If it be all for naught, for nothingness
At last, why does God make the world so fair?
Why spill this golden splendor out across
The western hills, and light the silver lamp
Of eve? Why give me eyes to see, and soul
To love so strong and deep? Then, with a pang
This brightness stabs me through, and wakes within
Rebellious voice to cry against all death?
Why set this hunger for eternity
To gnaw my heartstrings through, if death ends all?
If death ends all, then evil must be good,
Wrong must be right, and beauty ugliness.
God is a Judas who betrays His Son,
And with a kiss, damns all the world to hell,–
If Christ rose not again.
–Anonymous soldier killed in World War I,
from: Masterpieces of Religious Verse
Many of the aesthetic norms which have characterized Western society have come as a direct result of the Christian worldview being deeply saturated in the fabric of our cultural ethos. Although the doctrine of the image of God as well as the doctrine of God’s common grace mean that unbelievers are capable of producing artifacts which truly reflect divine beauty, over a long period of time non-Christian cultures generally tend towards ugliness – a corollary of the relativism necessitated by the rejection of any final standard of truth. A world without God is an ugly and frightening place. Indeed, if there is no God, then beauty is but a transitory parenthesis in a world in which the ugliness of chance, chaos and death have the final say over all of us. Medieval cathedrals, with their spires pointing to the heavens, were the appropriate artistic outworking of the Trinitarian worldview, while nihilistic art, with its hopelessness and celebration for the ugly is a consistent outworking of a world without God.
Conversely, over long periods of time Christian cultures tend to increase in beauty. That is what happened in the Christian West, which gave rise to the symphony, polyphonic harmony, perspective in painting and many other developments that have made the world a different place, to say nothing of specific creative geniuses from Bach to Michelangelo, from Shakespeare to Beethoven. Some of these men may not have been believers, but they lived, worked and breathed in a civilization that was built (albeit imperfectly) on the Christian worldview. Whether or not every great composer, artist or poet explicitly acknowledged that worldview, they worked on the basis of presuppositional aesthetic norms which arose out of the West’s Christian orientation. Long after our society threw off this heritage, these norms continued to operate like a lizard’s tail which continues to twitch even after it has been severed from the body. But a severed lizard’s tail will not twitch forever.
If the terrorists, or Hitler, or Pol Pot, or you or I, are simply dancing to our DNA, no one can blame us for anything. One Russian intellectual put it to me, ‘We thought we could get rid of God and retain a value for man. We found we couldn’t, we destroyed man as well.’ … The new atheists, ladies and gentlemen, devalue human beings. And ironically, for all their moral outrage, they deny the one thing that upholds moral value: justice! They hold justice to be a delusion; because for millions of people there is no justice in this life and they will never get justice after death by definition. There is no hope. Terrorists eventually get away with it. And reason and experience tell me this is morally absurd. And Christianity backs me up as it teaches me that death is not the end. There is to be a final judgment at which justice will be done and done fairly.