Ktismatics

7 October 2006

The Ktismatic Mission: First Manifesto

Filed under: Ktismata — ktismatics @ 11:21 am

My friend Patrick DeMuth, a church planter in southern France, has invited me to attend a meeting of Christian Associates in The Hague starting tomorrow night. The topic is “mission and imagination,” and the meeting will be hosted by Andrew Perriman, guiding force behind the exceptional blog Open Source Theology. I’m a little nervous, since I’m not part of the organization and my relationship with church is tenuous at best, but I’ve been assured that this is a nice bunch of people. Patrick was kind enough to read my book about Genesis 1; he will be interacting with the book at the meeting. He sent me a copy of his text, which has served as stimulus for my last few posts. This time around I want to address a specific statement of Patrick’s: “Our mission is not to be creative, but to make that which we create real to those around us. Creativity flows from mission, but is not the mission itself.”

I understand his point. He’s a minister trying to get a church off the ground here in “post-Christian” France. But I’m a ktismatician (yes I am). For me creation is the mission. I’m reminded of Antonin Artaud, who wrote a manifesto for the impossible Theater of Cruelty (see my post about it here). So here is my preliminary riff on what a Ktismatic Mission might look like.

Ktismatic Mission: Preliminary Manifesto

1. The mission of the Ktismatic Mission is to serve as a portalic terminal interlinking all the innumerable realities in the universe, most of which either don’t yet exist yet or remain hidden.

2. The work of the Ktismatic Mission is to discover, create, and reveal alternate realities and the portals for getting to them.

3. There are no clients; only fellow travelers.

4. All kinds of realities are fair game: art, science, technology, relationship, entertainment, thinking, imagining, exploring. In fact, every aspect of human life falls within the purview of the Ktismatic Mission. Specifically Judeo-Christian creations – sermons, liturgies, evangelistic outreaches, etc. – aren’t automatically excluded.

5. The Ktismatic Mission promotes the elohimic ethos. I discuss the ethos at length in my book; there’s a summary embedded in Part Three of this blog page. Briefly, the elohimic ethos:

values creation for its own sake, not for what it can be used for;

values the creation of meaning in an intrinsically meaningless universe;

values the interval of creation over and above the continuum, the moment, the cycle, or eternity;

operates inside the void, not in heaven or in the heart/mind/soul of the creator;

builds and traverses bridges between creation and discovery;

builds and traverses bridges between creation and revelation;

looks for the good in the creation itself, not in personal taste or market value;

is the imago Dei in man the individual and in man the species;

is the impetus for creating a second universe on the foundations of the first one.

6. The Ktismatic Mission has theory but no practice. The Ktismatic Mission resists the instrumental rationality of our practical, efficient, economic age. Praxis is a means of re-creating, not creating; of multiplying the already-is, not generating the never-was; of building the simulacrum, not punching holes in it. Praxis is about enhancing creators’ creativity; the Ktismatic Mission is about creating creations. The Ktismatic Mission is all about what and why, even about who, where and when; it’s just not about how.

7. The Ktismatic Mission doesn’t hope to change the world; rather, it hopes to witness the creation of a limitless number of alternative worlds.

I think there’s more to be said in the Manifesto than I’m able to think of today – maybe after I get back from the meeting in The Hague I’ll be able to elaborate further. I’ll be back on Wednesday. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts at all about what might be included in the Ktismatic Mission Manifesto, I hope you’ll write them in the comments to this post. Make yourself at home while I’m gone; just be sure to leave at least one cold beer in the fridge.

 

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21 Comments »

  1. I’m sorry the beer is gone….I tried to stop them!

    I look forward to hearing how things go for you.

    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 11 October 2006 @ 2:23 pm

  2. values creation for its own sake, nor for what it can be used for…

    But isn’t there a connection between the use of a creation and its value???

    The creation of an idol in the OT would be an example that comes to mind of a creation that whose use as an object of idolatry in dethroning Elohim results in its value being rendered completely meaningless. The creation of pornographic material might be another example.

    How does the use of an object affect its value as a creative act if the use is for dubious purposes? What role do our intentions/motivations play in the value of a creation? An artist can paint a nude human body as a work of art, or they can create an object of lust and cheap gratification. Is there a difference in the value of the creation?

