Friday 2 August 2013

Creative people and the churches: Heretics OK, Apostates intolerable


There is a problem with creative people and the churches, because:

1. Creative people have a built-in tendency to change things - and some things in the church should not be changed.

2. Creative people typically have a personality type of the (moderately) high-Psychoticism type which is a shopping-list of mostly undesirable traits

For example, creative people are often not conscientious, which means that cannot force themselves to perform duties reliably, regularly, over a long period. They may lack empathy and be rather unconcerned by the opinions of other people. They may be impulsive, prone to tantrums and sulks.


In sum, creative people are more than usually 'selfish' and usually not 'joiners' and find church membership to be more onerous, more irritating, more boring than do most people - exactly because they do not much feels the rewards of service, community, groupishness...


Now, all of these can be moderated and tamed - by personal effort and by a structured environment - but only in degree.

The fact is that people high in Psychoticism - and thus creative people - are generally troublesome and generally not very useful to the running of the church. They tend indeed to be somewhat parasitic on the hard and dutiful work of others.

Since creativity is rare - it may seem that churches are better off without creative people since although there are not many of them, their potential for causing trouble is considerable.



The church absolutely needs creative people - at least it needs them over the long term - even though there are many examples of churches being damaged by the activities of creative people (such as theologians) the fact is that the complexity of the world over the long term means that there will always be unforeseen problems which the church must solve, and which can only be solved by creativity - which means by creative people.

Uncreative churches (and this is a problem of all churches without enough men, where women dominate, that are anti-men, where men lack scope - because most creatives are men, because Psychoticism is higher in men) will over the medium-long term decline and become absorbed into other institutions or become extinct, as a matter of certainty.


Therefore, the church needs to retain creative people over the long haul (as it were 'on a retainer' - for when they are needed) - needs to keep creative people sufficiently within the church that they will consent to and indeed be motivated to work for the church in the way that (only) creatives can.

I mean deeply motivated - in the special way of creative people - which may mean an obsessive rumination on a problem, a process lasting years, even decades.

This degree of motivation cannot be imposed but must come from within - and it means that creatives must be inspired to work for the benefit of the church. They must be loyal - or, despite their many, frequent, minor disloyalties - their basic affiliation to the church must be maintained.


This means that a wise church leader will often need to defend creative church members from expulsion, and from other sanctions which would tend to exclude creatives. And this means some degree of 'special treatment' which can be hard to justify - at least superficially.

But on a deeper analysis, it is not hard to justify, because there is a general principle which means that an individual should be treated as an individual - and a person who has a different make-up, nature, character, personality ought to be differently treated from the mass of people from whom he differs.

Yet, again this is hazardous - as 'special treatment' may be interpreted as a license for bad behaviour, which would itself lead creatives out of the church, or else give them the attitude that it is up to the church to accommodate whatever they happen to want.


Furthermore, there is the matter of heresy.

Creatives will always be heretics - no matter how much they may try (and often they won't try!) to be orthodox, their heresy will show itself to the genuinely orthodox - indeed heresy is usually very obvious, which is why there is typically an inappropriate and self-destructive over-reaction against heresy.

(This has been the bane of Christianity since its foundation - overall, the reaction against heresy has done far more harm than heresy itself.)

A heretic disbelieves in whole or part the teachings of the church, or urges a significantly a different emphasis than the church, or adds to the church something distinctive... that kind of thing.

All creatives are heretics - yet there should be efforts to keep them in the church so long as they are not apostate.


Apostates have turned against the church.

And no church can tolerate apostates - because they are a fifth column, eroding the church from within - a parasite, a cancer, a traitor.

(Of course, apostasy is usually covert and disguised - even disguised from the apostate - so must be a matter of judgment.)


In other words, a long-term-viable church must (to some significant extent) tolerate heresy among its creatives  - otherwise it will not retain its creatives, then will have no creatives, and the church will die as a result.

And the church must not tolerate apostasy.

(Apostate creatives are indeed especially harmful - if their apostatsy becomes the focus of their creativity, they may tirelessly work at it for decades, focused implicitly on the destruction of the church, and the aiding of those who would destroy it.). 

Yet apostasy is not objectively observable in the way that heresy is; apostasy is a matter of motivation, hence inner. Man cannot know for sure another man's motivation - yet any viable church must make this judgment, and must act upon it.

So the justly-expelled apostate creative can, and often does, create trouble for the church - because there is no objective evidence of his apsotasy, and he will usually deny and conceal his real and destructive motivation (perhaps conceal them even from himself) - and may present himself as arbitrarily victimized or scapegoated for some other behaviour.

Yet despite all this, the church must not tolerate apostasy.


