A genuinely ordered marriage is predicated on producing something more beautiful than the mere sum of its two parts, in the form of a third and synthesizing part: a child. Indeed, what they produce together is something new, something worthwhile, something beautiful. After all, two chords played separately are still not as beautiful as two chords played together…
“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
Strange as it is, amidst the backdrop of the cult of “diversity,” we have exchanged the Three-in-One God for a monadic deity of singular utilitarian interest. While the advantages of diversity are predicated on their capacity to add to and so strengthen the larger whole, society prefers a pseudo-diversity that considers that there is no larger whole within which to add. Or, in Aldo Leopold’s terms, we very well might be able to see the many parts but we are utterly unaware of any such “biotic community.” And, so the triune transcendentals of truth, goodness, and beauty are replaced with the mundane and monolithic quest for “personal fulfillment.” But we might wonder whether a person can fulfill himself apart from an ordered whole any more than the arm can fulfill itself apart from the rest of the body. But such a view begins with, and can only be countered by, a culture’s interpretation of its most foundational stories.
Ask any churchgoer what the main emphasis of the Genesis creation account suggests, and he will almost assuredly respond, in one way or another, that the whole point is to contend that “God created the physical world.” Pressed further, one might discuss creation ex nihilo, or something of that sort. But what will nearly always be devastatingly absent from any theological discussion of Genesis 1 and 2 will be any recourse to beauty or the principle of harmoniously ordered interconnectivity among God, land, and animal. I say “devastatingly absent” because we are speaking here of the primary creation myth of Christianity (and much of the Western world), which could be noted as the most fundamental barometer for understanding our identity and place in this world. It is, as it were, the original myth that gives rise to all other myths. And the only thing that today’s Western Christian can see in this narrative is God’s singular power for production of physical stuff. To “create,” then, does not imply artistry, much less beauty, but industry, which just so happens to be a sacred virtue of utilitarian ethics.
And, so, we are astounded at the efficiency with which God manufactures physical reality upon the mere breath of the spoken word, all the while remaining indifferent, if not ignorant, of the diversified unity, the harmonized order, and the proportioned interdependence of all of creation. We marvel at the brilliance of God’s “apex” of creation, humanity, and we barely notice the wondrous abundance of the many and remarkable varieties of life, that, undoubtedly, sustain humanity. We receive God’s words on the sixth day that it is “very good” and assume the reference is directed to us, while we neglect to consider that it might instead say more about the splendor of many parts forming one grand corpus than it does about any one part in particular. Indeed, one might wonder whether God’s original declaration that each part of creation, in and of itself, is “good” is not really to be understood in terms of any sort of mechanical efficiency, but that God was rather looking upon his own artistry with the delight of a captivated admirer.
Yet, while beauty is still ever-present, in some form, in the fields of science and mathematics, while it is indispensable to many of life’s most cherished experiences, it is nevertheless an afterthought as a lens for understanding the created order. So, it is, the loss of beauty as a central theme of creation affects our understanding of our own “image.”
As an illustration, consider the symphony, with its many parts, its many sounds, such grand diversity of tones, keys, and chords being forged together as one harmonious and unified sound. The cello complements the violin, and the violin complements the cello. Or, a more astute observer might suppose that each instrument “serves” the other, filling in the weaknesses of the other, allowing the others to absolve its own weaknesses. But a symphony of one instrument is not as beautiful as a symphony of many instruments. One chord does not harmonize like many chords. Yet, it takes but one specially-placed discord to unnerve the entire sound. Each piece must know its place, its order, its role within the larger whole. It cannot wander off into its own preferred soliloquy without endangering the entire community of sounds. And so, each instrument must not only be a team player, but, more aptly, each instrument must play in such a way as if the entire team depended upon it, and it depended upon the entire team, because as far as beauty is concerned, it does.
