Ktismatics

30 November 2006

Sometime Other Than Meantime

Filed under: Genesis 1 — ktismatics @ 9:33 am

 

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

So here’s the thing about publishing: the quality of your work doesn’t seem to matter nearly as much as being able to identify a ready-made market for it. The obvious niche for a book about Genesis 1 is the creation-versus-evolution controversy. Although my book takes the creation narrative seriously and literally, it doesn’t fit well with the faith-based community. Why not? Because it implies that maybe God didn’t create or design the material universe after all. So that means I should ally myself with the evolution side of the argument. It makes sense: undermining Judeo-Christian theism from inside the main theistic text really is a pretty cool move. There’s a bit of a backlash against the heavy-handed polemics of Dawkins and Sam Harris; my argument is scriptural, theological, literary, nuanced, cultured. My book is what’s next.

But here’s the other thing: I’m just not that interested in fighting for evolution. Sure I believe that it’s sound science. Sure I believe that evolution can account for a lot of things that traditionally fall within the purview of religion: cosmogony, human nature, morality, both selfishness and altruism, beliefs. But what’s so great about attributing everything I value about humanity to natural rather than divine causes? I’m just replacing one deterministic explanation with another.

We look to origins as first causes. Where did we come from? Why are we the way we are? What has set the course of our development and history? Creationists and evolutionists are equally concerned with origins. One side sees God as the source; the other, random variation and natural selection. Both are asking fundamentally the same question: what events beyond our control determine the course of our lives? Backward-looking, deterministic, ultimately dehumanizing: evolution and providence aren’t all that different from one another.

What defines the beginning for God is a conscious act of creating. To create isn’t to be caused; it’s to be the cause. Everything that’s determined happens “in the meantime”: in the middle time between first cause and final effect. To cause something different to happen, something determined neither by nature nor by God, is to create a beginning. By doing something unprecedented, God created a beginning for himself. If we’re created in his image, then that’s what we need to do too: create beginnings for ourselves. Reducing everything to natural causes or to the will of God is to live in the middle. Every time we create we begin again. The lesson of Genesis 1 isn’t to keep looking back at that particular beginning, but to learn from the creator what it means to begin.

The shrewdest move publication-wise is to position the Genesis 1 book in the middle of the creation versus evolution debate, to take sides, to add fuel to a fire that’s already burning. If I don’t provide my particular fuel somebody else will surely add theirs. The post-Christianization of America is a sociohistorical movement that’s already underway: go with the Tao rather than resisting it. But I don’t really want to go with or against that particular tide. Why takes sides on whether natural or divine forces shape my destiny? It doesn’t really matter which side I choose, just so long as I get myself onto the field of play. But I believe this: there may be no use in fighting destiny, but there’s nothing interesting about going along with destiny either.

Here’s my point, and also that of elohim in Genesis 1: whatever got me to this place, I’m going to set something different in motion, something that might never have happened if I didn’t do it. But here’s the tragedy: if I don’t choose sides and get into the game that’s already underway, whatever else I do will never be noticed by either the players or the audience. The book will never get published.

 

29 November 2006

The Force of Moral Gravity

Filed under: First Lines — ktismatics @ 9:47 am

 

“Boys growing up in nineteenth-century England weren’t generally advised to seek sexual excitement.”

– Robert Wright, The Moral Animal, 1994

The Bible begins with a really great first line. While putting together the first draft of the Genesis 1 book I started getting interested in the first lines of other books. I looked at the first sentences of a bunch of books on my shelves and wrote down the ones I found particularly stimulating. Unfortunately I failed to write down the titles of the books these sentences came from. Eventually I either remembered or retrieved all of them – all, that is, except the sentence at the top of today’s post.

Yesterday I watched part of a YouTube video of Richard Dawkins responding to questions from the audience at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. I’d been thinking about Dawkins in the context of creation versus evolution, a theme that’s inescapable when dealing with Genesis 1. On his website Dawkins lists his upcoming and recent appearances. Randolph-Macon Woman’s College immediately caught my eye because it’s my wife’s alma mater. Skipping the part where Dawkins reads from his latest book, I jumped ahead to the Q&A.

This is a woman’s college we’re talking about – although finally and not without regret the school, nodding to market pressures, goes coed next year. So why are there so many college-aged young men hulking over the floor microphones? It’s because R-MWC is located in Lynchburg Virginia, the home turf of Jerry Falwell and his Liberty University. Turns out it’s mostly Liberty underdgrad guys queueing up to take their shots at the famous atheist. I’ll refrain from comment on whether I agree with Dawkins that he cleaned their clocks, or whether it would have been an impressive display of debating prowess if he did. What interested me was the fact that most of the questions had to do with morality.