    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 11 October 2006 @ 2:29 pm

  3. Wait a minute… does that mean that objects of lust and cheap gratification aren’t okay with you? Dude, I better go for a run and get myself reoriented before commenting further.

    Comment by ktismatics — 11 October 2006 @ 4:07 pm

  4. The Manifesto offers a corrective to the instrumental rationality and economism that dominates Western culture, the equation of value with market value. A tool is a creation that is used for some purpose, and that’s fine. But the meaning of a creation isn’t always reducible to purpose and function. Or, complementarily, just because something is useless doesn’t make it meaningless or valueless. “Pure” art, science, theology; seeing the world; the non-functional aesthetics of useful artifacts, blog comments — these things might have no practical applications or add financial value, but that’s part of what makes them so valuable in a ktismatic sense.

    Idols and pornography are both “useful” creations: they have purpose and function beyond whatever beauty they may possess in their own right. From the world’s standpoint, the uses of these creations (for gaining power, for getting off) is what makes them valuable. “Stripped” of instrumentality, the idol and the pornographic image become creations in their own right.

    Of course it is also possible to evaluate the functional excellence of a graven image or a porn image. It is precisely its functional value in accomplishing corrupt ends that renders instrumentally “good” creations morally bad. Which value system predominates? That seems to be a defining question of our age.

    Comment by ktismatics — 11 October 2006 @ 8:15 pm

  5. The Manifesto offers a corrective to the instrumental rationality and economism that dominates Western culture, the equation of value with market value.

    This is something I have been meditating a bit in relation to the pearl/treasure passages of Matthew 13. I think I will post something on that sometime soon….

    Here is a teaser question for you: If all things are “images of creation in their own right” and “intrumentally ‘good'” then where does that leave Satan? Presumably, the devil is a created being….

    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 12 October 2006 @ 2:27 pm

  6. I’m in danger of relativist free-fall here, aren’t I? If the goodness of any creation is evaluated relative to the creation itself, is there any higher authority that evaluates across all creations? Yes, I know what you’re going to say, but let’s stay within the parameters of the ktismatic realm for awhile.

    Say there’s some creation that’s really good at being evil. So, e.g., Screwtape is presumably helping Wormwood create a really good apologetics for evil. That’s an internally consistent position, no? The question is whether there’s a moral good that trumps ktismatic good, an externality that overrides the internalities of creation.

    For me, it’s morally good to argue against American involvement in Iraq. If I could persuade someone that “cut and run” is the right thing to do both politically and ethically, I would feel like I’d done a good day’s work. There are of course those who would regard me as Wormwood’s minion. At the meeting in The Hague someone asked if Bono is a prophet. I said sure, but I also asked him how many Americans think George Bush is a prophet.

    I suppose it’s one reason I distrust all acts of persuasion, marketing, etc. — invoking reason and emotion for instrumental purposes. There’s an internally consistent rationale for a continued presence in Iraq; there’s a cut-and-run rationale that’s also internally consistent. If you can see both realities, how do you decide between the two? Is there something that overrides internal consistency? Digging in to your position and closing off contravening input seems the height of corruption. So how do you avoid remaining perpetually tenuous? I dunno.

    Comment by ktismatics — 12 October 2006 @ 2:51 pm

  7. I’m in danger of relativist free-fall here, aren’t I? If the goodness of any creation is evaluated relative to the creation itself, is there any higher authority that evaluates across all creations?

    Is there something that overrides internal consistency? Digging in to your position and closing off contravening input seems the height of corruption. So how do you avoid remaining perpetually tenuous?

    I am no philosophery – actually, strike that: I am not a good philosopher, although I am a philosopher, we all are! – but your comments seem to strike at the heart of philosophical questioning from Descartes right to the present “post-modern” day.

    How can we get beyond ourselves to something better: Certainty or a foundation upon which to build an epistemology, Pure Reason, Absolute Moral Judgments, certainty of the external world, God, absolute truth, stability in the text, clear communication….The desire to transcend one’s self seems to be a philosophical theme that recurs in a variety of forms, whether it be an attempt to transcend, the concession that one cannot transcend, or some hybrid model.

