Marilynne Robinson on beauty

In “Freedom of Thought”, the first essay in her collection When I Was a Child I Read Books, Marilynne Robinson laments the marginilization of the sacred and the retreat from beauty that she sees a key elements of modern American life. And she indicts both the social sciences (the models for understanding the world anthropology, psychology and especially economics have given us) and religion in this lament.

She goes on to write:

If we think we have done this voiding of content for the sake of other people, those to whom we suspect God may have given a somewhat lesser brilliance than our own, we are presumptuous and also irreverent. William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake for this translation of the Bible, who provided much of the beautiful language in what is called by us the King James Bible, wrote, he said, in the language a plow-boy could understand. He wrote to the comprehension of the profoundly poor, those who would be, and would have lived among, the utterly unlettered. And he created one of the undoubted masterpieces of the English language. Now we seem to feel beauty is an affectation of some sort. And this notion is as influential in the churches as it is anywhere. The Bible, Christianity, should have inoculated us against this kind of disrespect for ourselves and one another. Clearly it has not. (6)

I’m not sure how (and how well) this can be done in the modern world. But beauty that is without affectation, that does not presume, that is not sentimental — that seems like something to seek for. In fact, it seems like our 13th Article of Faith rather expects it of us.

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