Friday 5 August 2016

Creation, Subcreation and Co-creation

The matter of human creativity - and whether it is 'a good thing' has profound implications for religious thinking, including Christianity.

There is a divide in religious thinking concerning the extent to which Men can or should participate in creation.


At one - common among major religions - extreme; creation is a 'finished work', and Men cannot make any substantive difference to that fact. Reality is already complete, static, perfect. All creation is/ was a matter of god or the gods.

In such a world, Man's role in life is passive - he should (for example) obey the rules of creation, should worship the creator, should be grateful for having been created etc. But Man as a species, and each Man as an individual, does not have any essential - nor even important - role in creation.

Man may create something to god's glory - but it doesn't really matter either way; because, with respect to creation, Man is utterly dispensable: a mere recipient.


If a value is accorded to Man's creative work, then matters become much more complex: indeed an utterly different kind of reality (and nature of god) is implied: that is how important the concept of creativity is to religion!

A view assigns to Man a destiny as sub-creator. It is intended/ desired, supposed that Man will be a creator himself (and from-himself - not merely as a conduit for divine action) within the already-existing context of creation. So - there is creation as it exists when the Man begins work, and there is potentially a larger and more complex reality which exists as a consequence of that Man's work - and this later state is conceived to be better than the former. It is each Man's job potentially to contribute to that better future.

By including creation among Man's roles, an element of real Time has been introduced - along with an element of Evolution. Reality is being seen as not a finished static thing, but as a dynamic process, perpetually unfolding as creation proceeds.

This implies that reality is not and never has been perfect - and probably never can be; which idea  strikes at the heart of some conceptualisations of the nature of god (in terms of his completeness, perfections and infinites). Because a god that asks for Man's 'help' in creation is a very different kind of god than one who creates everything in eternal perfection and coherence - and who requires of Man only that he praise the creation and live in harmony with it.


This may be the root of that clash between the most-creative Men and religion - their deep-seated conviction that Man is not superfluous and that each Man potentially has something of specific and reality-changing value to contribute; the demand that Man has something substantive to do in his life. (In contrast with the perceived inadequacy of an eternity of passive, superfluous worship, obedience and gratitude.)

Naturally, this attitude is regarded as pride-driven by those who deny the need or possibility of subcreation, and may indeed be such - but whether it is necessarily pride-driven, depends on one's concept of creation and the possibility (or not) of genuine subcreation.

A philosophy of life which takes seriously the role of Man as subcreator is one which necessarily  extends to considering man as co-creator - because any real subcreation becomes a part of created reality; so any Man who subcreates makes some contribution to the totality of creation and is therefore co-creator with god (albeit within the context of god's original and primary creation; and himself being created and using created materials).

This affects our understanding of the nature of God; because a god who made us to be subcreators and then co-creators is a god who apparently sees us as potential 'friends' rather than 'subjects' - on-a-level of sorts, a god who seems to want us to have an increasingly-equal relationship with him.

And this is a long way from the utterly remote, all knowing/ all powerful god of some religious conceptions: and the fact that such gods always seem to regard active subcreation by Men as an activity always unnecessary, and usually harmful. 


William Wildblood said...

If we really are made in the image of God then we must be co-creators with him. He gives us some of his creative power because he is love and love wants to give and to share, but also because that way is more fun for him! I mean we can,as it were, surprise him by what we come up with. And isn't there a saying along the lines that God always delegates when he can?

That doesn't mean that anything goes (see modern art), our creation has to be in line with God's law and his truth, but we can put our own individual slant on it.

Luqman said...

Are you familiar with the Tales of Alvin Maker series by Orson Scott Card Dr. Charlton? It plays with this man-as-sub-creator idea nicely, drawing from Card`s Mormon faith. It has some of the issues of modern fantasy literature but is overall good natured and optimistic.

Would you say the very idea of free will already implies sub-creation?

