In the Beginning…there was the Creation…
…But Creation never stopped…
Humanity needs religion, and to date there is no working substitute. Secular humanism has proven to be very weak tea, indeed. I concede that individuals can carry on with an internalized religious perspective. But families? Not so much.
In other articles and essays I have addressed the need for religion in much more detail. In summary, civilization requires a robust moral infrastructure and its citizens need institutions dedicated to character development. Children are growing up in an increasingly nihilistic culture without sufficient exposure to a life-affirming, morally sound counter-culture
If you are reading this, you are likely members of the “choir”, or your former members, or you are fellow travelers with concerns about the fate and future of religious beliefs.
As I write this, the most educated, life-affirming religious congregations (both Christian and Jewish) in the US are losing ground. Within the traditional catholic-protestant churches in the US, the erosion is a steady, slow drip. Jewish congregations are held together by cultural allegiance, but the secular culture seems to be winning out there, too.
Overall, the erosion is in the direction of non-affiliated, non-religious.
The trend is far more advanced in Europe. At the same time, outside the US, the most retrograde, life-negating, creativity-hostile forms of religion (thinking particularly of radical Islam) are gaining traction.
The US mega-church phenomenon is worth a mention here. These churches (congregations upwards of 1,000 each) may or may not represent a counter-trend. These very large non-denominational protestant, standalone congregations, typically flourish in suburban areas where real estate and building costs are cheaper. They are thriving in part because of sheer scale. But they are also driven by fundamentalist evangelism, media savvy, salvation-marketing business practices, using non-traditional clergy oriented to “spiritual entrepreneurialism.” Few if any of their leaders are likely to take up the theme of this essay.
The mega churches are market-based Christianity. Typically, they offer many more congregation-based programs (as in youth groups, for example) than small churches can provide. Are they still growing? The numbers are hard to come by. But they are tilling fertile soil in communities where Christianity is already prevalent. Is there any mega church outreach to the church-alienated creative sub-communities where secularism and even cynicism have taken root? I can’t tell, but At least four things can be said about this subject with some confidence:
1. US aggregate church attendance is still declining.
2. Any evangelical outreach works better than no outreach, yet most traditional denominations are uncomfortable with the whole evangelical approach.
3. The mega churches are more flexible, and more organizationally creative than the declining traditional ones.
4. While the very notion of performance-based clergy is anathema to traditional churches, the model seems to be working very well for the mega-churches.
Are the mega churches an outlier, OR are they the apex of a general religious recovery? I simply do not know. But this is clearly a development to follow.
Now to the main theme:
Contemporary creative communities are alienated from religious communities, except in those rare cases where religious institutions are patrons of the arts – still an uneasy partnership at best. The alienation tends to be mutual. Creative people from the economic plateaus of Silicone Valley to the struggling artists in gritty, poor urban neighborhoods simply do not feel drawn to or comfortable within the hallowed precincts of religion. Very few religious communities seem to know quite what to do with the creative ones among us. Most creative artists are divorced from organized religious practices – the split is as strong as the separation of church and state.
This is a tragic failure because our life affirming creative activities and our various religious communities could be natural allies - there is much to gain from a spirit of mutual validation and support between these communities. The breach is particularly troubling in light of a number of related social developments: the coarsening popular culture; the growing pattern of corruption in public and private institutions; the glorification of violence in popular media; the increasing influence of nihilist thinking particularly as it has infected popular entertainment; and the failure of technologists and religious leaders alike to come to grips with the ethical implications of research that can radically alters human life.
Surely there is a deep, vital and natural connection between all the human creative activities that further the “good”, the “beautiful” and the “true” (particularly as they promote and sustain human life, fruitful cooperation, empathy, and joy) and God’s ongoing loving attention. Because I thought that connection was intuitively obvious, imagine my surprise at just how little theological discussion that the miracle of human creativity has actually generated.
Bureaucratic structures are necessary on a mundane level, but all too often they are the natural antagonists of the creative process. Church bureaucracies are no exception.
The creative process is messy. Creativity withers and dies under a puritanical rule.
The arts are spiritual salvation points for the souls who’re lost in the desert of scientism. Many modern minds are locked into what I am calling the Soulless Machine Universe Paradigm. The arts – especially poetry and music - often hold the key.
Our ability to apprehend and value esthetics, ethics and the numinous (the good, the beautiful and the holy) as features of reality (as opposed to mere psychological states) are part same suite of faculties wired into conscious being -- another divine gift.
Who could read the poetry of the Jesuit Priest, G M. Hopkins, for example, and not actually hear the voice of the Holy Spirit? Especially I think of Gods Grandeur (“The world is charged with the grandeur of God, it will flame out, like shining from shook foil”) and Pied Beauty (Glory be to God for dappled things – for skies of couple-colour as a brindled cow”). And who could see the innocent creative play of a small child coloring and not see evidence of God’s grace.
Somehow, religion is still reluctant to embrace human creative activities. I believe that this reluctance to embrace human creativity as a general good echoes a much older view.
