The Broken Signposts of N.T. Wright: Part 3, Beauty

Wright's second broken signpost is beauty.

As Wright notes, we can't live without beauty: "We all know that beauty is a central and vital part of life, whether in nature, art or music." And our interest in beauty seems to point toward human vocation. How so? Wright observes, "Some of the earliest signs of homo sapiens are the remarkable works of cave art which indicate much more than a functional interest in the world."

I like that observation. Our interest in the world is more than functional. Human life is more than meeting our basic biological needs, more than eating and finding shelter. We need to fill life with art and music, with beauty.

But what is beauty, and what is our longing for beauty pointing us toward?

True, beauty seems essential to life, but we seem confused by its lack of utility. Just look at the lack of funding we give to the arts in our schools. What is beauty for? We don't seem to know. Lacking a clear utility, beauty seems optional and discardable.

Beauty is also fleeting and elusive. It fades.

Finally, evolutionary accounts tell us that beauty is really just a way we've developed to attract reproductive partners. Beauty does have a "purpose," the evolutionists tell us, to help preserve our genes. Beauty is inherently selfish, sexual self-advertisement. And yet, if we believe this about beauty, doesn't it cease to be beauty?

And so, like justice, beauty is a broken signpost. We crave and seek beauty, but are also perplexed by it. We don't know what beauty is for, and its apparent lack of utility confuses us. And when we do conjure up an account of its purpose, as you see in evolutionary accounts, beauty ceases to be beauty anymore.

Creating beauty seems integral to human vocation, but we need something "more" to tell us what beauty is for.

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