Recognizing and Resisting the Power of Beauty to Promote Evil
During the past two decades, there has been a technological revolution in advertising and entertainment. Graphics software has made it possible to produce astoundingly beautiful images that would have been unimaginable as late as the nineteen nineties.
During this same time, a fundamental shift has taken place in what is publically acceptable. Images that were once considered shady, shocking or disgusting are now openly promoted seemingly without dissent.
The focus of this article is on the power of beauty to promote evil, and how through the use of dazzling visual images, beauty is being used as a weapon against fidelity, morality, honor and decency.
Beauty has been a key factor in the shift.
Beauty alone is not evil. In fact, it is a gift from the Creator. Beauty is to be appreciated, respected and even sought after, but only as it is coupled with righteousness. Otherwise, it is easily adulterated. Beauty must be guarded and wisely admired, otherwise it has the power to lure us into evil.
This will come as no surprise to students of the Bible. Lucifer, whose name means light-bearer (Isaiah 14:12), and who is also known as an angel of light (II Corinthians 11:14), is widely considered to have been prior to his rebellion, the most beautiful angel in heaven.
In fact, it seems from the Biblical record that his stunning beauty was the source of his overweening pride, and occasioned his fall. Nowhere in the Scripture is it intimated that Satan (Lucifer) lost his beauty when he lost his heavenly citizenship.
Artistic license aside, there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that Satan looks anything like the wild and dreadful images by which he is portrayed. The repulsiveness of such images may well represent his character, but they do not give us a true picture of his visage.
Among his strategies, Satan uses beauty to blur truth and promote evil. He first used this tactic against the human race in the Garden of Eden, and has used it effectively to the present.
Beauty Attracts Beauty.
Possibly the more beautiful of the first two human beings was the woman. It is the general consensus that such is the case today. Men have brawn, women have beauty. While it may be only speculation, it does seem logical that perhaps the most beautiful creature in the heavens would seek to gain the confidence of the most beautiful creature on earth through the cunning use of beauty as bait.
The Biblical narrative seems to support this. “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat” (Genesis 3:6 NASB). Notice carefully pleasant to the eyes, and to be desired.
The word pleasant (avah) comes from a primitive root meaning to incline, covet, wait longingly, wish, sigh, want, be greedy, prefer. The word eye (ayin) also probably a primitive root, means not only the physical eye, but also the showing of mental qualities, or of mental and spiritual faculties.
Most interesting of all, the word desired (chamad) also comes from a primitive root meaning to desire, covet, take pleasure in, delight in. It is instructive that the KJV translates this word as beauty twenty-one times, and the NASB the same number of times as attracted.
Beauty can be used as a powerful motivator.
Perhaps the swiftest and surest way to break past the defenses of intellect is to overwhelm understanding with desire (lust), and nothing has the power to trigger desire (lust) like beauty. There is a connection here to I John 2:16 where Jesus warns “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (NASB).
The consequences of the woman’s entrapment were instantly evil, and deadly. The stunning thing about the Genesis narrative is that Adam seems to have offered no resistance. Was this because just as the woman may have been beguiled by the beauty of the beast (the serpent being the aberration of Satan), and the compelling beauty of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, so too Adam was beguiled by the beauty of his wife?
Since beauty is a component of the creation, it cannot in and of itself be evil. It can, however, be used as a motivator for the promotion of evil. It is instructive to consider the age-old saying that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Herein is a key to the misuse of beauty. While beauty comes in many forms (e.g., music, poetry, thoughts), it is more fundamentally regarded as a thing of the eye. That is, a thing which one beholds.
Merriam-Webster defines beauty as the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit. In common application, this is usually associated with something seen; which is why so-called beauty contests focus on the visual. And when we consider that it was through the eye that Satan deceived the woman in the Garden, we do not wonder that this same tactic is still an effective strategy for the promotion of evil.
Beauty also has the power to arrest attention. One beautiful flower, one beautiful vase, one beautiful painting or one beautiful bird placed in proximity with dozens, even hundreds of others of less eye appeal, will invariably stand out.
Beauty may be sometimes difficult to define, but everyone recognizes it when they see it. For example, the eye will almost instantly direct us to a single polished gemstone though it be only a single stone arranged within a field of hundreds of unfinished stones. Beauty attracts attention.
Beauty can mask danger.
Some of the world’s most beautiful plants and animals are among the most dangerous. The coral snake with its gleaming red, yellow and black banding, and the lion fish with its beautiful feathery fins produce venom powerful enough to kill.