Now I’d just gone a couple rounds at Open Source Theology about Dawkins’ views on morality; namely, that our selfish genes may actually promote altruistic behavior. Why, I wondered, is it important to dismiss this idea as scientistic hogwash? Certainly we’re instinctively predisposed to protect our children and kinfolk: being genetically similar to us, they’re able to perpetuate our genetic legacy into the next generation. Certainly we’re instinctively predisposed to cooperate with our neighbors: if we don’t they might retaliate; if we do they might reciprocate when we’re in need. Certainly we’re instinctively predisposed to empathize: we’re able to learn from others because we’re able to see ourselves in the other’s shoes, pursuing the same goals in the world as they do. If evangelicals are going to take on Dawkins they’d better bring their “A game,” and denying the adaptive advantages of cooperation just isn’t going to cut it.

In any event, I can’t remember whether Dawkins specifically cited Robert Wright’s book or whether I was just reminded of it by the discussion. Wright offers an excellent discussion of the evolutionary underpinnings of morality. So I pulled it down from the shelf, opened to the beginning – and there it is, that first line I’d been looking for! I expected the writer to have been English, so I never thought about Wright as the source. On the frontispiece Wright quotes a passage from The Power and the Glory, which was written by an Englishman and the first sentence of which likewise appears in my compilation of notable first lines.

And what, you ask, does this first sentence about English boys have to do with the evolution of morality? Wright begins his book by establishing the sociocultural context in which Charles Darwin grew up: a pre-Victorian era of prudery invoked by a newly-ascendant evangelicalism. Man is evil by nature; only the sternest measures of suppression can keep the beast at heel. I suspect that today’s evangelical hasn’t changed all that much from Darwin’s day. Today perhaps there’s a greater willingness to acknowledge forgiveness and the possibility of moral regeneration – although the Wesley boys were preaching that same gospel back in the day. But the idea that God can redeem and restore our innate moral goodness? I don’t think so.

 

24 November 2006

Intellectus Archetypus

Filed under: First Lines — ktismatics @ 11:23 am

 

Bottom half of the seventh, Brock’s boy had made it through another inning unscratched, one! two! three!

– Robert Coover, The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop., 1968

Brock Rutherford’s boy Damon is six outs away from perfection. He doesn’t know it yet, but it’s already in the cards – or the dice, rather. Even Henry Waugh doesn’t know it yet, and he’s the guy who’s rolling.

Baseball is allegorical for just about anything heroic in America; it’s our national kitschmyth. We can get caught up in the numbers game, the statistics of greatness, the rigid economics that guarantee a continual supply of winners and losers. In kitschmyth there are no numbers. Never lose sight of the humanity, the tragedy of being a god with feet of clay, the redemption in love and self-sacrifice, the inspirational ballad that stays with us even after the credits have all been rolled up.

There was a time – before baseball, before America, before time itself – when the numbers were mythic. Eternity begat time, pure number begat instantiation, God begat man. The heroes – the daimons – occupied an intermediate realm between form and matter, between God and man.

“Emma Bovary, c’est moi!” Flaubert famously declared. He died in the nineteenth century, once and for all, but Madame Bovary? She dies but she comes back, over and over again. What elixir is this, what sorcerer’s stone – how did this mortal scribe gain access to the hermetic secrets of immortality? Did Flaubert imbue Emma Bovary with a vestigial memory of her creator? Perhaps there was never a Flaubert other than Emma.

What sort of middle realm must Cervantes have occupied to conjure such a demiurge as Quixote? Sometimes the worlds start slipping apart, or perhaps they multiply themselves, and parallel Quixotes start showing up inside the text. Did Cervantes himself show up inside the story? I forget now.

The elohim created a universe out of nothing and on the seventh day they rested. Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichos – they taught that Yahweh pulled a universe out of himself, in stages. Even Augustine, Calvin’s patron saint, was Greek. The printing press made the novel a quintessentially Protestant art form, but the Catholics got the ball rolling. The Romancers held onto Plato long enough to beget Cervantes, who begat Flaubert. There were Englishmen too striving for enlightenment: Newton the alchemist, who begat Lawrence Sterne, who tried to protect his progeny with the eternal name of Trismagistus when the secret was right under his nose.

J. Henry Waugh. JHWaugH.

…who begat Coover…

All fiction is metatheology.

 

19 November 2006

Beaujolais Day 2005

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 6:42 pm

[This post will make more sense if you read the preceding one first.]

The guy with the mike was still pitching the new Beaujolais when, two days later, I stopped back in at the InterMarché to pick up two more bottles and some plastic cups. Anne had the backpack with her at the bus stop; I stuffed the wine and the cups down in there with the sliced sausage and the cheese cubes. Where’s the napkins? Crap. Anne ran down the street. Three minutes later she was back, a package of blue paper napkins under her arm. The bus was on time: we paid our 2 euros 60 and took our seats, heading for Nice.