A middle path is necessary - the church must not be subverted, but equally the church must retain and inspire creatives; orthodoxy cannot be imposed on all without excluding creatives, yet excessive license will leave apostates to flourish at the expense of the church

So, this is a tricky problem of the kind for which there is no general solution, but which may potentially be soluble by individual leaders of sufficient knowledge and wisdom and with personal authority - but not a problem that can be dealt with by committees, and certainly not by committee debate and committee-vote of the mass majority of conscientious and empathic people.


Note: These reflections came from thinking about the relationship between the LDS church and Sterling McMurrin, as revaled for example in this interview:

PDF file: search the words sterling mcmurrin interview dialogue

McMurrin makes the distinction between heretic and apostate, and describes himself as a heretic but not apostate. That seems to be how he was regarded by the CJCLDS - since he was personally 'managed' by several Presidents of the church, and retained within its community as a loyal advocate - despite his many and large heresies. 

The particular interest of the McMurrin story is that the LDS is the most conscientiousness-requiring of all denominations in terms of the calls for missionary, administrative and labouring service made upon its active members; combined with a generally high level of economic-social functioning in 'jobs'; combined with typically large families in which men are enjoined to play an active role.

Combining all these heavy duties creates a stereotypical pattern of hyper-busy and hyper-organized behaviour among the most devout Mormons, which strikes a person of moderately high Psychoticism (such as myself) as nearly-intolerable at best and outright impossible at worst!

Yet, probably due to his Mormon family background, McMurrin was kept on the inside of the LDS and loyal; and a brilliant and very valuable book of Mormon theology was one result. But it took top-level interventions from several Prophets to achieve this.


MC said...

Mr. Charlton,

I think this must be the link you tried to include:

Arakawa said...

I suspect -- though I don't know for sure -- that a tragic case in which creative people become necessary is when a Church deteriorates or apostasizes to the extent that creatives, in spite of their heresy, become in some sense more pious than the leadership. Their function is then to pull the Church in the direction of greater piety.

The well-known creative theologists are more often in this category; and this pattern can perhaps be seen as early as in the case of the major Inklings...

George Macdonald (their precursor) was the only 'open and honest' heretic, since he explicitly preached against the Calvinist consensus of his day, looked for incorrectly translated words or passages in the KJV Gospel, &c. -- all activities more similar to a historical heretic, and met with a similar response.

The speculations and general posture of someone like Charles Williams (described by CS Lewis as 'combustible'), however, were also open, but carried out in the context of the Church, and perhaps only really tolerable as is because the Church of England was much more lenient in that time period than in previous centuries, since in the process of moving towards the present state of apostasy. (I can't be 100% sure; it's an interesting question as to when the Western doctrinal apostasy really got underway.) If so, even if CW's contribution was in the end positive, it was made possible only in the context of an overall deterioration of doctrinal oversight by the Church, which also enabled other people to make negative contributions.

The success of Lewis himself is very likely the fruit of the same kind of lax atmosphere. For instance, I doubt that his rhetorical device of slyly doing theology, and then hedging himself round by denying that he is a 'real theologian' (!), would have been much appreciated in a more doctrinally strict period.

And Tolkien seems to have entertained very odd ideas, though he was usually very scrupulous and careful to confine them to fiction; and indeed very careful to avoid speculating on certain matters (whereas Lewis was mildly interested in the sort of demonology that produced Screwtape Letters, Tolkien had very litle tolerance for it).

Indeed, writing fiction is probably the most effective containment strategy for theologically creative people. (Whereas the assumptions that lead to the Christianized henotheism of Arda, with bickering Valar, reincarnating elves, and a Creator who sings the universe into existence, would all be blatant heresy as a doctrine, they are a wonderful poetic conceit.) Theological divergences in fiction are a thing much less dire than doctrinal divergences in serious theology, and they may indeed be put forward as an 'alternate universe' to shed light on why things in reality are the way they are; and, indeed, doctrines expressed in fiction can always be used as inspiration by more level-headed theologians, if that is ever actually necessary, whereas it is not possible to stuff a doctrinal heresy back in the bottle by banishing it to the realm of fictional conceits.

So if Theology is the Queen of Sciences, it follows that theological fiction is at least a high and respectable form of science fiction; or, it ought to be!

(From what I've seen, perhaps one of the most successfully integrated creative people in the Church is Dante.)

Commodore said...

That seems basically a restatement of Paul's admonishment; see Titus 3.

Gist of my reading of the chapter is that v.1-8 state the fundamentals of the Faith; departure from these fundamentals is rejection of Christianity. v.9's "But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain." seems to ignored by a vast number of theologians...I'd probably lump atom-splitting arguments about the Trinity there! Heretics are thus in this contention category; if they don't trouble the church, then the church ought not trouble them.

