Friday 20 October 2023

The Romantic Christian spiritual life as primarily creative; a Genius Quest

Romantic Christianity understands the future of Christianity to be one in which the individual person takes ultimate responsibility for his most profound beliefs. 

Because of the corruption-to-evil of the institution of the Western world, including all the major churches; this implies the need for a Christian life of creative discovery, and that this life needs to be self-motivated. 

To be sustainable through difficulties, this kind of creative life must provide personal motivations and rewards - or else it will not be begun, or will soon be abandoned. 


People are most creative when creativity is supported with positive and rewarding emotions and/or provides relief from negative or aversive emotions. 

This would seem to work in three stages: Discontent –> Delight –> Satisfaction. 

This corresponding to: Perceiving a Problem –> Having an Insight –> Generating a Solution.

Therefore, creativity is driven by a negative or ‘Dysphoric’ feeling – that some state of affairs produces an emotion of dissatisfaction. 

"The creative" then turns his attention to this ‘‘problem’’ – and he enjoys working on the problem (that is, he enjoys ‘being creative’); and finally he may come up with an insight which leads to a euphoric feeling of delight. 

So, The Creative is rewarded up-front for generating insights – by working on a problem he both gets relief from a negative state of inner dissatisfaction and is also positively rewarded by an inner fulfilment by the work – and this happens whether or not his insights eventually turn-out to be answers. 

As such, The Creative will tend to generate insights for the sheer fun of it! – and even if the insights turn-out to be trivial, erroneous, useless, or harmful. This provides his day-to-day motivation for being-creative. 

But, finally, with persistence and luck on his side; let us say that The Creative comes up with a solution to the problem: a solution which, for a shortish period (minutes or hours, perhaps), makes him feel joyously happy or ‘Euphoric’! Thus a Dysphoric state of Discontent has then been replaced by a Euphoric state; and when Euphoria subsides the successful creative will move onto a longer-term and sustained state of satisfaction or gratification – and this can be termed ‘Euthymic’, meaning a state of ‘normal’ good mood. 

Therefore, first Euphoria, then Euthymia are the emotional rewards for creativity. So, in terms of phenomenology, it goes: Dysphoria – Euphoria – Euthymia Or, in English: Discontent, Bliss, Satisfaction.

In terms of the larger picture of Life, this is the discontented state of seeking Destiny and the gratification of discovering it; embarking on a Quest – which is itself a satisfying albeit frustrating activity; and finally achieving Illumination – which leads to an acute state of bliss then a chronic state of satisfaction (and quite likely a new search for another Destiny). 

Therefore, for the creative person, a normal life in conformity with social expectations is unsatisfying; but being creative is rewarding. Such a person will be spontaneously creative, as a consequence of their inner drives and personal satisfactions; and creative whether asked to be creative or not, whether it is useful or not, and whether he is sufficiently knowledgeable and competent for the task or not.

Romantic Christianity therefore entails that being A Creative is not the preserve of traditional geniuses; but becomes the norm for Christians. 

In other words; each Christian should become a Genius of his own fundamental and ultimate Christianity; even when, as usually happens, he chooses to retain an affiliation to some denomination or church with respect to less-fundamental and more-superficial aspects of his faith and life. 

His base-faith is required to be the work of his genius, else he will not be sufficiently motivated in the world as-now; yet part of this base-faith may entail the insight that "such-and-such a church" is (at present) valid and helpful for his Christian life. 

But the first step for a Romantic Christian is to discover what it is that we will be creative about, what really motivates us from-within and is in accordance with divine creation; and finding that is the beginning of his "genius quest". 

Note: The above passage, starting with "People are most creative", and ending with "task or not" is lightly-edited from my co-authored (with Ed Dutton) book The Genius Famine

I have been re-reading this book for the first time since it was published nearly eight years ago, and have found it to be (somewhat surprisingly) Very Good! Helped by Ed's input; it reads excitingly (for this kind of book), and I had actually forgotten writing several of the ideas and insights that seemed most valid. So I am (re-) learning something, just from reading my own stuff.

Anyway, I would recommend The Genius Famine to my readers, as being much-more-relevant-than-expected to the project of Romantic Christianity. 

You can read the text version linked above for free, but the Kindle version is a lot more user-friendly. (The paper version seems over-priced; and was badly typeset, unfortunately.) 


C Hart said...

For what it's worth, I am just re-reading Addicted to Distraction. A brilliant book, for which much thanks

Bruce Charlton said...

@ C Hart. Thanks you.

One error I made in writing AtD is that I did not appreciate the way that the Mass media could be, and are, controlled in a top-down dictatorial fashion. I though the modern media were far too big for this to be possible.

