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A Secret Fourth Thing

The true, the good, and the beautiful: The three traditional transcendentals that many philosophers and saints have considered aspects of God. I referenced them in my first post explaining what we at Inkwells and Anvils want to accomplish. We aren’t writing things for our own ego or to get rich and famous. We are aiming for something higher. I would not create if I were not pursuing these things, the good, the true, and the beautiful. And I pray my writing and my art can somehow give glimpses of those ideals.

But I think something insidious can happen when we pursue these good things too passionately, especially if we forget for whom we are pursuing them. If these three are not joined with humility, we can lord these three beautiful things over others, scoff down at those who don’t have them or who don’t strive for them. Those hoi-polloi who are just too stupid to strive for anything better.

Yes, yes, yes, these things lead us to God. We need them in our life. They are worthy of our time, talents and energy. But I’m going to pose something a little out of the box. I think, in addition to these traditional transcendentals, we need a fourth.

We need something silly.

Now I don’t mean lighthearted or childlike, although it might be one of those things. When I mean silly, I mean something you would never associate with high art. Maybe even something you’re embarrassed to admit you like. A guilty pleasure, if you will (but not because of gratuitous violence, sex, language etc). I mean something you can’t help but like even though it also might make you roll your eyes. Something that is low brow, for-the-masses media that you, you connoisseur of arts, could never deign to see enjoying.

Liking silly things can allow us to appreciate something for what it is. A book doesn’t have to be perfect in order for us to enjoy it. We can recognize its flaws and not have to hate it because it isn’t the most perfect story ever told. Sometimes the joy of watching an imperfect T.V. show (looking at you, Merlin) is wanting to fix it, asking that, “but what if they would have done it this way?” question.

I’ve seen people find a few flaws in a movie or a book or a T.V. show and act like the whole thing was a gross atrocity against human kind, when in reality, it might have been simply mediocre. Yes, there is something to say about not settling for subpar art. But life is a balance. It’s okay for you to like something that isn’t perfect. And if someone thinks less of you for it, that says a lot more about them than you.

I find that the foray into the silly and the less-than-perfect can also give us empathy. Why do I enjoy the Fast and Furious franchise despite their laws-of-physics breaking stunts, their insane ability to turn the bad guys into good guys (and thus family), and jam as many A list celebrities into a movie? I. Do. Not. Know. But play that little sampling of music from Tokyo drift and I am READY to watch Vin Diesel launch himself from a car to then land on another car, which somehow cushions his fall. If I can love these ridiculous “racing” movies, I can give others grace for loving the Office (even though I think it’s cringe.)

And if you don’t have something like this in your life, I’m begging you to find one small silly thing to like. Something that might open you up to mockery. Because it’s important to not take yourself so seriously.

In Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesteron says, “Seriousness is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice. It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one's self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good Times leading article than a good joke in Punch. For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity.”

Laughter is a leap. How dangerous it would be to have people see us carefree. How risky to simply enjoy something.

I think we all need a reminder now and again that our taste is subjective. And that sometimes we’re just a silly goose who likes silly things. We are not the paramount of high standards for fine art. Just because we like or dislike something doesn’t mean someone disagreeing with us makes their opinion a sin. Because, honestly, this is sometimes how we can treat people who like different things than us. For some reason, not liking The Lord of the Rings can’t just be a shrug-it-off, I-don’t-agree-with-you kind of thing. But it shouldn't be like that. Even though I disagree with somene who doesn't like LoTR, that doesn’t make them a bad person. Because if I then consider them to have bad taste, it is, after all, just that: taste.

The good, the true, and the beautiful give us life and can lead us to God, but if we treat them like a god, we corrupt them. Yes, God is good. God is Truth. God is beauty. But when we take Him out of the equation, those transcendentals no longer bring us anywhere except inward on ourselves. They become hollow, void of the substance that gives them life. So please, let people enjoy things. You think the marvel movies are low art and people who enjoy them are childish? Fine. Move on and have a nice day. It isn’t a sin to enjoy watching witty dialogue and fun fight scenes. But how we treat those who do can be.

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