The creamy white berries of the mistletoe plant so popular at Christmas, and the brightly colored flowers (as well as the leaves) of laurels and rhododendrons can be fatal when swallowed. Some species of tiny frogs are among the world’s most beautifully colored creatures, yet are so deadly that merely touching one a single time can result in death.
Similarly, a painful and deadly consequence may await those who fall victim to evils masked and promoted by beauty. The evils of greed, sexual perversion, sensual lust, destructive consumerism, imaginary expectations of instant wealth and other debasing and wasting harms, may first attract their victims through the sensory-overload effect of beauty.
We began this article by observing that there has been a revolution in advertising and entertainment, and that the use of technology has made it possible to add visual images in a manner not previously achievable.
Furthermore, we pointed out how the acceptance concerning morals and ethics has changed dramatically, and suggested that a fundamental shift has taken place in what is publicly acceptable and how it is portrayed.
Only the most isolated among us is not aware that things which were once considered shady, shocking, or disgusting are now openly promoted, at the expense of prudence, righteousness and traditional morality. The primary contention of these observations is that beauty has been a significant factor in helping to bring this about.
Beauty can overload the senses.
The evils of greed, sexual perversions, sensual lusts, destructive consumerism, imaginary expectations of instant wealth and other debasing and wasting harms, initially attract their victims through the sensory-overload effect of beauty. Like a candy coated cyanide tablet, some of the most perverse and destructive evils that debase and degrade humanity, lure the unsuspecting by an appealing external coating of beauty purposefully designed to deceive.
Greed and fanciful expectations of wealth are exploited by amazingly constructed and beautifully decorated palaces, dedicated to the kinds of gambling vices and racketeering that scarcely a half-century ago would have invited a raid by federal authorities. Many of these palaces and practices are now state-sponsored sources of revenue.
Destructive consumerism is fueled by a storm of slick advertising campaigns using beauty as bait to get the customer to bite. Automobiles are shown as works of art, consumer products of every kind imaginable are marketed though the use of beauty (particularly feminine beauty).
Jewelry, for example, is hocked on television twenty-four hours a day using the most appealing lighting and sophisticated presentation in order to make the sparkle appear more attractive than it really is. The same can be said of clothing, vitamins, diet plans, exercise machines – you name it.
Sexual perversions and sensual lusts have been promoted in popular entertainments by the ever-present presentation of hot cars, hot clothes, hot night life, and hot bed scenes that are purposefully designed to exploit beauty in a nefarious scheme to sell late night cable television, videos, DVDs, movie tickets, magazines and lifestyles filled with debauchery.
What we once clearly understood as pornographic has become mainstream, which is only one of the reasons why Internet-base pornography is the dirty bomb of our culture. The consequences of which are the wasted and hollow heads of millions of lust addicts who have surrendered their dignity to the dust.
The beauty of the human form is easily exploited.
The beauty of human sexuality (particularly that of the woman), has been so cheaply exploited as an attention getting ruse by the marketers of everything from personal care products to perfume, that the especial beauty of the female form has been reduced to erotic shots of flesh, suggestive body language and facial expressions.
The portrayal of feminine sweetness has become an extinct art in advertising. Is it any wonder that a walk through the tween hangouts of any urban mall has more the feel of walking though a 1950’s red-light district than of observing the innocent fun of children just entering puberty?
The exploitation of beauty for the sake of profiteering and social revolution is a real force, and one to be reckoned with. The unaware, unbelieving, unconcerned and immature may think it little more that the evolution of human kind.
However, it is not actually evolution as much as it is devolution, devolution from the ethical and spiritual safeguards that are the protectorate of a civilized society. It is to be sure, the same devolution that we read about in the early chapters of the book of Genesis.
The real force behind this exploitation of beauty for the purpose of promoting evil is Satan, but those who do his bidding will also ultimately bear responsibility. Jesus said, “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come” (Matthew 18:7 NIV). The warning is not given in vain. God will not be mocked. The law of sowing and reaping is inexorable.
Beauty in the balance.
Finally, adapting the title of the late Dr. Francis Shaeffer’s famously influential book and film series How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture, we ask the same question with a focus on beauty. That is, How Should We Then Live With Beauty?
We should keep it balanced by integrity, and resist all efforts that exploit beauty to mask evil. Our Lord warns this generation with these ancient words, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27 NASV).
We should seek to be blessed by beauty only within the balanced context of righteousness and humility (holiness) “Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 29:2 KJV). That kind of worship is a balanced and beautiful thing, and the most effective way of resisting the power of beauty to promote evil.
Dennis D. Frey, Th.D., President
Master’s International University of Divinity