I did not really grasp this reality until early 2020, when it became undeniable that the global media really-were following a single, centrally-imposed script. But this applies specifically to the major current 'stories' - all the vast media 'froth' is much more loosely regulated, or (when regarded as trivial) allowed a free rein.

mike.a said...

perusing your "genius famine" online now, and ordered the hardcopy from amazon as well, thanks!

Stephen Macdonald said...

"it became undeniable that the global media really-were following a single, centrally-imposed script"

An online creative person visually superimposed first two, then four, then eight, and so on actual news broadcasts from that time, in a synchronized grid arrangement. These were simply recordings of TV news broadcasts all over the English-speaking world. When all of those people in all those different places spoke not only exactly the same words, but in exactly the same cadence and inflection -- it induced a deeply uneasy feeling in me. I'm aware that tool are available to manipulate media to produce such effects, but I saw no evidence of manipulation in that case, and this is the field in which I work (i.e., artificial intelligence).

Now that I've completed the wonderful biography of Barfield, I'll next get the Kindle edition of the Genius Famine.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SM - Actually, thinking back, I became convinced of this top-down and centralized media control even before 2020:

No Longer Reading said...

The Genius Famine is my favorite of your books. It has a large number of ideas and those ideas are themselves fruit for further thought.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NLR - Maybe that is because I am not really a book writer, more of an essayist - and TGF benefitted from Ed's input. (I've also helped with several of Ed's books, but 'editorially', rather than as co-author.) Also, genius is such an interesting subject!

At the times of writing; I thought that Not Even Trying got closest to what I was aiming for among the seven books I did (three co-authored) - there was only one very exact place (but I can't remember now where it was) that I felt was 'defective' (but I couldn't fix).

No Longer Reading said...

The Genius Famine mentions Michael Ventris, who deciphered Linear B. Some years ago, I read a biography of Alice Kober, who probably contributed the second most to deciphering the script.

I don't know if she was a genius or not, but her life illustrates why so much of what is said in the mainstream about geniuses is completely missing the point. I would say that Kober had a good life. But, as in many other cases, the work was its own reward. She never had a family of her own and her life consisted of teaching, taking care of her mother, and learning about ancient languages.

I believe that much of the misunderstanding in talking about genius is due to people thinking that genius is a title conferred by society, rather than a descriptor of a particular kind of person.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NLR - Yes, the Vertris story is fascinating and very relevant: it was one of Ed's contributions, since I had not heard of him.

Whether or not Kober was *creative* is the point of particular relevance (I don't know anything about her - and maybe the question could not be answered from available knowledge).

Most quietly devoted scholars aren't creative in the genius sense, but are working within established and external standards: perhaps doing *better*, what most other people in the field are already doing - like Rosalind Franklin and Dorothy Hodgkin.

Epimetheus said...

I've read The Genius Famine several times since I discovered it. It's had a quiet but revelatory effect on my life - one of the most personally valuable books I've ever read.

What torments me in my life now is that I'm Creative on an extensive daily basis, but it's all internal thinking. I'm unable to write, draw, or compose in the way I was driven to as a child. It's extremely distressing. I wish I knew what to do.

Alexey said...

I did read this book twice(maybe more, but twice surely), also often comeback and re-read parts, specifically about head girls and genius. I had head girl A graders in my first school as a classmates, always felt underappreciated

Bruce Charlton said...

@NLR - I was just reading today the section of Genius famine about the Contemplative personality - perhaps that describes the Kober type of serious and honest, but not necessarily creative, scholar?

@Epi - Yes, it can take years, even decades, to 'find your problem'.

@Alexey - I do find it irritating when people who 'merely' do well in exams, or pursue successful careers - are described as "geniuses"; when they are *usually* minimally creative.

Also the majority of those who score very high on IQ tests are either uncreative, or just averagely creative - albeit they are often adept at faking creativity by using other people's ideas.

Alexey said...

There was a mention in the book that head girls are usually female. I guess it's due to the women naturally being more obedient and wanting to meet social expectations, and they get on with people better. Other reason is that they have bigger right hippocampus, so they learn easier and don't need outlier high intelligenxe to succeed in academic objects. And last reason is that girls usually are standart, while guys do some strange, radical etc stuff, would it be crimes, religion foundations, scientific breakthroughs or anything

Bruce Charlton said...

@Alexey - Head Girls are "usually" female nowadays, due to group-preferences; but not so in all times and places. For example; many Men in leadership positions of high status institutions are Head Girl types.

The British (Norman!) upper classes had - probably still have - this ideal for their intellectual elite: "a healthy mind in a healthy body", "work hard, play hard", the "all-rounder"...

This is not bad in itself! - but it excludes the geniuses.