The ugliness of untruth
The false, bad, and ugly stand allied against the true, good, and beautiful
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The Christian tradition teaches that whatever is good is also true and beautiful. That is, if something is true, then it must also be good and beautiful. It follows that beauty is an aesthetic property of that which is good and true. This triad is known to philosophers as the transcendentals. While it can be traced in the West back to pre-Christian philosophers like Plato, it consistently appears in the Christian tradition from at least the time of Augustine. Herman Bavinck, reflecting on Augustine’s understanding in his Reformed Dogmatics, provides the theological rationale for the transcendentals’ unity in the being of God: “The pinnacle of beauty, the beauty toward which all creatures point, is God. He is supreme being, supreme truth, supreme goodness, and also the apex of unchanging beauty.”
If this transcendental triad is true, then the corollary holds, as well: whatever is bad is also false and ugly, and that which is ugly is bad and untrue. J.R.R. Tolkien seems to affirm as much in his essay “On Fairy-Stories", where he argues that “evil and ugliness seem indissolubly allied. We find it difficult to conceive of evil and beauty together.”
I was reminded recently of this Christian truth when I ran across a recent post by former Christian artist Derek Webb, who shared an unsettling picture of himself in a dress alongside two other cross-dressed individuals. One was a woman named Grace Baldridge, who was wearing a suit and tie, and the other was a man in drag who goes by the name “Flamy Grant” (a bawdy allusion to another CCM artist, Amy Grant). Webb, known as a singer for the Christian band Caedmon’s Call but who has publicly deconstructed his faith, posted the picture to show the world that this was how he and his entourage were attending the 54th annual Dove Awards, an awards ceremony for Christian musicians.
For those blissfully unaware, this isn’t the first time Webb has appeared publicly in women’s clothing. Earlier this year, Webb put out The Jesus Hypothesis, an album that includes the song “Boys Will Be Girls” and released with a disturbing music video of Webb getting made up in drag. The album, and that particular song, is a tribute to the LGBT revolution that revels in the false pretense of gender and sexuality confusion with lines like, “Cause sometimes boys will be girls/Sometimes armor will be pearls/What you put on, oh, it shows the world/How hard you’re fighting.”
Indeed, Webb is showing the world how hard he’s fighting. But as the sheer ugliness of Webb’s picture and new persona make viscerally clear, he is at war against goodness, truth—and yes, beauty. For I am convinced that no one whose mind is truly awake will be convinced by what Webb is peddling in his new duds. No, they will be repulsed by his rejection of God’s created order, and rightly so. A man attempting to look like a woman should make you shake your head in disgust. The reverse is also true: A woman trying to look like a man should make you recoil.
I do not say this in animus toward Webb or his co-belligerents in particular. They are God’s image-bearers, and I wish only for their repentance. But disgust is a godly mechanism meant to preserve our conscience and remind us of God’s abiding creation law. Nothing about Webb’s new cause of trying to convince boys to be girls and girls to be boys is good, or true. Why? Because it is not in keeping with what is beautiful, which is who God is and what God has made and called “good.”
C. S. Lewis modeled this idea of beauty in his fiction and alluded to it when he spoke of its aesthetic ability to sneak past the “watchful dragons” of our skeptical and jaded age. We are drawn to beauty because we are made in the image of the One who is beautiful. This means the corollary is also true: We are repulsed by ugliness because it is a rejection of the One who is good and true. And there is nothing uglier than sinful rebellion against God. We can manifest our ugliness and revolt against God not only in our speech but in our dress, too.
The Apostle Paul knew something of the transcendentals because he knew God, which is why he encourages the church in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” And if we do this, we will be inoculated against the ugly, the false, and the bad because we are too busy worshipping the Holy One, who is infinitely good, true, and beautiful.
These daily articles have become part of my steady diet. —BarbaraSign up to receive the WORLD Opinions email newsletter each weekday for sound commentary from trusted voices.