This is an idea of a static universe, created once and for all. It stems – I think – from a literal reading of the biblical Creation narrative, instead of the allegorical, deeply informative metaphor that it is. In effect this mindset became naively fixed on a single, massive exercise of Creation, the notion that in the Beginning there was one series of divine-ordered events, the flash creation of the humans, the fall of humanity. The end of cosmological history became the beginning of the post-fall human narrative. In this view, the role of creation was complete at a fixed point in time, except for the project of our redemption from the fall. The notion of human fallenness has a valuable moral force because it captures our potential for evil as well as our predisposition for the good. But this mindset had the unintended effect of marginalizing human creative activities in art and technology. They become avocations only, activities to be admired and valued only as recreational diversions unless they operate within a narrowly bounded religious context. I believe that humor and creativity uniquely important gifts. They represent a playful attitude towards the surprising and the unexpected. Humor, creativity and spiritual receptiveness are natural allies.
Think of birds who naturally organize their airborne flock patterns as if there were some overall coordinating avian traffic control officer. Think of hurricanes, termite mounds (they can look like castles) and stock market patterns. Think of those “Ahah!” moments when creative inspiration strikes and a whole set of unconnected thoughts and impressions suddenly and unexpectedly fit together and something entirely new and wonderful is revealed. All these are examples of higher order emerging from less organized systems - the phenomenon of emergence, or we might say of “creative emergence.”
Emergence describes the spontaneous, appearance of complex, stable order within interactive systems in a way that could not be anticipated by a straightforward examination of the constituent elements.
Scientists have been able to directly observe ongoing creative processes in nature, and detect the broad traces of earlier creative processes over the history of the universe.
The discovery of the phenomenon of emergence as fundamental feature of natural processes was first observed by the ancients and has been greatly developed in 20th and 21st studies of complex systems. Emergence provides a powerful key to understanding creative processes in the world. But it also gives us a striking theological insight into how the divine is involved in the world’s ongoing development. This insight works whether we focus on the Divine Creator as the architect of original conditions of a universe in which life and humanity would inevitably emerge and flourish, or one in which the “architect” is an ongoing active, loving presence among us. In either view, we live in a universe in which fertile, generative novelty has produced us, and continues to operate, all in accordance with the Creator’s nature and will.
The insight also gives us a way to reconcile the obvious manifestations of the divine creative presence in the here and now with the findings of science.
Creative processes in nature and in human culture operate in a zone at the edge of chaos. If everything were absolutely predetermined by rigid mechanical laws, there would be not room for creative innovation or human choice. If there were total chaos, there would be no secure, preserved order, no basis for retaining the fruits of creation. An Anglican-theologian, the former physicist, the Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne, writes of the need for theology to supplement creation ex nihilo with creatio continua. Polkinghorne defines the latter as “...the sequential emergence of new possibilities not previously realized, as when life emerged from inanimate matter, consciousness from life, and hominid consciousness from animal consciousness (from his Theology in the Context of Science, p 110, citing P. Clayton’s, Mind and Emergence).
Polkinghorne often repeats the observation of his theologian colleague, Arthur Peackocke - also a scientist - to the effect that “the history of creation is not to be seen as the performance of a fixed score already written in eternity, but an unfolding improvisation in which creatures and their God both participate.”
Music! I am personally persuaded that music, as a communication medium, can carry the language of God without words. This thesis is partly corroborated by some fascinating biographical pieces of evidence, linking Freud and bin Laden. And by dolphin studies, of all things, that demonstrate that these bright, playful mammals prefer Mozart (when played under water) to heavy metal.
Once we accept that the universe, this world, and humanity itself are part of an unfinished project and that the divine presence suffuses and gently influences all of creation in real time, then the processes of creative emergence take on an entirely new cast.
The phenomenon of emergence in nature – including human nature – is God’s paintbrush.
In the largest sense, life itself is an emergent property a life-calibrated universe; conscious being is an emergent property of evolving life forms; and the capacity for creativity is an emergent property of conscious beings, a gift to humanity. It is difficult bordering on the impossible to think deeply about these things without the God context.
A theology of ongoing creativity is straightforward: It appears that God has chosen to employ creative emergence to produce “the world” and us. As the children of creation, we are creative agents, charged to use our creative abilities to the extent we are able to do so, to advance God’s work.
I should note that creative includes procreative and re-creative, among its other benign forms.
A human artist creates a beautiful picture by using a novel combination of color and form; a composer works with a pallet of notes and sonorities. The creative work emerges from the constituent elements – as the sculpture emerges from the stone. Surely, benign, life-affirming creative inspiration is a holy activity, because there is a loving God in the moment of creation.
Creativity has been carefully channeled, marginalized and occasionally suppressed by various religious and secular traditions over the centuries. Creativity is sometime scary because of its individualistic character, its disruptive effects, its association with decadence and because of its tendency to distract one from the “truly important.” It is also legitimately scary because, as the Nazis and other forces of Evil have demonstrated, creativity can be perverted.
