’t actually follow this belief. Everyone believes in interpreters. The Calvinists look to John Calvin, the Lutherans to Luther, the Wesleyans to Wesley, the Adventists to Ellen G. White. Each has their own teacher. All claim to look to the Bible alone for the truth, yet all come to different conclusions. It’s just a matter of which interpreters and which interpretive tradition one believes is correct and authoritative.

How is the Church really one?
As a Protestant, I had always believed that the Church was one spiritually, or invisibly, but not visibly. This is the common Protestant explanation for the unity of an obviously splintered and fractious world of Protestant denominations.

Yet, on reading John 17, I realized that Jesus prayed to the Father that the world would know that his Church is one even as He and the Father are one. The kind of unity Jesus is talking about is visible unity—a supernatural unity that the world can see and that defies explanation.

How could the world know without a doubt Christ’s Church is one by looking at 30,000 different denominational groups all claiming to be the true Church that Jesus founded, with many of them condemning each other as heretical? If it is true that the carnal mind can’t discern spiritual realities, how could Jesus expect unbelievers to see and understand that the Church is one spiritually when visibly it is a splintered mess?

Questions and Answers
There are two kinds of questions: The kind of questions that seek to avoid the truth, and the kind of questions that seek to find the truth. The more I asked hard questions, the more I realized that they were leading somewhere, or to something. To what, I feared to guess. But after many months of agonizing investigation, I can say that I have found the answers to these and many other questions. Real, solid, and definite answers. In further posts, I would like to explore the answers I found in more depth. I would like explain and even defend the beliefs I now hold. With God’s help, I will do so.