Yet, it is clear that such a concept of beauty is all but absent from our now modern/postmodern conception of human nature and the created order. Thus, we can conceive of sexual companionship with the same sex as nothing out of the ordinary, as independence from any ordered whole suggests that we are not at all a part of any grand symphony of instruments but are always only ever playing solo. And, if we can even imagine that we are playing anything delightful at all, it would seem that the best we can manage is one basic key, repeated over and over, to the pretentious delight of only our own ears. For, we know of no other sounds with which we must harmonize. We neither “fit” together nor do we not fit together; we just are, floating in an infinite space of unattached atoms, with nothing to belong to. Similarly, we can internalize a gnostic dualism whereby our physical parts need not match our internal nature because, when there is no drive toward the ideal of beauty, in which the parts must be ordered harmoniously together, there is no reason for suggesting that material creation ought to be in-tune with the immaterial soul.
So, sex has become the ultimate, though slavish, force driving our quest toward the finality of the singular utilitarian cause. Just as we have reduced the prospect of God’s creative capacity to mere productive power, so we have reduced our own existence to mere productive indulgence. In this way, the greatest “good” of the utilitarian kind becomes deceptively infatuated with momentary pleasure. The “good life,” as interpreted by this model, demands constant gratification and freedom from every inconvenience or discomfort. But freedom from every inconvenience and discomfort depends upon a very high level of isolation, privatization, and independence. There need be no interconnection amongst us, except when we mutually engage in temporal pleasure, as we eye every creature before us as an object to be used or avoided, but never as a marvelous flower to be cultivated amidst the larger garden within which we also reside.
It is, then, easy to see why sex becomes the ultimate utilitarian “good,” as our identities have been reduced to independent centers of pleasure consumption. It is likened to an image of Cookie Monster having before him a conveyor belt ushering along a never-ending supply of cookies that end directly in his open mouth, so as to keep him incessantly satisfied, needing nothing else to sustain him. Likewise, our society of open mouths, having lost any sense of the “higher orders” of pleasure or happiness, can only muster that which produces the “highest” kind of physical pleasure, so our conveyor belt ushers along varieties of disordered sex. Of course, the only difference is that we are not consuming cookies, but one another. Cannibalism has become us.
And, yet, might it just might be that our original creation narrative offers us a way out of such a mess:
In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth, two binary halves of one whole, one to serve the other; In the beginning God created Light and Darkness, two halves of one whole, one to serve the other; In the beginning God created morning and evening, one to serve the other; Night and Day; The Waters Above and the Waters Below; The Sea and the Dry Land; The Sky and the Earth; Seed-bearing plants and Fruit-bearing plants; Greater Light to rule the day and Lesser Light to rule the night; In the beginning, God created Male and Female, two binary halves of one whole, one to serve the other.
Binary halves seem to make for a formidable team…
While much of today’s Biblical debate concerning sexuality revolves around “proof-texts” that explicitly discuss homosexuality or some other sexual divergence, since significant portions of Genesis 1-2 discuss gender and sexuality, it is here that any serious theological dialogue must commence. So, we turn first to Gen. 1:26:27:
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind (adam) in our image, according to our likeness’…So God created humankind (adam) in his image, in the image of God he created them; male (zakar) and female (niqvah) he created them.
If one pays close attention to this first account, what is conspicuously absent is the division of the sexes into male and female. To be sure, it mentions both sexes, but, if we were still unaware of the account to follow in Genesis 2, which details this division, we might just as well consider that this first human being is simply half male, half female, if the pronoun “them” is understood as the collective for humanity in general. But, even if we prefer to read the creation of two separate human beings into this passage, the Hebrew text (in parentheses) still forces us to understand the “image” of God in terms of the unity of the two sexes, as it clearly designates different words for “humankind,” “male,” and “female.” There is no indication that God creates male and then he creates female. Rather, it contends that God created humanity (adam), which consisted of male (zakar) and female (niqvah). And while the language of God here, “Let us make humankind in our image…” could be suggestive of simply angelic hosts or the council of Heaven, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity reads back into this that God is a three-in-one God, Father, Son, Spirit, multiple persons in one God. Likewise, is it possible that he created multiple persons in one human?