Yes there are dangers associated with creativity. They are essentially the same category of dangers associated with the gift of fire and of human volition itself.
A commitment to creativity introduces seeming contradictions, all of which benefit from the balance provided by a life-affirming moral perspective.
When someone who is deeply suffering is sharply brought to our attention, the very enjoyment of life (especially as our lives are enhanced or inspired by the life affirming art-forms) is often seen as a guilty indulgence. Since someone somewhere is always suffering, the celebration of life through art can always be seen as a guilty indulgence. Yet Jesus advocated joy.
When we protect children’s innocence, this frequently means that we protect them from disturbing contact with all the suffering in the world so that they can safely and without undue guilt enjoy their fleeting childhood years.
But this same notion of “guilty pleasures”, when taken too seriously and too widely applied, has several side effects, all of them bad, at least in my world view. Several problems come to mind:
The open celebration of life affirming art and beauty, as a value in itself, without formal religious trappings, is excluded from the formal religious sphere in favor of explicitly religious art forms. Yet those dark, “instructive” pieces of art designed to bring us into closer awareness of suffering are endorsed, adopted and openly admired.
Please understand – I’m emphatically not against “dark” religious art forms or instructive naturalism as art, but I do believe that the contemporary religious neglect of the open celebration of life affirming art and beauty, as a value in itself, with or without formal religious trappings, is not just unfortunate, but it is unintentionally harmful.
Modern creative art communities tend to be alienated from the religious ones in a sort of mirror image of the way that many puritan sects were alienated from the rampant beauty of old Catholicism, rejected as idolatry, but also as simply “decadent”. From time to time, a religious figure will bless a secular undertaking, especially one that served the poor. But when has a major religious figure blessed a rampantly beautiful display of art the purpose of which is the “mere” human enjoyment of life?
The other creative communities, thinking of technological creativity in general and Silicon Valley in particular, have gone beyond mere alienation. After all, alienation implies a moral disagreement, which in turn implies a morality. No, some of the technological creative communities are arriving at a state of indifference. This is not trivial, because their moral and esthetic alienation have similar consequences.
Art, particularly as it represents beauty and points to something greater than gross materialism, is a pathway from the arid reaches of a dead universe uninhabited by God.
The misuse of art forms for anti-life purposes, like the malogens that infect the post-modern info-swamp; malogens toxic images, ideas embedded in “art”, the dark consequences of the alienation of the artistic, creative communities that illustrate that creation needs its moral context as much as we living creatures need air and water.
Social historians, anthropologists and other scholars of the human condition are now able to track a whole series of creative developments in the human condition over the last 50,000 years, from fire and civilized cooperation through the advent of concert music and common worship. Creative eruptions occur from time to time in the social order. During these transitional and transformative pivot moments, darkness may opportunistically erupt.
The Moses-engendered Creative Outbreak [2000 BCE =/- 800]
The establishment of ethically-founded monotheism (a single deity, the source and author of the moral law) was an emergent creative outbreak within tribal polytheism. The timeframe is impossible difficult fix with any accuracy, but could have taken place within centuries of the Jewish Exodus from their Egyptian captivity around 1312 BCE.
The Athenian Creative Outbreak – [500 BCE – 300 CE]
This was a creative reformation within urban paganism. The Golden Age of Athens, taken as a whole, represented a huge creative leap in philosophy, mathematics, history, the study of politics, logic, ethics and the beginnings of natural science.
The Christian Creative Outbreak – [25 -350 CE]
This was a creative transformation within Judaism that brought the Torah - in its highest form - to the Western world and helped form Western Civilization. The echoes and permutations continue into the modern. The question of the day is whether this creative force will continue in the new millennium.
The Medieval Information-Diffusion Explosion [1400-1600+]
A cluster of creative developments in Europe, including the use of paper and printing technology multiplied literacy, broke the priestly and royal monopoly of the written word, spreading access to information exponentially with profound and lasting effects, including the stimulation of creative thinking and innovation in the arts and sciences through the modern period.
The European Renaissance [1260 – 1640]
This was a powerful emergent creative outbreak in the arts, philosophy and the sciences, the effects of which are still being felt. The renaissance was the seedbed for the Enlightenment. It took place in a Christian setting.
The Enlightenment [1650-1799]
The democratization of information and the recovery the techniques and prestige of reason sparked a series of social and political readjustments that are still under way, leading to the French and American Revolutions, the dissolution of monarchical power structures and many ongoing developments. Secular influences began to dominate.
The Cyber-Information Explosion [1950- ongoing]
For the first time, the boundary between merely technological innovations, artistic and scientific advances has become completely fluid. Creativity is seen as a broadband innovative activity embracing art, technology, science and exploration. The secular trend has intensified. The pending question is whether this process will fully disconnect creativity from the moral order.
The fiercest opponents of all religions tend to focus on a particular caricature: The archetypal fundamentalist who understands faith only in term of submission to authority – typically the authority of a particular “scripture” that is the only path to avoid condemnation to hell. This is an exercise in which one’s critical intelligence is to be suppressed in the name of blind faith-as-uncritical-obedience. To the scientific mind it is anathema. Yet the entire scientific enterprise depends on an article of faith – that the universe will prove to be rationally intelligible.