Is there any ultimate contradiction in these two attitudes; creation emerging wholly from god (ultimately) and man participating in creative acts? Both must have some degree of truth to them, else there is no need to use the term sub-creator in the first place. Rather, I do not see a difference in the truth underlying them, just a difference in attitude. Both positions could lead to error if they are not rooted in the reality of the experience of god.

I am not sure I understand this. There is the font of creation, the potential of all and then there is the act of creation. Is man intended to/can he be the former? In your view are we eventually to become more than sub-creators rather than having our originality emerge from intention and action in a participatory fashion?

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - WHat you say would perhaps elicit fairly broad agreement - what I am trying to say here is that if such Man-made creation is to be of genuine sognificance, then that seemsto have large implications for the nature of god and reality.

@Luqman - Yes, free will does imply creation, makes it possible. Because I understand 'free will'/ agency to mean something like an uncaused cause, the capacity to originate rather than merely to respond - an output un-caused by inputs.

I have read the first two books in that AM series - but while it was clearly well-written I was repelled by a recurrent sadism that I quite often find in OSC's fiction - this is a thing to which I am hyper-sensitive, notoriously so in my family! It doesn't mean these books are bad, but that they are bad *for me*!

My understanding is that each Man has the potential to become a fully divine creator like God (i.e. our Heavenly parents) - in other words to have spirit children. Perhaps only Jesus Christ has ever attained this so far - but there is this potential.

However this would be, of course, within the creation of God - so although it is of the same kind, it still counts as a 'sub' creation.

John Fitzgerald said...

Nicholas Berdyaev wrote a lot about this. The Age of the Father - represented by the Mosaic Law - was followed, he believed, by the redemptive Age of the Son. The coming Age of the Holy Spirit will focus neither on law nor salvation but on creativity.

Brett Stevens said...

Just a side note: God (who is infinite) has apparently infinite love and faith in humanity in that he lets this species of half-monkey neurotics survive at all. This spurs me on to try harder during dark moments. The great gift is faith -- the faith of an omnipotent God in us flawed, broken, miserable and self-destructive apes.

George said...

I think the idea that creativity is good is a peculiarly Western, quasi modern conception, connected to the fact that Westerners have always been more active and self assertive than other peoples.

All religions say bliss is found in submission of the will to a "way", but we Westerners struggle with this and cannot accept this, our will is simply too strong to be tamed.

This is why modernity - essentially self assertion of human will against God - emerged in the West and why we have become nihilistic and unhappy. And even the best Westerners cannot subdue this tendency towards will - you see it in Owen Barfield concept of Final Participation, in which Western self assertion is redeemed, and as much as I admire Bruce Charlton and have learned from him, his peculiar brand of Christianity is shot through with human self assertion rather than submission to divine will, as in his celebration of genius and scientific progress as important (classic examples of Western self assertion of will).

We Westerners, it seems, cannot subdue or tame our tendency towards willful self assertion, and I believe it's what has destroyed us, and leaves me with little hope.

Bruce Charlton said...

@George - I used to argue the same earlier in the history of the blog (c 2011-12)- esepcially when I was strongly drawn to Eastern Orthodoxy; but after living with that idea for more than a year, as deeply as I could, I fuond I could not square it with my deepest intuitions of God as loving Heavenly Father and creator: it seems clear he would not put us into that situation and thta such a perspectove does not fit the fact of creation and human incarnation (it makes Man superfluous, and mortal life doubly so). Gradually I came to recognise that the history of life on earth is an evolution, and a series of challenges - many/ most of which we have botched or refused - but going back in a spiritual sense (except in a temporary encapsulated way, as educational experience) isn't what is wanted.

William Wildblood said...

Can't the two be made compatible without doing violence to either? Yes, we do have to submit to the will of God because that is where our true joy and fulfilment lie but within the context of that will, which is hugely flexible once we have renounced the self-will of the little ego that wants its own way, there is great room for creativity.

Perhaps Western civilisation is an experiment that can go two ways, either to nihilism and destruction (which seems most likely at the moment)or else to an enormous expansion of the creativity of life. It might even do both. Once the evil ways have been given their head and destroyed themselves a purified remnant could create a new civilisation in line with the true way of Christ.

pyrrhus said...