But what of our second passage about the creation of humanity in Genesis 2?
Then the human (adam) said, ‘This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman (ishah), because she was taken out of man (ish).’ (2:23)
Again, notice the Hebrew words at play (in parentheses). The text clearly distinguishes among human, man, and woman. “This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” That’s an interesting remark if we think that woman merely was taken from one of man’s ribs. They would, then, share a bone, but not bones and certainly not flesh. Of course, it could just mean that God created them with the same kind of bones and flesh. But, we do know the end of the story, in which, here, at the end of Genesis 2, it is suggested that the two will become “one flesh” again. So, two creatures that only share part of one bone rejoin with one another to form, in its entirety “one flesh”? It is conceivable, sure, especially with all the possible metaphor, but is it the only option?
An alternate theory that might be just as old as the former considers that man and woman fit together so nicely, so to speak, not because they are two distinct creations, but rather because they are two halves of one whole. Indeed, the word for “rib” used here, nowhere else denotes the rib of a human person. In fact, of the forty-one occurrences of this Hebrew word “tsela” in the Old Testament, only here in Genesis 2 is it translated as rib. In nearly every other instance it means simply the “side” of something.
The point is that this word for rib might be better interpreted as “one side” of humanity. Thus, the image is of a human body literally being cut into two, right down the middle, such that the bones, and flesh are split into two, one side forming man, the other side forming woman. This has greater explanatory value for holy matrimony in which the two now “fit” back together so nicely, one half of bones and flesh rejoining the other half of bones and flesh, such that they might be called “one flesh.”
Both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 at least allow for this interpretation, if they do not actually suggest it. But this is not the end of the story, as there might be a dual meaning to this mysterious “one flesh.”
As noted above, binary halves are strong, but there is yet something stronger still. To be sure, rectangles and squares are utilized quite frequently in the engineering design of many load-bearing objects, but, as engineers know best, the preferred geometric shape to use to support the weight of, say, one of the most load-bearing structures like a bridge, is not the square, but the triangle. Indeed, so significantly has the triangle figured into mathematics that we have an entire branch dedicated to it: trigonometry. Squares are strong, but triangles are stronger still.
As it is, each of the shared halves of creation join together to birth the final counterpart for triangularly-shaped life. Light and Darkness give birth to the Day, which shares the characteristics of both Light and Darkness (morning and evening). Waters above and waters below give birth to the Sky. Land and Sea give birth to the Earth. And, so, male and female give birth to new life, the child, which is literally the shared flesh, the shared DNA, the shared features of both father and mother.
It might just be that the child is the final piece of the most formidable shaping of “one flesh”. The father and mother come together to form one flesh, a binary complement, two halves of one whole, a formidable object. Yet, even more formidable, is what Chesterton dubbed the “triangle of truisms, of father, mother, and child”, together forming the three-in-one flesh and so reflecting the eternally formidable image of the Holy Trinity, the three-in-one God. Could it be that the image of God is best reflected not merely by male alone, nor by female alone, but by that “three-in-one flesh” that they produce when joined together? Perhaps the initial command to all of animate creation to “Be fruitful and multiply” is more central to our understanding of the “image” of God than we have often realized.
So, what can we gather from Genesis 1 and 2, that “Men are from Mars and women are from Venus”? Not so, says Genesis 1 and 2. Men and women are literally created for one another, part and parcel of the greater whole. Unfortunately, in the midst of a culture ravaged by stories of disordered genders and disproportioned sex, it would seem that the harmonized interconnectivity and the proportioned ordering of Genesis 1 and 2 has been usurped by the chaotic disordering and beastly indulgence of Genesis 3.