Albert Einstein gave us a window into this mindset when he wrote a friend:
You find it strange that I consider the comprehensibility of the world
(to the extent that we are authorized to speak of such a comprehensibility) as
a miracle or an eternal mystery. …Even if the axioms of the theory are proposed
by man, the success of such a project presupposes a high degree of
ordering of the objective world, and this could not be expected a priori. That
is the "miracle" which is being constantly re-enforced as our
knowledge expands. There lies the weaknesses of positivists and professional
atheists who are elated because they feel that they have not only
successfully rid the world of gods but "bared the miracles." Oddly
enough, we must be satisfied to acknowledge the "miracle" without
there being any legitimate way for us to approach it. I am forced to add that
just to keep you from thinking that --weakened by age--I have fallen prey to
Einstein’s faith was essentially that of Isaac Newton. Their shared belief that reason can open the secrets of the universe was founded faith; a faith in the power of human cognition and in a universe that cognition can apprehend, in a word the faith that the universe is rationally ordered. This form of faith is heuristic, that is, it enhances our species ability to acquire knowledge. It is not the only form of heuristic faith.
All belief starts with a decision - we decide to adopt a world view and too live into it while always holding the possibility of correction in reserve. Our strongest beliefs are anchored in authentic personal experience and in trust of those whom we deem worthy of trust. Social organization depends on faith in our ability to apprehend and grasp the inner lives and experiences of other people.
The core faith stance underlying this essay, and my own world view, is that our capacity to share a common sense of being with our fellow humans is a faculty that also can enable us to detect being itself, as it might manifest in the world and beyond. This implies that our deepest urgings - that sense of connection with being-as-universal, including our intimations of the numinous, that all these things can represent glimpses of that greater reality that transcends the mundane. This is a reasonable act of faith, a heuristic faith, no more or less reasonable than the faith-perceptions that allow us to see into the hearts of other persons, to recognize them as persons and not objects, and to see, in them, something of ourselves. The very suite of cognitive faculties that allow us to be social and sometimes moral beings, to apprehend and create beauty and to experience awe, and even reverence, for creation, also allows us to apprehend Ultimate-as-Being, by whatever name or no name at all.”
I find it deeply significant that human intelligence is able to proceed from the awe-at-creation narrative to an ethic of kindness and compassion. Awe is the beginning of wisdom.
Science does not instruct us to doubt the very organizational principles on which the scientific enterprise is founded, nor does it advocate unreasonable doubt concerning those areas of human experience and belief, such as love and trust, about which the metrics of strict empiricism are so obviously inadequate. There is a faith path from Isaac Newton through Baruch Spinoza to Albert Einstein that has propelled the scientific enterprise: The created universe has an elegant underlying deign so miraculously intelligible to human intelligence that scientists are frequently humbly driven to acknowledge that, in the beautiful handwork of nature, one discovers, in the phrase of Albert Einstein and Steven Hawking, “the mind of God.”
When all is said and done, the strongest argument that we live in a universe suffused with the spirit of a Creator is the actual experience of creation-as-a-spiritual event. One’s experience of transcendence and of its deep link to creative inspiration opens a window into the level of reality that old style religions asked adults, as if they were mere children, to blindly accept on authority. I believe that modern humankind is beyond that stage. The current problem is that many of us have been conditioned to reject the evidence contained within our own enhanced cognitive capabilities to recognize the presence of the Creator Being.
Creativity is both a fact of our existence and a message to us about ourselves and our connection to the Ultimate Creative Being. If you seek the connection to the Ultimate Being, you will not be ignored.
It is worth emphasizing that Christianity, itself, was a creative eruption within Judaism. Among its effects over the ensuing centuries: Dethroning the creation-hostile bureaucracies of Rome and the great-wheel pessimistic metaphysics of the East, opening a pathway for the emergence of optimistic, creative civilizations.
Let’s return to the theology questions, inspired by the need to reconnect creative communities with a larger life-affirming moral alignment, with the spiritual-religious dimension of experience, and an ongoing project: to kindle a specifically theological respect for human creative endeavors in all their benign forms.
A theology of creativity should not be all that complicated. After all, it is very experiential and incarnational. This may be the greatest gift of the Celtic sense-of-life to the developing Christian sensibility.
Human creative play is inherently holy, as long as it is infused with love. A creativity-friendly theology flows from a few very fundamental ideas, simply put. God created humans in the divine image, meaning, at a minimum, that we were purposely endowed with the capacity for creative powers. To claim otherwise would imply that we somehow stole the power to create from God.
Yes, we were created as imperfect (or we might say incomplete) realizations of God’s image, remaining subordinate to God’s moral law, free to err, because the gift of creativity included the freedom to fail. We were created as children who were expected to grow in both creativity and moral sensibility. It follows that our gift of the power to create is to be used in coherence with God’s beneficent purposes. When we use our creative powers in that way, we are engaged in an inherently holy activity.