Bruce Charlton said...

Supposing Nietzsche had somehow stayed within the Lutheran church and followed his father as a Pastor, then maybe a theologian - instead of becoming a secular Professor...

I wonder if the church could have held him on a sufficiently long leash, and whether he could have reined in his egotism...

And the world might have been a very different place.

(Perhaps the same could be said of Luther himself in relation to the Catholic church - a personal intervention by a wise Pope at the right moment..?)

Thursday said...

What makes these good heretics different from the bad heretics like the people in the Emergent church or Red Letter Christians or liberal Christianity in general? Here's Tony Jones, a gay affirming Emergent church type, going to visit the Southern Baptists:

On the other hand, there is some truth here. Gregory Wolfe, publisher of Image, an arts journal dedicated to promoting good Christian art, often published people who have definite heretical leanings.

I think we do allow a certain amount of leeway to people who have an enormous amount of talent, but it requires a bit of discernment to pick those people out from the merely average heretic.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Th - Exactly my point - it is a real problem, but there can be no sufficient rules to get the right answer; if it were just a matter of applying rules, then a wise and knowledgeable individual with authority would not be necessary.

Also, that strict 'orthodoxy' is not sufficient - not least because of institutional drift and cumulative corruption, but also from sheer inability to have prepared answers for unforeseen problems.

An example would be the Russian Orthodox attempt to follow tradition leading to the horrible schism of the Old Believers (horrible for the OBs, I mean) - both sides thought they were following Church tradition.

FHL said...

comment 1 of 3

On the issue of Mormonism, I know nothing. I have not bothered to take the issue seriously because it is not an issue in my own life, knowing no Mormons myself. Also because I am rather unconcerned with "who is a christian and who is not" since I've never had God come down to me personally and ask for my personal recommendation for who's name He should write in the Book of Life.

On the issue of how you are treating it, and how you are thinking about it in a general sense, as well as how you are treating the people who argue with you about it, I am somewhat troubled, my own thoughts go back and forth and back and forth.

Often I just don't care enough to say anything, but this post prompted me to say something.

I keep writing a comment, then saying "noo... this is not it... maybe I, I can't say that...he won't get it..." and deleting it. I've got through about 10 different comments in the last two hours or so.

I am one of those highly psychotic as well. Probably more than you. You have a family and a house and degrees in science and medicine, as well as a job with a steady salary. I just have a degree in philosophy that I think they gave me so that I would just finally go away and a job that pays me whenever it is I bring my boss a check (straight commission, no hourly or salary).

Actually, I can't think of anyone as psychotic (under your definition) as me, which is kind of awkward for me to say, because you've sort of linked psychotic personality with genius, which I'm too psychotic and simply too dumb (I don't know my IQ, but I'd guess 125, which is high, but not Mensa) to be.

(as an aside, I always got special treatment, whether in schooling or my fraternity or my church or any other group, and it always sort of bothered me. A common occurrence: I ask a classmate "Is the final paper due tomorrow?" to which he/she replies "No, it was 2 weeks ago! You haven't turned it in yet?" and I just shrug and say "Oh shoot. Well I'll turn it in tomorrow, I just sure hope he accepts it." I knew the professor would except it, and he did, but I didn't want others to know. I gained somewhat of a humorous reputation for always being confused: “There's [FHL], he never knows what's going on. Probably doesn't even know what class this is he's taking.”)

(also, whenever I type a comment, or anything for that matter, from a paper to an email, I pound out a bunch of phrases and sentences erratically and then cut and paste them into something halfway coherent. I've never met anyone else who does that. It's also how I end up with such a high amount of typos and missing/duplicated words.)

FHL said...

comment 2 of 3

So, although I am not you and cannot place myself in your shoes, I think I understand these problems encountered by dealing with the world and their excruciating demand for some sort of seemingly meaningless and arbitrary order, and I think I understand how you feel.

If you are anything like me, you find the stability of a church both reassuring, yet also (a paradox) worrying, causing you to feel anxiety because you have these thoughts, and these thoughts cannot stop coming to you, and they are too real for you to blow them off but these thoughts may be considered by the church as Heresy.

I also think that you are the sort person who wants people to listen to you and take your words seriously, because you think what you have to say is important and no one sees it the way you do, but if they if then start taking you too seriously you automatically start to worry and think "Oh no, I'm just human, don't listen to me, I may be wrong!"

(Or maybe not. All this may be projection, because that's how I am. )

But back to this post, I both agree with you and disagree with you, shifting between two states, and my agreement is very strong while my disagree is also very strong. I can never get my words right. Right now I am in a frame where I disagree with you. Maybe I'll agree with you (likely) in an hour or two, and I'll regret not saying more to highlight that of what you've said which I greatly agree with you on, but I just know I'll go back to disagreeing with you if I wait on it.