John Milton draws out such a conception in his classic work Paradise Lost, as Adam and Eve, after succumbing to the temptation of the forbidden fruit, see each other anew. Their eyes are certainly “opened,” but not as they might have expected. For the first time, Adam and Eve now look upon one another, not as a God-imaging human to be tenderly cared for, but as a self-gratifying object to be lustfully devoured. While their first act of pure sex, untainted by sin, left them with an enduring sense of peace, as they are “lulled” to sleep by “nightingales” (Book IV, Line 771), in their second act, now tainted by sin, they “burn” with an unquenchable lust (Book XI, Line 1015). Sex is no longer a mutual offering of themselves to another, a means of serving and giving thanks, but is now a burden of appetite, as each envisions one as if they were a mere piece of food. And so, “destitute and bare” (1062) the depressive state of utilitarian independence has become them, as Adam laments:
O might I here in solitude live savage…. But let us now, as in bad plight, devise what best may for the present serve to hide the Parts of each from other (1084-85, 1091-93).
What once was beautifully whole has now been disastrously shattered. The sexual “Parts,” the very symbol of their shared flesh, must now be hidden from one another, for fear that they might be exploited, dominated, and devoured, as their appetite has shifted from a desire to please one another to a desire to please oneself. While beauty longs for unity, sin covets division.
And, in the West in general and America in particular, this division is ever-so-far-reaching. Consider author Jonathan Grant’s commentary in his book Divine Sex:
Rather than seeing the self as necessarily connected to other people, so that we can become our full selves only within relationships, ‘selfism’ views each person as an autonomous being and often locates the source of our problem in formative relationships…Within this model, true freedom involves becoming self-sufficient and freeing ourselves from… the dysfunction of other people.
While the story of Genesis 1 and 2 reminds us of the formidable power of parts coming together to form wholes, of the stability of squares and the greater stability of triangles, contemporary culture insists that the most formidable shape, the most formidable reality, is the single line, the individual self, standing alone, trying to hold up the weight of the world all by itself. Again, sin lusts for disordered division, while beauty yearns for ordered connection.
In his book, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis opens with a discussion about two kinds of love: 1) Need-loves—We are born helpless, as babies, always needing to be loved. As we grow, we discover loneliness, the need for others and the need for God. Lewis writes:
We must be cautious about calling Need-love ‘mere selfishness’…. No doubt Need-love, like all our impulses, can be selfishly indulged…But in ordinary life no one calls a child selfish because it turns for comfort to its mother… the illusory feeling that it is good for us to be alone – is a bad spiritual symptom; just as lack of appetite is a bad medical symptom because men really do need food… man’s love for God… must always be very largely, and must often be entirely, a Need-love.
The second kind of love that Lewis identifies are “Gift-loves”—These are based on God’s Divine Love, as he is the ultimate Giver, indeed, in some way, the only Giver, as all good things come from above. Gift-love is the love we give, which might sometimes not even see its return. It is like a father, saving up for the future well-being of his family, even though he knows he will pass and not be able to be witness to its fruit.
Lewis’s point is that both loves are vital for living a truly human existence, as it is Love that binds us to one another as parts of a more wonderful whole. And, yet, it would seem that we are, today, starved for one and the other. With the collapse of any serious ethic of beauty, we cannot see our need for one another, which would, then, necessarily exclude us considering any need to regularly give of our love. That is, if we do not imagine that we need deep relationships and community, then neither can we imagine that we need to invest our own time and energy in deep relationships and community. The outcome is that we can function as machines, with inputs and outputs (mostly inputs?) that treat everything in life as if it were lifeless. For much like a computer has need for realized power in order to achieve its purpose, so too the human has nothing more than the need of realized desires in order to maintain itself. Lewis helps us understand what we are giving up, which, in short, seems to be nothing less than our own humanity:
We use a most unfortunate idiom when we say, of a lustful man prowling the streets, that he ‘wants a woman.’ Strictly speaking, a woman is just what he does not want. He wants a pleasure for which a woman happens to be the necessary apparatus…. Without [Love] sexual desire, like every other desire, is a fact about ourselves. Within [Love] it is rather about the Beloved… something outside of us…. For one of the first things [Love] does is to obliterate the distinction between giving and receiving.