We were not created with instant insights into our own nature. As we have learned more about ourselves, we have discovered the deep connections between our play and creative activities. That connection was put there by our Creator. When the Holy Spirit animates our play and creativity, these things are holy.
[About those “Malogens”]
Children and young “adults” are subjected to a seductive torrent of bizarre, unfiltered material, both emotionally and morally disturbing. This material seethes through the culture and the adolescent sub-cultures, as entertainment, spreading like a computer virus. This toxic material is relatively harmless to those who are well rooted in the deep ethical traditions that have upheld humanity, but it is highly contagious to New Age addled juvenile minds. These are malogens a new term for information-carried malignant, toxic influences (really they are moral pathogens). Their signature is the glorification or romantization of death - whether homicide or suicide, by wrapping dark, anti-life images, lyrics, ideas, in attractive, “even “cool” packages. They saturate the internet; they are carried by computers, cell phones and personal contact wherever “modern” juveniles congregate.
A few years ago, I was pleased to exchange some of these ideas with a political scientist, Maria H Chang. Professor Chang is author of “Falun Gong: The End of Days” - Yale 2004. She has written a paper, “Christology in Popular Culture: Christ Images as Antidotes to ‘Malogens’” from which I quote--.
“Transmitted via the media are cultural pathogens, for which retired Alameda County public defender Jay B. Gaskill has coined the word “malogens.” These are “malevolent” ideas, images, and themes in popular culture that are “as dangerous to the developing mind as biological pathogens are to the developing body.” The pathogens are transmitted through personal contact and the media—in music, movies, television, video (or virtual) games, and on the Internet. The malogens behave as opportunistic infectious agents seeking fertile breeding grounds, sometimes attacking and overtaking entire subcultures. The teen subcultures especially are vulnerable because they are among the most under-protected targets in American society. [Fn. Jay B. Gaskill, “Reading the Defense: The killing of Pamela Vitale-Horowitz,” September 23, 2006, http://www.jaygaskill.com/Vitalehorowitzdeath.htm .]
“That the malogens are malevolent or evil can be seen in two ways. Gaskill identifies the first “telltale” sign to be “the celebration of violent, even homicidal imagery”; the second is “a nihilist, even anti-life ethos.” [Ibid.] Indeed, Gaskill’s conception of malogens as being malignant is consistent with a definition of evil among psychiatrists. Erich Fromm saw evil as “all that serves death” and “all that stifles life, narrows it down, cuts it into pieces.” [Fn. Erich Fromm, The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good and Evil (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), p. 47.] M. Scott Peck similarly observed that evil is “live” spelled backward. “Evil is in opposition to life. It is that which opposes the life force. It has, in short, to do with killing. Specifically, it has to do with murder.” [Fn. M. Scott Peck, M.D., People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil (New York: Touchstone, 1983), p. 42.]
“The cultural pathogens of anti-life nihilism suffuse contemporary popular media—in the ubiquitous pornography on the Internet, in increasingly violent images in motion pictures and television, in macabre role-playing computer games, and in the death-obsessed music of alternative rock.”
Chistogens are, in professor Chang’s proposal, an effective antidote. As she puts it:
“The most remarkable of these antidotes are the “Christogens”—Christlike characters in wildly popular works of film and literature, most notably J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and the Superman mythos. The unmistakable draw of these stories suggests that, despite the efforts of those hostile to Western civilization, many in our contemporary society remain attached to its core values of good vs. evil, family, country, and private ownership, as well as personal virtues of charity, courage, loyalty, self-discipline, chivalry, honor, fidelity, and chastity. The stories’ enormous success signifies strong popular dissent from the Progressive worldview and agenda of moral relativism.”
[From Dr. Chang’s “Christology in Popular Culture”, published in The Oxford Review, an independent Catholic Journal, published in Berkeley, CA.]
I believe we are obligated to ask: Why are these toxins able to propagate so freely? Without religiously founded moral systems, effectively installed as a firewall in young minds, there is no effective resistance.
MY PERSONAL JOURNEY
So far in this essay, I have tried to stay within the broad ecumenical zone - the one that remains intelligible - and hopefully engaging - to my secular humanist friends, especially those who have been wondering whether there is really more to this religion business.
The acceptance of the reality and relevance of spirituality is a passage of sorts. But the entry into a creedal relationship, say, as in one’s relationship to the Divine presence as an historical event, Person, or creative intervention, and into communion with others who share this worldview is a passage through a Doorway. I am writing from the other side of such a doorway now, a door that must remain open…
Doorways differ from holes. Doorways invite, enclose (and regrettably sometimes exclude. Holes are just passageways.
“Spirituality” - in the general, New Age usage - exploits “holes” in the human experience, noetic “portholes”, if you will, through which all sorts of states of “consciousness” (altered or not) can pass.
But the world’s creedal religions use doorways.
