Sunday 27 November 2022

Contemplation, Enjoyment, and Creation

It has become ever clearer to me that one of the convictions that underlies my metaphysical assumptions is that Man's creative ability is real; yet mainstream, classical, 'traditional' Christian theology has no place for Men to be able genuinely to create: that is, for a Man to be able to to add something new to to God's existing creation. 

This exclusion of the possibility of creation is a consequence of the mainstream Christian's understanding of the nature and attributes of God. 

God is assumed to have created everything from nothing (creation ex nihilo), and to live outside of time (such that God knows everything that including all possible futures), and to be omnipotent and omniscient.

Putting all of these together - for the mainstream-classical theology divine creation has-been done wholly by God, has already-happened; and is complete and unchangeable (since it is beyond time).   

From this perspective; there are two basic ways we can know - which CS Lewis terms contemplation and enjoyment (and which are described and explained in this essay, but without using the contemplation-enjoyment nomenclature - which distinction is explained in his autobiography Surprised by Joy, and elsewhere). 

For a classical, mainstream Christian theologian like Lewis, contemplation and enjoyment are the only possible ways of conscious 'knowing' - with enjoyment a higher form of knowing. 

(There will also be ways of 'unconscious' knowing - in the sense of animals, or plants, that implicitly 'know' many things, because they behave adaptively; but without possessing what most people would recognize as explicit, conscious awareness of their knowing. However, I believe they do, because everything does, possess some consciousness, of some type)

Contemplation is when we retain the stance of a separate observer - it is, in effect, knowing-about something. 

For a Christian, a Man might contemplate God, or the works of God - and this means knowing-about such things; by paying attention, having experiences, studying, learning.

A higher form of knowing God would be enjoyment, or 'communion'. 

This would be when someone (perhaps a Saint, or a resurrected Man in Heaven) inhabited the divine mind, able to perceive and know God by means of a direct connection; becoming joined-with God's creative will - but retaining one's own identity as a distinct creature (created individual). 

Man in full communion with the divine remains conscious of himself; but knows God's work from the inside, and knows his own part in it. 

(It is this retaining of personal identity that differentiates the Christian understanding of divine communion, from the 'Eastern' (Hindu, Buddhist etc.) idea of Nirvana - in which the individual Man loses his distinction, his 'self'; and becomes dissolved-back-into the divine-whole, from which he originated.) 

But communion is not creative; since creation is done

What seems like creation to mortal Men is - by this analysis - a result of our limited perspective - and is actually just a selection and arrangement of already-created material

For the mainstream-classical Christian, Men cannot truly create, in a primary sense; because Men are creatures/ created-Beings; and only God is capable of true creation. 

But for me, as for CS Lewis's best friend Owen Barfield, there is a higher state than enjoyment - which is creation - or what Barfield terms Final Participation

This includes communion, but also involves knowing oneself to be adding-to and enhancing already-existing divine creation: that is, becoming a co-creator of God's creation. 

Therefore, Man can (potentially) become a creator with God, creating in harmony with what already exists. 

It can be seen that for co-creation to be true, several of the classical-mainstream assumptions about God must be discarded. Because it can be added-to; creation is no longer regarded as existing outside time, nor as being complete and finished. 

Man is no longer understood as wholly a 'creature' - but as an 'embryonic god': capable of developing to participate in primary creation of that which is new and unforeseen.

Thus, a recognition of Man as potential creator goes-with a rejection of the assumptions that God is omnipotent and omniscient, that God created everything from nothing, and that creation is complete and beyond time. 

Instead; creation is recognized as ongoing - within time - incomplete and capable of expansion. 

In other words; creation is God's original project; and a project in which Men may develop to participate.

To summarize; if we are to regard Man as capable of real creation; we must reject the classical, mainstream, tradition Christian theology; and adopt different metaphysical assumptions concerning God, creation and time. 

Conversely, if we choose instead to adhere to the classical, mainstream, tradition Christian theology; we must reject the possibility of Man being a true creator; and assume instead that the highest form of being that Man can aspire to is an ultimately passive state of 'enjoyment' in communion with God. 

How to decide between these incompatible metaphysical explanations of Christianity - apart from intuition? 

The Bible as a whole is apparently ambivalent and self-contradicting on this topic; but the Fourth Gospel (of "John" - especially Chapters 13-17 inclusive) strongly suggests that Men (in the new dispensation of Christ) can and should aspire to become co-creators: that is loving 'friends' of Jesus Christ and God, rather than (as in the previous era, before Christ) merely obedient servants of God.   


Francis Berger said...

This is excellent!

Commenter Lady Mermaid (who frequently comments here as well) left a very incisive observation on my blog concerning the Fourth Gospel and its strong suggestions of co-creation after I pointed out that a big obstacle with co-creation is its lack of Scriptural support, which makes it, at best, a moot point with most traditionally-minded Christians. She wrote:

"The term co-creation is not explicitly stated in the Scriptures or liturgy, but there are hints of it. The gospel according to John explicitly states that we are to become God's children. Jesus quoted the psalms saying "Ye are gods" when He was accused of blasphemy. At the end of John, he tells his followers they will do greater works than He. What could be greater than the resurrection?"

To which I responded:

"Most Christians are comfortable with/accept subcreation because it maintains omni-god theology. Same goes for procreation. Both are vital, and both suffer when people become despiritualized, but co-creation is a step beyond those two forms of creation. The examples you refer to do provide hints but only hints. As such, they can be easily dismissed or re-interpreted; however, if they are accepted as valid, then they do indeed point to latent potential and the further development of Christianity."

