We began a discussion yesterday on a question that has long played in my mind. I introduced the question of “ugliness” but did little to define it. I did so for a purpose: I wanted to get any readers I do have to think for themselves about a definition of ugliness. I happen to like the term for this conversation, because I think it can cover a wide range of earthly trappings. Swearing. Death. Drugs. Sex. Violence. Atheism. Epicureanism. Nihilism. All these and more are ugly to me. And yet though I find each deplorable, I am aware that as long as the earth turns, such will exist. This is our shared fate.
This, then, is my definition of ugliness: that which carries none of the beauty and goodness and truth inherent in God-formed things. Let’s plug senseless death into this definition. In the film “Mr. And Mrs. Smith,” Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie play hit-person (that’s clunky) characters who end up killing lots of people. The film is light-hearted, or at least tries to be, and so portrays the deaths of many, many people in very light-hearted ways. At numerous points in my viewing of the film, the audience laughed hard at the deaths of minor characters. I found this disturbing. I found it ugly. Such depiction of death carried no gravity, no sense of the preciousness of life. Bodies, and their persons, existed simply to exist no longer. Granted, this is the movies. But that doesn’t mean it’s not ugly.
Ugliness, then, is that which does not lift up the soul, which is not based in truth, which is the opposite of beauty, which does not promote what is good and right. This is my flowing, working definition of ugliness. With it established, we can probe further into the question at hand: how do we deal with ugliness in the culture that surrounds us?