Of course, these are metaphorical doorways. They function to open into, protect and define our species’ communities of shared belief. The credos of the world’s great creedal religions map the boundaries of the “commonality zones”; in effect they outline the shared moral and spiritual territory inhabited by all those who are willing to cross the threshold.
Our species’ common moral ground is itself a creed. Yes, it does exist.
This century's intelligentsia seems to have great difficulty locating any common spiritual and moral territory, let alone being able to reside there. It is as if our post-modern and modern intellectuals are aboard ships without compasses, tossed by the withering currents of modernism, lost in the post-modern fog.
Jews and Christians occupy that common ground defined and hallowed by the profound Event of Creation and the revelation of the Moral Law to and by Moses. Christians are also defined by a New Event (a Divine Aftershock, if you will) that took place in First Century Palestine - the Jesus Event, in which the essence of the Torah tradition was opened up to the world. This was a historical perturbation that reverberated through all subsequent history, the implications of which inspired a common creed (or at least the necessity of arriving at one) for all Christians, a creed of ancient provenance.
What follows is a sketch of my personal reconciliation with creedal religion in general and an account of my middle aged attachment to creedal Christianity in particular. It is the account of why I stepped through the doorway.
Millions of Christians recite a summary of their shared belief every week by reciting some version of a creed.
All these recitations are derivations or translations of an original version, commonly known as the Nicene Creed.
I was a relatively recent arrival in the realm of creedal Christendom. Having exited the Unitarian spiritual wilderness several decades ago, I began a long journey seeking a richer faith experience that I could reconcile with science and critical reason. My personal journey was a little like that of the mariners who kept trying to navigate a difficult passage through shoals, reefs and other traps, seeking open seas, clear skies and good sailing. The goal was worth it, but the obstacles daunting. And there was that door.
I am one who believes in the findings of the human scientific enterprise, in the critical disciplines of reason and I also believe with equal confidence in the deeper truths about life, in beauty, goodness, in the reality of right and wrong, and in the possibility of redemption and renewal after failure and futility.
And I opened that door.
With my rational 21st Century mind, I was able to grasp the truth that Jesus’ post-execution triumph was real, relevant and ongoing. It carried a special message of history-changing power: He was destined to be the world’s Ecumenical Messiah. His crucifixion by the occupying Roman Imperial authorities was destined to be the most spectacularly failed execution in history.
His resurrection to his followers was as real as the eternal beauty of Mozart, Bach and Chopin – no it was more real. And the implications of his resurrection were destined to inspire all later generations to overcome evil tyrants, even by laying down their very lives.
It came to me that such an inspiration, such a destiny, operating over millennia could not have been an accidental or incidental effect.
I came to understand that the Jesus Event was as real as the meteor strike that decimated dinosaur species about 66 million years ago. It was well beyond myth -- though I believe that we should never dismiss those benign myths that stubbornly endure in human history; they are really archetypal, formative structures of consciousness which have emerged as part of the dialogue between human nature and the divine nature.
But Jesus’ life was both historically real and historically transformative; the Jesus Event was a set of actual, multi-level, real-world occurrences and ongoing effects.
On one level, The Jesus Event worked a major historical transformation: History was given a magnificent example of single holy man who lived out (and ultimately universalized) the deep Jewish religious traditions and expectations about the Son of God / Liberating Savior / Messiah. [I note that the first two titles had been arrogated to Caesar Augustus.]
Even taken as a benign social mutation, the Jesus Event confirmed the power of the moral order as supreme over regents and the “common” people alike. The Jesus Event so altered the human experience, that social organization, human relationships and the conduct and development vector of civilization were thereafter never again to be seen in the same light.
But on another level, I find that the signature of divine intervention to be unmistakable. In Jesus’ ministry, the Spirit of the Creator of all, the Holy Spirit of Divine moral consciousness, the holy One, was displayed as awake (incarnated) in one human mind, and through that single holy flesh-and-blood life, the fact of divine loving attention entered history as an active, palpable, leavening presence. And history changed course.
That active, palpable, leavening presence of the Divine among us has never left.
The Easter transformation of Jesus’ execution into a resurrected non-mortal life was the defining Event through which the Ruach, the Holy Spirit (as loving, divine attention), became fully accessible to the “common” people. Millions and millions of receptive individuals are profoundly affected by this ongoing presence every day.
Moreover, the Easter transformation vividly modeled the possibility of individual recovery, renewal, and rebirth. An engine of immense social change was released into the world. The Jesus Event above all, unleashed an engine of recovery and liberation.
My 21st century, scientifically literate mind, is able to understand, accept and rejoice in the resurrection as one of those extraordinary singular events in the universe that operate at the outer limits of probability, never quite violating the deeper physical order, except perhaps as a reminder that the moral order is equally real and equally powerful in all aspects of human life.
So if one accepts – as I have – that Jesus was the incarnate (i.e., ‘enfleshed/embodied’) Spirit of divine moral consciousness. It follows that his resurrection could not be confined to the remote past, nor to the Middle-East. Even a fully documented one-off resuscitation miracle event would be little solace to us now and little relevance. Because it was (as I now believe) a resurrection of the incarnated Spirit, the Event resonates across time.