But this is not just any random love, but an appropriately ordered love, the kind that beauty would approve of, as the object of such a love is not the hoarding of desires nor the waste of such, but rather a birthing of something far more glorious (if spreading the “image” of God is akin to His “glory”) than mere temporal pleasure. Today’s detachment of procreation from the concept of marriage contends that the kind of fruit that married life ought to be directed toward is nothing tangible. This kind of marriage has no need to produce anything beyond itself, anything that builds up or contributes to the whole of society (The self-defeating nature of pleasure-driven utilitarian ethics is that it actually ends up producing nothing of significant quality). In such a marriage, two chords might as well remain out of tune, even though they are playing right alongside one another. But procreation as a foundational element of marriage suggests that a genuinely ordered marriage is predicated on producing something more beautiful than the mere sum of its two parts, in the form of a third and synthesizing part: a child. Two chords played separately are still not as beautiful as two chords played together. Indeed, what they produce together is something new, something worthwhile, something beautiful. Marriage of this kind is now directed toward, not only the good of the family, but even towards the good of society-at-large, as children are a gift to the stability of both.
These are the considerations that the principle of a world etched in beauty should force us to ponder. Are we in harmony with the Grand Symphony of Creation? Or are we the discord that has disturbed the melodious order? That great and lasting beauty of the community in the New Heavens and the New Earth is that the ultimate happiness is a shared happiness. It is neither a merging of all personalities into one and the same personality, nor an absolute division of all personalities into their own personalized heavens. It is the grand reciprocation of mutual giving and receiving, mutual serving, mutual mission, mutual unity in the very midst of an abundance of unique personalities. And the outcome of this: a majestic landscape of never before seen proportion, an encore of music of unheard splendor, a rush of allure and love unlike anything ever felt. Such is the calling and reward of Eternal Beauty.
Only in the diversity of chords coming together in ordered unity can we achieve anything worthy of a beautiful symphony. Perhaps we should check our sexual desires, even more, our consumptive desires, by the same rubric of beauty. To do so, we must return again and again to our original myth of beauty.
Why create? Because the Father, the Son, the Spirit, perfectly existing as the three-in-one God, mutually giving, mutually receiving, was so overflowing with an abundance of beauty, that, in a great cosmic bang, if you will, His love burst forth the creation of a beautiful, harmonious community, according to His own nature, according to His own image. The heavens were created to serve the earth, the earth created to serve the creatures, the creatures created to serve one another, the sun created to serve the day, the moon created to serve the night, male created to serve female, female created to serve male, humanity created to serve creation, and God took His rightful place as the humble “servant of all.”
It was a grand, reciprocal arrangement called Community that was birthed in that First Garden. That is, until sin crept in, and it threatened to divide everything. But, thanks be to God for that great work of Reconciliation on the Cross, in which what had been divided has now been restored, brother to brother, daughter to mother, us to one another, us to creation, us to God.
Wittgenstein was right, “Ethics and aesthetics are one and the same. The good life is the world seen ‘sub specie aeternitatis’” (Tractatus Logico Philosophicus). Only “through the lens of eternity,” through the lens of that original Garden of Eden, that redeemed Garden of Gethsemane, and that finished Garden of Revelation shall we ever be able to understand our ethical calling as creatures within creation. It is “for beauty’s sake” that we have been created, but we must, once again, rediscover what this means. We would do well to heed the warning of Balthasar:
Beauty is the last thing which the thinking intellect dares to approach, since only it dances as an uncontained splendor around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another…We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past—whether he admits it or not—can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love (The Glory of the Lord, vol. 1)
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