(Also, this goes beyond just the issue of Mormonism and this blog.)

So instead of my thoughts on the matter, here is a scripture passage that means a lot to me personally, one which I've pondered over and over again, always trying to figure it out yet always thinking it means more, and that it is much deeper, than what I fully understand. Make of it what you will.

FHL said...

Paul's Epistle to the Romans, Chapter 14 (NIV, sorry, but it the one I am most comfortable with)

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

FHL said...

comment 4 of 3 (what did you expect?)

Oooo! I forgot the most important part! I forgot it because it's in the next epistle of Paul's. But it is linked to the message given in Romans, and (I think) completes in a way. You need to read this as well, the previous passage, although beautiful, is just poetry and metaphysics by itself -it needs this part to bring it to life and make it real.

1 Corinthians 8

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

stephen c said...

I had never thought of the words quoted in Romans 14 before as being all that deep - not that I consciously thought "these words are not profound", simply that I figured ok that's ancient pastoral advice and never gave it more thought. So thanks, FHL, I learned something from your comments. By the way, I have read in several places that the minimum IQ for the highest forms of real artistic creativity is only 120. And even at a lower IQ level I have no doubt that creative excellence is attainable. Also, anyone with an IQ over 105 (I have not read this, just my opinion) can overcome most of life's problems by using intellectual tools to pretend to be someone who is different than themselves... someone who is able to meet schedules in order to help those they love, able to be productive at the times when productiveness is required even if he or she really does not want to, no different than an actor, even an unintelligent one, in a long running play has no problem getting into character night after night through a whole career's worth of roles.

Rich said...

"I wonder if the church could have held him on a sufficiently long leash, and whether he could have reined in his egotism..."

Reminds me a bit of Dumbledore's relationship with Potter. Lets him go and be himself and figure out the world, but offers guidance and help when appropriate.

JP said...

It is clear from the low quality of the religious "art" one sees in Churches these days (pictures, statues, etc.) that creatives are not associated with the Church at all. Most of the "art" does not even rise to the level of "prole schlock" art one sees on sale at the mall. This is somewhat of a circular phenomenon in my view (Church is uncool... thus does not attract creatives... thus does not have any "cool" art... thus is uncool.) On the minus side, to gain the allegiance of "creatives" the Church would have to surrender unconditionally to PC/Leftist ideas - in which case people wouldn't bother to show up because they can get those ideas anywhere.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ads - Good example - although Dumbledore is a deliberately underachieving High Psychoticism genius type himself - Harry at a much lower level of ability/ IQ but braver and warmer hearted.

JP - "It is clear from the low quality of the religious "art" one sees in Churches these days (pictures, statues, etc.) that creatives are not associated with the Church at all. "

True, but also it is clear from the low quality of the religious "art" one sees in Art Galleries these days (pictures, statues, etc.) that creatives are not associated with the Art business at all.

One of the problems is that all large modern institutions are run by committees/ bureaucracies - which rigorously veto any possibility of creativity.

Jonathan C said...

I'm glad you wrote that postscript on this post. Your past posts have opened me up to the hypothesis that the Mormon Church is the most viable vehicle for the continuance of white Western civilization. But I don't think I could stand to join the Church of LDS. They require so much extraversion and conformity, so much spending time together, so much self-discipline applied to social aspects of life that I don't care about, I'd be driven to flee, even if they are the last hope for mankind. I'm glad I'm not alone in having a personality that would find their demands for service and socialization intolerable.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JC - Being unable to match-up to demands for service and socialization is not really something that either you or I should feel 'glad' about! - but it may be a fact of life, given a particular set of circumstances. And the implication is not necessarily that one should not join the LDS church (because I certainly do not rule that out as a possibility) - rather it is that either:

1. Circumstances would need to be favourable for someone with high Psychoticism to be an active Mormon - for example living in a society/ region and family of mostly devout Mormons; or,

2. The creative/ high Psychoticism type would have to accept the *likelihood* that he would repeatedly fail to live up to expectations, need to acknowledge and repent these failures, and accept a lowly status within the LDS church (for example failing to meet the standards required for Temple ceremonies and the spiritual possibilities that these bring).

This does not make it impossible, and indeed perhaps it would be a beneficial act of humility to accept all these disadvantages in an open-eyed fashion.

Indeed, something of the sort - although to a lesser degree would - and probably should - but to a lesser degree - be the likely fate of 'creatives' in most strong and worthwhile churches.

IA said...

It would really help if you could show an example of what is unacceptable art and what is good.

Bruce Charlton said...

@IA - I don't know what you are referring to - could you clarify?