    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 12 October 2006 @ 4:48 pm

  8. The Manifesto finds itself mired in morality and truth — is there no escape from these Christian obsessions? God creates; God creates man in his image; man creates. Morality comes in chapter 3: it’s a warning relative to creation, but it doesn’t usurp creation as the main focus of the imago Dei.

    If you drew 3 axes from the center of a piece of paper and labeled them Creation, Truth and Morality; if you were to place a dot on each axis indicating the importance ascribed to that axis by the church at large (farther from center = more important); if you were to connect the dots — you’d end up with a pretty skewed triangle of values: 1st morality, truth a close 2nd, creation a distant 3rd.

    Christian imagination is severely, perhaps overly constrained by concerns about violating morality and truth. I say give freer rein to creativity: the herd will let you know when you’re out of line. Wait until their just about ready to consign you to the flames, and you’re probably about at the balance point. Postmodern? Maybe. But a good corrective for creators in the imago Dei.

    Comment by ktismatics — 12 October 2006 @ 6:33 pm

  9. More nitpicking, I know, but here goes….

    The “church at large” (as you termed them) most definately segments and segregates those three areas you mentioned: morality, truth, creating/imagination. This is a fault, I think. The most appropriate operation is to have harmony in all three areas together working with one another rather than over and against each other. (A Trinitarian analogy?)

    Now for the nitpicking: Are you falling prey to the same segmentation in your Manifesto?

    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 13 October 2006 @ 10:04 pm

  10. I believe that truth and morality are creations. These concepts are meaningless (as far as we know) to all animals besides man. Whether man or God created them, the fact is that neither truth nor morality is intrinsic to nature. They are works of creation.

    Empirical science is a “good” system of truth-finding because it has created reliable procedures for falsifying hypotheses. A “good” moral system is one with reliable criteria for distinguishing right from wrong. Hence the manifesto subsumes truth and morality under creation.

    Comment by ktismatics — 14 October 2006 @ 10:11 pm

  11. I agree with the fact that some things we know as truths are bound up with God’s creation…but truth, itself I do not believe to be a created entity.

    Pure speculation here, but this is my scenario: Sans-creation the Father communicates something to the Son about creating the universe and suggests that this is a good idea.
    Question: Was there truth in the communication? Does truth not reside in the God-head independent of anything else? Is this not the purest form of truth?

    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 17 October 2006 @ 5:09 pm

  12. Raw phenomena are neither true nor false; they just are. True/false is a dimension for evaluating a schema created to make sense of the raw phenomena of the world. All such schemas are mental constructs imposed on raw stuff by intelligent beings like gods and men.

    So, e.g., modern empirical science includes a method for evaluating the truth/falsity of a theory by testing its ability to account for patterns in the data. Raw phenomena are transformed into data, which are then subjected to empirical analysis, the results of which are compared systematically with theory. All this apparatus of truth-testing is a human creation.

    Similarly, hermeneutics are methods for extracting truth from “raw” discourse. This is a different sort of true/false apparatus, but hermeneutics too is a schema created by intelligent beings like gods and men.

    With respect to your speculative scenario: “A good idea” is a good/bad evaluation which is itself a creation on the part of the Father. Creation is neither good nor bad in and of itself: it’s good in the Father’s schema. The Son needs to interpret what the Father is telling him: he needs to create a representation of the Father’s communicative intent. This entails is a “true” mental re-creation of the Father’s message and a “true” inerpretation of the Father’s intention in delivering this message. Creative performances on the part of the Son, no?

    Comment by ktismatics — 17 October 2006 @ 6:04 pm

  13. Raw phenomena are neither true nor false; they just are. True/false is a dimension for evaluating a schema created to make sense of the raw phenomena of the world. All such schemas are mental constructs imposed on raw stuff by intelligent beings like gods and men.

    Good point. Please see my Critiques for more on this. I believe you can get them through something you people now call the internet and they can be shipped to you in a few days.

    Comment by Immanuel Kant — 18 October 2006 @ 3:31 pm

  14. The phenomena are the impressions and constructions we create. But these constructions are bound up with public criteria. No one makes a language unto themselves. This was Wittgenstein’s point, and the issue of debate regarding a “private language.” Regardless of where you fall on this debate it is impossible to deny that we inherit a language and as such we inherit a structure for interpreting the noumena.

