A recent study has found that people who live in scenic places are less likely to affiliate with organized religion. The author compared data from the USDA on scenic qualities and where they are found, with census data on religious affiliation, and discovered that areas considered to be beautiful also had lower levels of religious adherence. This is an interesting and illuminative finding, making clever use of available data to shed light on the phenomenon of increasing numbers of religious “nones”. Because this was a sociological study, psychological factors were not considered, though, including the transcendent function of beauty.
The transcendent function of beauty has a powerful transformative effect, causing people to reconnect to the Ultimate. This is something contemplatives know and make use of. Beauty can provide a numinous experience that helps us transcend the mundane and see the Oneness we all share. For some, this can provide a spiritual experience that is more powerful than formal worship. Perhaps the power comes from a more direct experience of the Divine, and some people prefer this to the usual mediated experience provided in traditional worship. In the Middle Ages, going to church afforded a downtrodden populace one of the very few experiences of beauty they had. The glorious music, fragrant incense, and magnificent churches took these people up out of their grim daily existence to a special experience of beauty that helped to bring them closer to God. This type of aesthetic pleasure can be found whenever one encounters overwhelming beauty, and that beauty can provide a significant spiritual experience. Beauty is an important part of spiritual practice because of the power it has to show us God. Beauty, because it is such an important, meaningful, and powerful foundation, should be included in one’s spiritual practice, as well as in the rest of our lives and in our environments.
The study, entitled “The Natural Environment as a Spiritual Resource: A Theory of Regional Variation in Religious Adherence” by Todd W. Ferguson is published in the journal Sociology of Religion, 76:3.
Copyright © 2015 Teresa Chupp. All rights reserved.