Iain McGilchrist in his famous book The Master and his Emissary. McGilchrist, both a brain scientist and a literary critic . . . argues that modern western culture has exhibited large-scale symptoms that correspond to the schizophrenia in which the brain’s left hemisphere dominates and the right hemisphere is under-used or screened out altogether. He insists that this is deeply unhealthy, since the right hemisphere, which handles metaphor, music, imagination, poetry and indeed faith, is designed to take the lead (‘the Master’), and the left hemisphere, which crunches the numbers and works out the details, is designed to back it up (‘the Emissary’). The take-over bid by the left brain produces, in a culture, the same effect as when the bean-counters take over the business. That’s not their job. The beans need to be counted, of course. But that must serve the larger purpose, which can never be glimpsed by merely counting beans.
–N. T. Wright,
Wouldn’t You Love to Know? Towards a Christian View of Reality
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.
What Jesus had to say about human good and evil was of sufficient depth, power, and justification to dominate European culture and its offshoots for two millennia. Nobody even has an idea of what “Europe” and the “Western world” would mean apart from Jesus and his words. The historian of morals W.E.H. Lecky describes the teaching of Jesus as “an agency which all men must now admit to have been, for good or for evil, the most powerful moral lever that has ever been applied to the affairs of man.”
A contemporary historian, Michael Grant, comments, “The most potent figure, not only in the history of religion, but in world history as a whole, is Jesus Christ: the maker of one of the few revolutions which have lasted. Millions of men and women for century after century have found his life and teaching overwhelmingly significant and moving…”
Friedrich Nietzsche is usually thought of as a bitter opponent of Jesus. But he clearly saw his indispensable role in the civilization into which Nietzsche himself had been born. He also understood that the modern world had moved off of its foundations in the Christian tradition of moral goodness, and that cataclysmic changes were to come because of this. They have come and are coming.
The Divine Conspiracy