    But if we inherit this interpretive structure, then we see that there are, in fact, public criteria for truth. Why? Because on your own statement: “hermeneutics are methods for extracting truth from “raw” discourse.”
    These “methods for extracting truth” as you say are related to language and language shfits and changes. But language is not an individual construction, it is, firstly, a creation of the community. It is unstable, but this is not to deny that, as a collaborative creation it is, in some respects, stable. Stability, in fact, is the goal in the vast majority of cases. I desire to utilize the public system of communication to communicate a meaning that is stable enough for people to understand. I perform speech-acts with specific purposes in mind (crf. Wolterstorff). As such public language aims at representation: reality representation.

    But if the public criteria for truth is that it represent reality, then it seems somewhat naive to think that a structure put in place by the community does not, in fact, accomplish its goal of mirroring or representing “the thing in itself.” It seems reasonable to say that in most cases it does accurately represent, or comes very close.

    But this representation is what we typically call “truth.” Truth, then, as a goal is representation/correspondence with something “other.” If such a representation happens then we call this truth.

    But if we adopt your view that “truth,” itself is a creation then it seems to bypass this important element of language creation, and in so doing it undercuts a major goal of public language, which is representation. It is more accurate to describe truth as a goal, rather than a creation. (This is how I would alter your description in this post.) Creating is part in parcel to the process of representation, but there is something further in the creation process and this, I think, is the goal of creating: That our creative efforts of language would, in various ways, represent the noumena. To reduce truth to the creative process, itself, misses the goal and misses the noumena. It eliminates the whole idea of “reality,” and if “reality” is completely eliminated as a goal, then what becomes the point of communication or language?

    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 18 October 2006 @ 4:13 pm

  15. Herr Doctor, it was my understanding that you placed categorical knowledge inside the head as a genetic capacity. Perhaps the capability of categorizing is innate, but the categories themselves? Too much schnapps, my friend.

    Comment by ktismatics — 18 October 2006 @ 5:51 pm

  16. The phenomena are out there regardless of our impressions and constructions. We do have sensory-perceptual apparati that generate representations in the head independent of language — just like frogs have representations of flies to which they can attune their tongue-eye coordination calculator. These representations and transformations of phenomena happen inside the organism. Accurate representational systems have survival value. Note that we’re not yet talking about language or cognition: this is all animal stuff, sophisticated though it may be. More later: gotta go cook dinner.

    Comment by ktismatics — 18 October 2006 @ 5:57 pm

  17. Humans can use language because we can put ourselves in the position of the speaker and orient ourselves toward the world in a way that corresponds to the speaker’s words. If you point at something, I aim my vision in the direction you’re pointing. Every other species of animal, including chimpanzees, will either look at your finger or (more likely) ignore your gesture altogether. (New research suggests that some dogs can do it too.)

    Language builds on this unique human capability to take the other’s perspective. Our uniquely human ability to learn from one another also depends on this perspective-taking ability, which is already present before a child reaches its first birthday. It’s a remarkable feat of imagination, to imagine oneself as the other. However, you could make a case that seeing the world from the other’s perspective isn’t creation, that in fact it’s the opposite of creation, which is imitation. The public, intersubjective validation of truth could be deemed pure groupthink, with everyone learning from and imitating one another.

    But even as I take your perspective in a dialogue, I remain me. I bring my own perpsective with me. And because I do that, I never see exactly what you see or understand exactly what you say. The mismatch is the realm of creation. Partly I’m filling in the gaps in my ability to “be” you; partly I’m going beyond you. This is the ratchet of human culture as a cumulative enterprise: imitation, elaboration, teaching. (It’s what I say happened during Genesis 1, in the dialogue between elohim and the witness.)

    So, language is a human cultural artifact, built incrementally and cumulatively as a means of orienting one another towards the same things. Even if I understand what you say perfectly, I’ve had to imagine myself being you in order to do so (think Borges’ Quixote story). And if I don’t have that powerful an empathic ability, I can create meaning to fill in the gaps.

