Andrew Greenwell on Living the Faith: Dancing the Moral Dance
In what ways is the moral life like a dance?
In one of his sermons, St. Augustine of Hippo compares the Christian moral life to a dance, a dance to the song of the Gospel. There is some keen insight in St. Augustine's comparison of the moral life to a dance, and it merits some reflection.
There is some keen insight in St. Augustine's comparison of the moral life to a dance, and it merits some reflection.
In what ways is the moral life like a dance?
Perhaps the most fundamental aspect of dance is that it requires movement, the movement of a human body. Dance is not a static affair, like a completed painting or a finished poem. It is an art form that is expressed through performance. It is this movement which expresses beauty. In Xenophon's Symposium, Socrates comments on the beauty of a body performing a dance. At rest, the boy may be said to be beautiful (kalos), but when he is in movement following the forms of the dance, he is more beautiful (kallion). Similarly, the moral life is performed through acts, human movement.
However, the moral life, like dance, is something clearly more than movement. It would be absurd to compare the spastic and involuntary movements of an epileptic in the throes of his seizures to the methodological movements of a human in a dance. Random movement is not dance. Random behavior is not moral.
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
The something more than movement required to know the dancer from the dance, the something which Socrates observed makes the dancer more beautiful, is form. Dance is movement subject to a form, which implies a rule or underlying order (ratio or logos). In dance, there is a reason--a ratio or logos--"behind" the movements, which we "see" with our reason. Dance to your heart's content in front of your dog or your cat. The animal will never understand what you are up to. The brute animal cannot grasp the form behind the movement. He can only grasp the movement.
Morality is just like dance in this regard. The moral life is composed of human acts--movement--that are governed by a form, and that form is the rule of right reason, which is to say the natural moral law.
That there is a form behind the movement, of course, suggests there is a meaning behind the dance, just as there is a meaning behind the moral life. Whatever the meaning, it is not utility. There is meaning behind the movement of a man who goes across the room to switch off a light, or who moves about the kitchen fixing his evening meal. But in no way are these utilitarian activities dance.
The moral life--like dance--is one of those "useless" human activities that have an intrinsic value, a value just in doing it, not necessarily by the pleasure it brings or the benefits it yields.
Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.
Though one may get collateral benefits from engaging in the activity--physical health in the case of dancing, happiness or pleasure in the case of the moral life--the activity is not measured by the benefits.
We might say the "useless" purpose of dance is to express beauty. Though it might not be at first apparent, beauty is also fundamental to the moral life. "Beauty is truth, truth beauty," wrote Keats in his famous poem. One might also say, "Beauty is good, good beauty," and good is what the moral life seeks.
Immanuel Kant recognized the relationship between beauty and morality. Famously, Kant wrote that beauty was a symbol of morality. He saw four similar elements between beauty and morality that justified this view.
First, beauty and morality please the sensitive person immediately, though in the first case one must have artistic sensitivity and in the latter case moral sensitivity. Dance, like the moral life, is often something that involves acts that are fitting, graceful, fluid, and elegant which only the sensitive perceive. There is such a thing as an aesthetically or morally coarse or obtuse person. We can have bad taste, and bad morals.
Second, Kant states that both beauty and morality are disinterested in the sense that beauty and morality are not measured by what we get out of it. Both dance and the moral life have intrinsic or "useless" value as we mentioned earlier.
Rate This Article
Leave a Comment
More Living Faith News
- Pope Francis says atheists can do good and go to heaven too!
- Receiving the Eucharist: I Have Decided to Kneel For Jesus
- Exorcism or not, it's still a miracle
- The Holy Spirit: Sanctifier and Giver of Life, Love and Truth
- Pope Francis tweets his prayers following devastation in Moore
- The Paraclete: The Counselor Who Helps Us Fulfill Our Calling
- Pope Francis calls for change within the Church
- Atheists to have their books placed atop Gideon Bibles
- Killer whale with missing fins cared for by its pod family
- Fr. Paul Schenck: Finding Living Faith on Catechetical Sunday
- The Movie Yellow: Incest as 'Normal' and Cassavates's Slides Into the World of Woes
- The Chicago School Teachers Strike Reveals the Need For School Choice
- The Sexual Barbarians and the Dissolution of Culture
- The Happy Priest Challenges Us to Ask: Who is Jesus to Me?
- Michael Coren on Canadian Public Schools: Teachers, leave those kids alone
- We Cannot Ignore Our Consciences: Cardinal Dolan On Religious Liberty
- In the Face of Danger, Successor of Peter Travels to Lebanon as a Messenger of Peace
- Reflections on the Dignity and Vocation of Women: Who or What?