Written by Dennis Best
The concept of sublimity in the modern world has been so removed that most people struggle with even understanding it. Webster defines “sublime” as transcendent excellence, tending to inspire awe usually because of elevated quality (as of beauty, nobility, or grandeur), and often of outstanding spiritual, intellectual, or moral worth.
Concrete evidence of this definition can be found in the spectacular uniqueness and beauty of the cathedrals, music, and art created throughout the Middle Ages. When one compares the superb and enduring craftsmanship of those times to the standardized utilitarian and disposable artifacts common to the industrial age, it is obvious that the pursuit of the sublime has greatly diminished.
Return to Order argues that this change of pursuits is largely a result of secularism: the belief that religion should not play a role in government, education, or other public parts of society.
Our country was founded as “one nation under God,” and recognized worldwide as a Christian nation of high moral integrity and prosperity. But, following World War II, there ensued a strong movement especially noted in the sixties to disassociate all public and government-sponsored initiatives from God (hence, secularism). On a more material front, the trials of the Great Depression and the War resulted in a national trend toward utility over beauty. Industrialization fueled this further by promoting standardization and lower costs over uniqueness and beauty. The pursuit of quality was replaced by the pursuit of quantity. Consumerism displaced notions of restraint and replaced them with a lust to have more, and the “shop till you drop” mentality. Garages across America turned from places to preserve and maintain automobiles into storehouses for unneeded junk. Greater value was given to cheap disposable items than to that which was enduring and beautiful.
Subsequently, appreciation and pursuit of the sublime dissipated, with severe consequences.
To understand these consequences, we need to understand that man was created by God, for the purpose of worshiping God, and to eventually achieve eternal happiness in heaven with Him. We are all born with this innate desire to seek Him, to strive to be in His presence, and to be loved by Him. To this end, God is the ultimate in transcendent excellence, the most awe inspiring, and the pinnacle of spiritual, intellectual and moral worth! He is the Model of what is sublime, and all of our natural longing for the sublime stems from our inborn desire to seek Him. Comprehending this ultimate truth allows us to easily understand why attempting to displace our zest for the sublime with a lust for the mundane will result in catastrophe.
Without elements of the sublime in our lives, a void or emptiness is created that diminishes our feeling of worth or value. Edmund Burke wrote that our reaction to the sublime is “the strongest emotion the mind is capable of feeling.” No amount of wealth or material accumulation can fill that void, if it does not fulfill our longing for the sublime.
However, our society is now being taught that happiness is a by-product of consumerism. Our nation (and much of the rest of the world) struggles in vain to find that happiness. Instead of fulfillment, it is left with disappointment, dissatisfaction and despair. Many long for entertainment (drugs, games, and Hollywood) just to escape the turmoil. Many others seek professional counseling or prescription medication in the hopes that doctors can provide the relief they seek. Society’s failure to achieve the fairytale endings promised by the popular shows of the fifties led to the drug and sexual revolution of the sixties. Meanwhile, the one true solution to the problem, the ultimate sublimity of Christ and the Church, was increasingly touted by the mainstream as a mere fairytale. The cover of Time magazine eventually heralded that “God is Dead,” and instead of outrage the public simply took it in stride. In Deuteronomy, God promised prosperity to the nation that obeys His laws, and curses for disobedience. Our country has been in steady decline since the fifties – morally, spiritually, intellectually, economically, and even healthwise – inversely proportionate to its rise in secularism.
How do we reverse this trend?
Start with yourself, pursue the sublime and set the example for others.
1. Make a journal of what strikes you as sublime. Refer to it often, and add to it regularly. Meditate upon it, and build up a store of sublime memories and feelings to counteract the negative effects of our misguided society and its materialism.
2. Find an item of sublime beauty or inspiration, and place it where you can reflect on it regularly.
3. Create a place in your home that helps you reflect on the sublimity of God.
A. This can include a crucifix, memorabilia of the apostles, the saints, virtues, the Holy Family, the Church, as well as photos, paintings, poetry, or any other items of inspiration.
B. Display it not with lavishness, but with temperance, and a goal towards sublime inspiration.
4. When given the choice – try always to opt for the most sublime solution.
5. Read the memoirs of great men – whose lives and experiences reveal the truly sublime.
6. Take time to enjoy nature, and all that God has created for His glory.
7. Visit beautiful places that nurture thoughts and feelings for the sublime.
8. Obey the Third Commandment. After six days of labor, escape the rat race, rest and do not let work distract you from enjoying the sublime beauty and holiness of God and His creations.
9. Support local artists and artisans whose work inspires you towards the sublime.