My intuition is that Earth is a testing ground for humans, with the ultimate goal raising the level of our souls. Whether that is done through creativity of various kinds, or through improving our relationships, empathy, etc, that is always the goal. Common sense suggests that requires physical problems, strife, war..whatever gives us a suitable environment for soul development. Human creativity can make the world comfortable or quite hellish, but it is definitely part of the experience.

George said...

Bruce and William thanks for responding -

Bruce, perhaps you feel that way because you are an incorrigible Westerner :)

I human creation is done within divine will then it really isn't human self assertion, but rather human submission to divine will. It just pushes the question back a step.

True human creativity would mean asserting values and attitudes that don't , or don't necessarily, express divine values but are truly free from any guidelines. Of course, that would be the modern world or something like it.

Much genius and creativity, like Tolkien or cathedrals, merely serve to recall humans to divine values, so cannot be of ultimate significance. Science merely extends our power over the world, so it's hard to see how this could be anything other than a secular project with only contingent and worldly importance.

From the POV of humans becoming godlike and divine, surely this means submitting ourselves to a preordained pattern. To actively choose and realize divine values over our own will seems to me a meaningful and sufficient project in life.

It seems creativity within divine guidelines isn't true creativity and can have only the contingent importance of recalling us to God, while being genuine creators would mean we create new values quite apart from God.

The modern world seems to be an attempt to become genuine co crestors, indeed Nietzsche said so explicitly. We must create our own values.

I guess the kind of "creativity" that realizes divine values and helps us live and think according to them can have value but it does not seem to me something essential or hugely imporrant to human life.

Living simply in a village close to the land seems like a kind of life that can realize divine values perfectly without any great creativity taking place.

In the end, I think creativity can only assume a tremendous importance under a secular regime and can only have a secondary, though still useful and important, place in any religious scheme.

Bruce Charlton said...

@George - What I would add to your analysis is a perspective I found in Mormon theology - which is that we are the children of God (of Heavenly parents indeed) - but our existence precedes our being children of God. God is a creator in the sense of a shaper of pre-existent stuff - and we are of the same 'kind' as God but at a vastly lower level.

God's creation was aimed at bringing as many of us as wished to, up to his level; and the first and vital step was for our primordial essences to be born as spirit children of God.

God's reality (which is not the whole of reality - beyond is a kind of chaos) is one with Love as the principle. The ruling metaphor is one of ideal family.

SO --- Human creation is something in harmony with God's creation insofar as it truthfully reflects and cooperates with reality (e.g. it is true, beautiful, virtuous) and motivated by the mutual love between God and his children. It is this mutual love which ensures harmony between God's creation and each Man's creation.

Clearly this harmony and unity between God and Man's creation is not 'perfect' but rather works-towards perfection.

The analogy is the creative harmony of a truly loving family, and the relationship between its adult and autonomous members.

The family grows and changes, each member pursues somewhat different lives and specific goals - but its coherence remains strong despite the continuous change - because mutual love and shared overall purpose ensures this.

Max said...

I really appreciated this post and the interesting discussion following. I only want to add that sometimes I feel that what actually makes up creativity tends to be overlooked or is consistently undervalued. Creativity does not have to imply something fantastical and completely new and unheard of, but may be something small and humble that perhaps a lot of people would not even notice at first sight. Perhaps the best creations are so ingenious and harmonious and natural that it seems like they were always there. In fact "Living simply in a village close to the land" as George says, can potentialy be immensely creative, being God's caretakers of the land. How is it not creative to build a house, plow a field, plant a garden? This is what humans do! It has, however, to be done with the right attitude, not just as a mechanical job without any soul in it. Everyone should strive to realize their creativity in whichever way that suits their nature and their talents and thereby contribute to the common good in the field of human effort that they have been called to. This is the only thing that will work in the long run, enabling us to thrive and reach higher as a community.