Please allow me a personal note about the phenomenon of incarnation. Years ago, my wife and I attended a concert in San Francisco where a string orchestra "performed" a work by a famous composer, long dead. An utterly amazing thing happened. It was as if this musical masterwork was alive during the performance. The performers may have been technically perfect, but none of the technical details mattered. You could see it in their faces. In that moment, they were the piece. The musicians were inhabited by the spirit of the composition. You could see it in their bowing, in their complete, non-verbal communication, in their common inspiration. Afterwards, I realized that these musicians weren't “playing” the piece, they were actually incarnating it’s spirit. For that one magical moment, my wife and I were in the presence of an incarnation. I later ordered a recording of the same musicians playing the same work, but on a different occasion. A fine performance but the magic was absent. This sort of thing is not very common in the day-today lives of performing artists, but such transformative moments do occur and they are real.
Incarnation is real.
Christ as a spiritual (re)incarnation that can operate in the present moment for us? Now that would trump the questions about what exactly “happened” (in the strictly mechanical sense) in the immediate aftermath of the crucified Jesus. That is what I now believe took place. But how could this be?
How can anything miraculous be true?
A miracle is not a fracture or break in the natural order. In my personal theology, such a fracture would be an “apocalypse”, i.e., something that would never occur except by a direct, profound intervention of our ultimate Creator, by breaking (and possibly ending) the very fabric of creation. No – resurrection is an ongoing process, while apocalypse is a one-time event.
Perhaps resurrection is best understood by modern minds as the re-instantiation of a universal life and moral consciousness after physical death, as was historically prefigured / modeled in the 1st Century AD. For me, it was both instructive and compellingly persuasive that resurrection took place in the context of moral renewal. That renewal began with the Jesus Event and continues even now to affect the human condition. Seen this way, resurrection is a continuing process that does not violate the ordering principles that govern creation because it is part of ongoing creation that has made the universe and continues to remake all things new.
Resurrection, in this sense, is fully consonant with the laws of a natural order in which the moral law, the developmental laws of creation and the mechanical/physical laws are seen as mutually integrated.
We live out our lives in this “fabric of creation”, a realm that integrates spiritual being with the merely physical in a comprehensively rational and beautiful order of all that is. This is the Ultimate created order that allows for the physical universe’s innate incompleteness, saturated as it is with ongoing creation processes. The physical universe is in a “becoming state” anchored and driven by its in relationship with Ultimate-Being, Ultimate Beauty, Ultimate Goodness, - all aspects of the Ultimate Person.
Within this context, miracles are those profound benign and creative “warps” in the fabric of probability that suggest, but do not really amount to breaches in the integrity of the created order. We detect them as highly improbable (but not impossible) wonders. They are the in-breaking of Universal Being’s benign attention. Christ’s resurrection belongs to the category of the miraculous, not that of apocalypse.
This is how I found that is comfortable to repeat the litany spoken in faith by my fellow Christians several millions of times each week; and as I can imagine the peoples of the 23rd century doing the same. In this chaotic world, these are words of hope and creative moral power …Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
I believe that all authentic religions are only superficially in conflict with each other.  I believe that religious belief systems, theologies, spiritual models and techniques can be understood via metaphor as connectivity software, designed (albeit imperfectly) to link us to the same Ultimate Source. When these modalities work as advertised, they open up a working nexus between one receptive human mind and the Ultimate Mind.
Most issues that divide religious communities seem real enough at the time when they inevitably erupt, even urgently important to the disputants, even as life and death issues. Yet they tend to prove transient from the Ultimate perspective.
Most religious differences can be understood as translation and interpretation issues; and the most deadly disputes are almost always the products of human frailty - our own intellectual and spiritual incapacities. Of course, some religious persons will fall into evil thought patterns, often clothed in faux spiritual trappings. So there is no substitute for mature, developed moral intelligence.
Given human fallibility, the cultivation of moral humility is always a good idea. In my personal view, the inherent condition of any newborn child - an infant’s incapacity to form moral intelligence in a conscious relationship with the Creator Being is the only defensible basis for the notion of “original sin.” Babies are born innocent. Their moral incapacity is a curable condition that confers a solemn obligation on the parents. This is why baptism ceremonies should include the adult parents who are called to raise their children into a fruitful relationship to the Creator Being.
The Nicene text represents a religious and political compromise forced on about 300 disputatious bishops of the Catholic Church by the Emperor Constantine in 325 CE. This resolution followed (and quelled) ongoing religious conflicts that had become especially violent in 322-3.
When the Emperor convened the First Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church in 325, he chose Nicaea to accommodate attending bishops from Egypt to Asia. Constantine, himself a recent convert, had little patience for doctrinal nuance. He forcefully directed the bishops to “work it out.” Given the Creed’s provenance as a compact between warring disputants, the Nicene Creed has been pretty much immune from editorial revision ever since.
