In a recent conversation about God’s creation of the universe the statement “We (meaning us humans) don’t create” was made. It surprised me and didn’t feel right but I felt that to argue against it I had very little solid statements. After all "create" is a woolly term.
You click on “Create” to start a new Word document but is creating a file really creation? If so is it the Microsoft program doing the actual creating? I would consider that the most mundane definition. Yet is that all there is to human creation as well – a programmed response? Or is there something else – the capacity to bring forth genuinely new possibilities?
What about when sand in a dust storm creates a swirling pattern? Is that the height of creation? The more I learn about uncertainty in physics the more I realise this is a different sort of creation to that of a classic linear program but it’s still not intelligent. What does intelligent mean though? Is there such a thing as creativity that is guided by intelligence? Or is intelligence itself guided (even chaotically determined) by a dumb creativity? Is intelligence just the swirl in the sand storm?
Originally this essay was a polemic against a certain understanding of humans as non-creative or as “bad” creators. In this understanding the only good creative acts of humanity occur when we become animated by a divine other. The classic story is that of the Muses. In other versions it is the Christian Holy Spirit. In yet other versions it is a life force that runs through us and the planet.
My greatest concern with this way of thinking is all the horrible burden of divinely inspired dross that we have to deal with because of it. If I write a self-help book that is considered God-inspired (or Angel channelled etc) how much harder is it for people to challenge my advice. If the only way for my advice to be worthwhile enough to publish is to attribute it to a divine other, then I am always bound to create (or rather not create!) this kind of unstoppable force. It seems more honest and more accountable to acknowledge the author in the room; myself.
Still without a Muse or God (or for that matter a Devil) separate from myself how do I create? Where do the new things that seem to issue from me (or through me) come from? If creation is the province of the divine, then is it perhaps necessary to consider the “divine-within” to explain it?
There is a vein of Christian theology which can be tapped to describe this human divinity. Much has been made of the idea that we are “created in the image of God” particularly in terms of our creative capacity. Alfred Whitehead (Process Theology) and Paul Tillich are two very prominent theologians who might be worth reading in this regard. Alas I gave away my Paul Tillich text recently - only now seeing his relevance. That’s often the way with the books that sit on my shelf for years.
There are also a range of theologies outside of Christianity which present the divine realm as essentially incomplete without humanity to shake it up. That afternoon television classic “Monkey Magic” illustrates how in Perfect Land Buddhism a stagnant celestial bureaucracy exists under the perfect Buddha spirit. It is as important that Monkeys irrepressible manner kicks over the norms of heaven as it is that their attitudes are reformed by Buddha spirit. Personally I always identified with Monkey in this fashion. In atleast some forms of Buddhism and Hindusim I would be free to, as there is no separation between ourself and demigods and Gods. The divine is not other at all.
The Khabbalah, a Jewish mysticism that has paralleled both temple and rabbinical Judaism, contains a theology built around the incompleteness of God. This is an incompleteness that is resolved in Christianity by the relational Trinity. In the Kaballah however it is humanity’s relationship with God that completes us both. (Sort of. I’m no expert on this and would appreciate correction.) In Khabbalism for God’s creative work to be enacted there is an absolute need for us to embrace our creative role. In this schema we are purpose built to create and God relies on us completing this purpose.
“New Age” philosophies tend to be deeply concerned with enabling human creativity. This is possibly because of their suitedness to the post-industrial economies that sponsor them and the importance of creativity in those economies. It is also possibly because the New Age is defined by a demand for utility by the individual “seeker”. To the extent that New Age philosophies borrow Hindu and Khabbalistic ideas they tend to emphasise a human divinity. To the extent that they borrow from Gnosticism instead they tend to accentuate the divine-other as a source for human creativity. Certainly this question is huge in the New Age literature but it is hardly answered consistently.
My own formulation of how I create is complicated. I do believe that original “stuff” can emerge from me. I don’t think I am ever a doorway to a divine force though. I guess I never think of my creations as being divine. Somehow I consider them both ordinary and yet new and spontaneous. In fact it seems to me to be the ordinary way of things to be creative. That's life.
I don’t know how I can evaluate whether what I create is dross or gold however. I think that’s impossible in an abstract fashion. Living is the real on-going test of my ideas. I guess that means my creations are never really “good” or “bad” merely useful or not. This further reduces any expectation of a divine source.
I also think that the classic image of the creative human is a very atypical one. They are idealised as alone on a mountain receiving that flash of inspiration or conjuring truth ex nihilo. I think it’s more ordinary to create with ones’ peers and from ones’ culture. Further I celebrate such a process. I have always preferred rhetoric over other art forms precisely because its quality is produced through its audience and never without them. There is something therefore about the usual image of individual creativity whether by God through us or by us, which excludes me.
When I consider the greatest creations of humanity such as writing itself these obviously don’t belong to any one individual. In an on-going fashion we continue to create writing and what it means. That’s what blogs are. When this sort of creation is the subject in question it again reduces the expectation of a divine source. There is something of the swirling sand in the dust storm about it after all.
In the same way I also don’t understand the opposite image of God the sole creator. As with any rhetorician, the quality of creation is produced through its audience and never without them. Actually if your medium is Life then audience participation goes off the chart. If you’re creating life of course you’re co-creating with life because of just what life means. It’s more than a little like roleplaying dungeons and dragons. Sure,the dungeon master has all the maps and has devised a series of events but its the decisions of the characters which makes the story. So if you ask the question from the other side – If God creates how do we join in? – I come closer to a Khabbalistic answer to the question.
My kid just asked me “What are you writing, Dad?”
I replied “A difficult question. How do we create things?”
She thought about it and then stated as if obvious, “With our hands.”
“Yes”, I continued, “But where do our ideas come from before our hands?”
“Our heads,” said my daughter.
“Yes, but where do our ideas come from before our heads?”
My daughter was momentarily stumped. She actually said “A challenge,” before adding “Our eyes.”
She wasn’t entirely sure though. What would you have told her?