Repetition, Ritual, and Beauty

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

Even from a completely secular starting point, it can be worth studying religions to learn how to alter behaviour:

Too often, social reformers have implicitly believed that if you just tell people what is right once, all will be well. However, it seems we need to be told things hundreds of times over long periods before they have any chance whatsoever of affecting how we actually behave. Religions are therefore rightly obsessed with repetition. Three or five or ten times a day, they’ll tell us more or less the same thing, because they know that what seemed really convincing at nine in the morning will have entirely gone by evening. Religions have calendars that split time up into tiny segments, each of which has some divine truth tagged to it.

A ritual is a repeated, communal event connected up with private individual evolution and enlightenment. The secular world is deeply suspicious about, and inept with, rituals. It thinks of them as ‘fake’ and too bossy.

But religions have rituals for everything. All the key moments of life are ‘ritualised’: that is, they are put onto a public footing and given an outward shape.

The modern world has lots of interest in beautiful things: there are elegant boutiques, celebrated designers, fashionable artists, famous singers and lauded buildings… And simultaneously, there’s a high respect for important ideas and concepts.

But what’s lacking is any particular drive to try to unite these two elements: to unite beauty with truth, that is, to try to make the most important concepts and ideas attractive and seductive (and therefore far more effective) through the medium of art.

This is what religions have, for their part, excelled at doing.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    This is basically the Catholic and Orthodox view of things. Except for the High Church Episcopalians and the Lutherans, Protestants rebelled against these Popish ideas.

  2. Correct, though we Orthodox balk at referring to them as “Popish,” per se ;-)

    When I was a catechumen, the priest explicitly mentioned the role of all these factors in the church.

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