There a number of Protestant revisions and simplifications of the traditional Nicene Creed, but the key elements can by concisely summarized:
Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, incarnated the Creator, yet He was tortured by the Romans, and suffered death. He was resurrected, appearing to a large number of his followers. He remains alive to all who are receptive to his message of love and redemption. He represents God’s promise to all humanity that there really is true justice, if not in this world, then with and through Christ in the next.
I’ve expanded my thoughts on the Creed in an article posted at: http://jaygaskill.com/CreedChristDoorway.pdf
As I write this early in the 21st Century, several humans live in near space – close orbit around the mother planet. That has been true now for a number of years. We have every reason to expect the distances between mother planet and humans will grow along with the number of humans. There are many versions and iterations of the Creed.
What will our descendants in the 22nd and 23rd centuries think about Jesus of Nazareth – Christ and the “Creed”? The preamble might resemble words of that nominal atheist, Karl Sagan:
“We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.
“The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.
“Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
This was the most famous excerpt from a commencement address delivered by the late Carl Sagan on May 11, 1996.
I suspect that a future Creed may well include some version of the ancient prayer of St. Patrick:
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.
I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.
Christ shield me today
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation.
Karen Armstrong, A HISTORY OF GOD
Alfred Knopf 1993
Martin Buber, ECLIPSE OF GOD, A Critique of the 20th Century Philosophies…
Harper Brothers 1952
(The) Dalai Lama, THE UNIVERSE IN A SINGLE ATOM, The Convergence of Science and Spirituality
Morgan Road Books 2005
Paul Davies, THE MIND OF GOD, The Scientific Basis For A Rational World
Simon and Schuster 1992
Michael J Denton, NATURE’S DESTINY, How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe
The Free Press 1998
THE FIVE BOOKS OF MOSES - Everett Fox (translation)
Schocken Books 1997
BEYOND SCIENCE, The Wider Human Context
Cambridge University Press 1996
QUANTUM PHYSICS AND THEOLOGY, An Unexpected Kinship
Yale University Press 2007
QUARKS, CHAOS AND CHRISTIANITY
Crossroad Publishing 1994
Ilya Prioigine, ORDER OUT OF CHAOS, Man’s New Dialogue With Nature
Bantam books 1984
Huston Smith, WHY RELIGION MATTERS, The Fate of The Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief
Teilhard de Chardin, THE PHENOMENON OF MAN
Harper and Row 1959
Pamela Vermes, BUBER ON GOD AND THE PERFECT MAN
Littman Library of Jewish Civilization 1994 (Second Ed.)
Copyright © 2012 and 2016 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law
I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation.
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OTHER ARTICLES by the Author
 I need to add here the observations of the physicist turned priest, the Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne, that all the findings of science necessarily stop at the edge of final explanations; science, for example, is incompetent to address the great “Why?” questions, including “Why do science?” Modern physicists are much more aware of the limitations of their craft than were their 19th and early 20th century predecessors.
 Theologians will recognize the echo of deism in the first view - and of theism in the second.
 Dr. Armond Nicholi, in his famous Harvard study, an imagined conversation between SC Lewis and Freud, the atheist, describes Freud as hating music. Another source says that Freud described himself as being ‘ganz unmusikalisch’ (totally unmusical). Despite his much-protested resistance, he could enjoy certain operas and he used musical metaphors in the context of theory and therapy. Freud seemed to feel uneasy without a guide from the more rational part. To be emotionally moved by something without knowing what was moving him or why, was an intrinsically anxious experience. The operas he listened were ‘conversational’ and ‘narrative’ forms of music, which is theorized, provided him with some kind of ‘cognitive control’ over the affective impact of the musical sounds. Note also that (Wiki source) Bin Laden opposed music on “religious" grounds.
 This is my term for the invasive moral pathogens, as death-seeking images and lyrics in pop culture, for example. For more details, see the Appendix to this article.
 From a letter to Maurice Solovine (1875-1958), a young
student of philosophy who wanted to take lessons with Einstein in physics… As
quoted by Robert Goldman., Einstein's God—Albert
Einstein's Quest as a Scientist and as a Jew to Replace a Forsaken God
 Any given miraculous event cannot violate the natural law just by being very, very, very improbable. Note – read or reread read the short book by CS Lewis on Miracles for his criteria, where he distinguishes miracles from the merely bizarre by employing what he calls “fittingness.” Also note: One well regarded working quantum physicist who became a theologian, the Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne, has proposed that the Creator continues to operate in the universe via probabilistic effects and “active information.”
 I do not want to trivialize religious differences among good people. For example, full-on Platonists tend to be drawn to deism, the model of a remote architect deity. For Christians, the historical incarnation of the Spirit of Deity in human forms a noetic bridge, if you will, a message that Plato’s remote realm of forms omits a rich authentic history-based tradition of contact with a caring deity.
 …Ultimate Person, Fountainhead of creativity and moral wisdom, the Singular Holy Being Who is beyond naming or owning, but never fully beyond humanity’s reach…