Very few writers, thinkers, and theologians have taken on co-creation. The ones who have detected the hint are quick to attribute it to something else or offer partial explanations that remain firmly entrenched in traditional modes of interpretation. Scheler is a good example of that; though he detected the enormous shift that occurs by becoming friends of Jesus rather than merely obedient servants, he explains the shift primarily as a movement of love that is somewhat more creative -- but he stops short of anything approaching co-creation.

Traditionalists point to the lack of scriptural support as evidence that the hints about co-creation in the Fourth Gospel is largely a matter of misinterpretation. I have come to understand that the hint is a strong point rather than a weak point. There is much divine wisdom in leaving no explicit blueprint (other than the life and actions of Christ, which is blueprint enough as far as I'm concerned!). Co-creation requires much faith and a great deal of heavy lifting on the part of man.

This is something that man must reveal from within himself with the help of the Holy Spirit. This is where Barfield hits the nail on the head with his Final Participation. Berdyaev is spot on in this too, in my opinion. He states the "revelation" of co-creation will not come from up high, but from man.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - Thanks for that!

I approach this from the perspective that the root of the problem is the wrong metaphysics of God (i.e. the omni/ ex nihlo/ outside time deity; which is not in the Gospels, nor explicit in the Pauline Epistles - but was apparently inserted sometime later than the Apostles, presumably by classically-trained ex-pagan philosophers who perhaps derived it from Neoplatonic reflections.

(This means that the orthodox, traditional, mainstream Christian theology is likely to be heavily derived from the same philosophical roots as Gnosticism, and bears many of the same - alien to Jesus's Christianity - philosophical fingerprints.)

This perspective I got from Mormon theology. Joseph Smith read the Bible with a fresh eye and prophetic inspiration; and (from 1830) derived the wholly different Mormon metaphysics as a foundation for essentially the same Christian superstructure.

This was a truly colossal 'intellectual' and philosophical innovation/ breakthrough; before any philosophers had envisaged the possibility (William James and Steiner did so some half century later; followed later still by Barfield and Arkle) - and provided a completely different, yet coherent (*more* coherent) metaphysical foundation for Christianity: one that, in particular, is easily able to explain free agency and the origin and nature of evil.

And, of course, to explain the possibility of co-creation - although Mormons have mostly focused on the ultimate goal of divine pro-creation, and have tended to think of this in terms of Men having eventually become fully divine, and founding 'new universes'.

My interpretation/ extension of this is that God is the unique primary creator, therefore all subsequent creation will necessarily be in harmony with the prime creation - and therefore divinized Mens' creations will be a subordinate kind of creation in terms of time and provenance; but not in terms of ultimate size and scope - because creation is not limited.

However, the immediate nature of co-creation, which can presumably start immediately upon resurrection (and long before any Man has developed to the same level of God the original and prime creator) seems to have been neglected by Mormons; but I think it is more proximately important than remote development, and therefore more motivating for us mortal Men.

Owen said...

I know this has been said before and I'm aware of the answer to do a search on this blog but the ideas of primary thinking or final participation as the way of co-creation still seem vague.

Do these terms mean 'be a saint'? Were great saint mystics and miracle workers of the last two hundred years engaging in primary thinking or final participation, and if not then can primary thinking simply be put aside and the saints' other valid ways of co-creation such as speaking and sowing the Word, listening and begetting the Word, be lived. Or other ways of co-creation like the theosis of becoming something eventually in eternal life we can't begin to imagine, or of sowing and harvesting eternal fruits by our beings and conduct that we can't see now.

This is just a comment out of a frustration that I haven't yet grasped these terms and yet they seem central to Romantic Christianity. Today in a London park there were Muslim men and boys doing their prayers on mats. Final Participation passes them by, or does it, and if I spoke to them about it what do I say, how do I show them.

Is Final Participation or Primary Thinking, simply put, a form of Christian meditation? Or are these terms that simply mean 'holiness', 'living in communion with God'. And does it co-create in the same way other forms of Christian meditation do, or personal holiness does? Or is this a radical new form of Christian meditation or holiness, a new tradition, that needs to be worked on and developed?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Owen - I can't do any more to explain it than what I have done and keep doing (as here).

I try *many* different frameworks, similes and metaphors; and provide the metaphysical provenance.

But metaphysics just is difficult; because one is trying to revise one's own deepest (and mostly unconscious) assumptions about the nature of reality.

The rest is up to you! You might try reading Barfield's Saving the Appearances; it may do the trick.

Phil said...

"Co-creation" is a thing among some hippy / New Age groups. The magazine, "Co-Creation Quarterly" came out of the Portola Institute, which put together The Whole Earth Catalog back in the 60s; I don't know if it's still being published.
While many of the contributers revered Jesus, I think most of them were not "believers", & that Jesus' claims of being the only way to the Father would have been dismissed.
I think saying that Traditional Theology needs to be severely reworked because it doesn't affirm co-creation is a bit strong because if it says almost nothing about about it, it can't contradict it either. I'm a firm believer in the corollary to Murphy's law, "If it works, don't touch it".
It does seem to a massive oversight though. I only saw one Christian talk about creation as being a basic part of the image of God - Ivan Throne. His scary book, "The Nine Laws" was Amazon's top philosophy bestseller for some time. If you want to check it out, You can look it up on Amazon & read the introduction & the 100 maxims. It's part of the Manosphere ecosystem.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Phil - Those are all red herrings and misleading - what I am saying has nothing to do with any of those comparators, I'm afraid.

the outrigger said...

Owen: Take up Dr C's suggestion. I don't know what he means by the *doing* of primary thinking either. Barfield built the runway Dr C launches from, and the way that runway got built makes for a fascinating read.