    I don’t think it’s plausible at all that language “represents” the phenomena of the world. Sensations and perceptions might, and there is some evidence that cognitive spatial images are organized in the brain in a way that’s analogous to the 3-D world. But words don’t look anything like the phenomena to which they refer (except in written hieroglyphic languages). And the syntactical arrangements of words in sentences don’t structure themselves anything like the stuff in the world. Words point to things; words describe things; words don’t represent things. So when elohim says “light,” the word he speaks isn’t some sort of Greek logos version of light. It’s a word, a pointer, a description, a tool for orienting the listener toward something in the world.

    Clearly I have to stop and reread your comment. I’ve already written a response that’s long enough to be two posts!

    Comment by ktismatics — 18 October 2006 @ 8:26 pm

  18. Dude,
    How can you write so much and not even begin to mention the main point of my comment???
    Is this imagination run amuck!??!

    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 19 October 2006 @ 8:10 pm

  19. By “represent,” I’m not saying that they “resemble” the external world.

    A “representative” from, say, France may or may not “resemble” anything French. In fact, he need not speak French, look French, wear French clothing, or eat French fries in order to represent France. In this example, to represent France is merely to be vested with the ability to speak on its behalf.

    Similar concept in language. We vest language with teh ability to speak on behalf of what it is we are referring to….this, of course, only holds true in some cases. There are also pure acts of expression, emotion, etc. which resist this simple classification. But in many cases we desire our language to represent the external world and as such we vest our words/sentences with the power to communicate this:

    “Hey, Doyle, lookie over here. Look at this here tree. Ain’t it funny? Look, it’s all crooked. That there storm last night sure did a number on this here tree. Did you see that storm last night, John?…Hey, where is the whisky? Did you finish it all off?”

    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 19 October 2006 @ 8:36 pm

  20. You noticed that too, did you? Still, I stand by every word I said.

    First, I deny that language represents raw phenomena. A “representation” corresponds to that which is presented. A mirror represents; a photograph represents; a set of neural connections that mathematically transform the structure of stuff in the world represents. A string of words doesn’t represent; it describes, points to, refers to, etc., but it doesn’t represent. This is the point of Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature: philosophy has been hung up in a visual metaphor that just doesn’t work with language.

    So, the word “light” in no way represents the phenomenon to which it refers. “Light” is an abstract construct, a creation of the human mind for describing/explaining something in the world. The community can agree as to what property of the world the word refers, but that agreement doesn’t make the word any more of a representation than it was before.

    So wherein lies reality: in the raw phenomena of the world, or in the word/concept that refers to the phenomena? I think it’s in the combination: the word/concept applied to the thing together constitute reality. And so reality too is a creation. Lower animals experience light but have no conception of it, no words or ideas for making sense of it, no reality. Humans have a collective reality: we use the same words to describe the same phenomena. But the words, and the ideas they characterize, are collective human creations, part of a shared language built up incrementally over the generations.

    “Truth” is another conceptual-linguistic construct. Stuff in the world isn’t true or false: it just is. Truth refers to our conceptions of the raw phenomena, embedded in language. “The”light is on” might be a true statement about something in the world. It’s true partly because the light really is on, and it’s true because we agree about what kinds of things the words of the statement refer to. True/false is a dimension of reality that includes both the raw phenomena and the words/concepts we agree to use for making sense of the phenomena.

    As you say, language is a creation of the community. Because that’s the case, truth too is a creation of the community, because truth always refers to statements, and statements are made out of language. Truth means this: we agree as to what the words of this statement point to in the world. The noumena are not represented in the words, so there’s no reason to claim that truth has anything to do with the essence of the thing in itself. All our experiences are mediated by senses, all our communications about experiences are further mediated by language. This is all the work of creation, which in my view makes it all the more remarkable.

    Now am I getting to the main point?

    Comment by ktismatics — 19 October 2006 @ 9:56 pm

  21. Hey, you snuck in another comment while I was responding to the last one. Representation historically has meant resemblance: it’s part of philosophy’s Greek heritage that logos actually resembles the thing. Once you abandon resemblance you move into the realm of creation, because now the words and the concepts have form and structure unlike the things to which they refer. So we’re getting somewhere now, I think. Now, however, I must retire — carry on without me.

    Comment by ktismatics — 19 October 2006 @ 10:03 pm


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