When the movie started I opened up the pack, uncorked the bottle, poured out eight glasses. “You can go to jail for this,” Sonya whispered to Anne – but she took a glass just the same. The movie was ridiculous, hilarious, but we never quite found that party spirit I’d hoped to achieve. The second bottle remained unopened; most of the snacks, uneaten. Maybe it’s the French respect for film, especially art films, that preserves the sense of reserved decorum. We were at the Rialto, the foreign film house, all films presented in their original language with French subtitles. But this is Borat we’re watching. This is not an art film. This is a movie.

Walking to the restaurant a general agreement was expressed that this had indeed been a funny film, a very good film. I told them it was number one in America the past two weeks. Really? French muttering to one another. The Romanian gypsies and the frat boys and the etiquette teacher are suing the filmmakers. More muttering. We take our usual table at our usual restaurant, look over the usual menu, hear about the two specials, place our orders.

Soon Jöel arrives. He didn’t make it to the movie because he’d taken his and Rosenn’s daughter Laetitia to mass. Mass? Joel shrugs. The deaths have upset Laetitia a great deal. She has become friends with the catechism teacher. Now she wants to go to mass all the time. This time she took two friends with her. Though they send Laetitia to the Catholic school, neither Rosenn nor Jöel is religious. They’re not sure what to make of Laetitia, who has always been such a playful child.

The food seems to get worse every time we eat at this restaurant. Mine is too salty; so is Anne’s, so is Jöel’s . Why don’t we go somewhere else for a change? We’re drinking new wine, Italian, sweeter and less tannic than the Beaujolais. I’m seated at one end of the long table, next to Rosenn’s sister Sylvie, who’s still in town from Paris finishing up arrangements after their mother’s recent death. Sylvie is talking to Dina, back from Saudi Arabia for two weeks visiting her mother. They’re discussing religion: Dina’s Coptic Christianity and the Lebanese Orthodox church where Sylvie’s infant grandchild was baptized all the way under the water. Jöel sits next to Dina. He and I talk about jazz. I tell him about seeing Wayne Shorter this summer at the Juan les Pins Festival. Jöel remembers how Miles was already very sick the last time he played Nice and had to be taken away from the performance in an ambulance. Anne is at the other end of the table hearing about Löic’s recent trip to Las Vegas and Malibu, purportedly to attend ophthalmologic meetings. Rosenn is seated near the middle of the table. The room is loud; we don’t talk with her.

After awhile I start zoning out. Maybe I’m still feeling the effects of yesterday’s wisdom tooth extraction. Maybe it’s the wine. I can’t seem to pay attention any more to the multiple French-speaking conversations going on around me in this noisy restaurant. I find myself watching the steam rising from the big kettles in the kitchen, the waiters moving through the crowded room. Why do I live in a country where I barely know what’s going on half the time?

Anne comes back and sits next to me. We can catch a bus in twenty minutes. Jöel calls for the check, we split it up, everybody starts putting on jackets. “Next week we see Babel,” Jöel announces.

“No, sorry,” Anne says, “we can’t come next Saturday. Kenzie’s friend is moving back to America in December, and we’re having them for dinner. Thanksgiving.”

Suddenly Rosenn turns toward us, looking almost startled. “Yes, I saw something of Thanksgiving this week.”

“You remember Thanksgiving?” I ask. “Tarte de potiron?” We had had them over for Thanksgiving dinner once. They knew about Halloween but not Thanksgiving. They thought perhaps Americans celebrated Christmas at the end of November. We explained to them about the Pilgrims and the Indians. The pumpkin pie they had found particularly strange, pumpkin being a vegetable after all, more appropriate for soup than for dessert.

“Yes, very good,” Rosenn said, smiling. “Juliette…” I couldn’t see her expression as she looked at Anne.

“Yes,” Anne confirmed. “Juliette came too.” Anne and I had talked about it on the bus: that Thanksgiving was the only time Juliette had ever been to our house.

“Three years ago…”

“The week after your Beaujolais party,” I reminded Rosenn.

“Yes.” She paused. “We have no Beaujolais party this year. Too many…”

“No, of course.”

“But 2007!” We nodded in encouragement.

We all walked together into the soft coolness. “You are not cold?” Sylvie asked me. “He’s never cold,” Anne said. Sylvie shivered in her coat as we walked on. When Anne and I reached our bus stop we kissed everyone good-night and parted ways. We wondered whether we’d ever see Dina again, or Sylvie, but we had wondered this same thing before. When we got on the bus Anne called Kenzie to tell her we were on our way home.

 

17 November 2006

Beaujolais Day 2003

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 7:07 pm

Three years ago tonight we were at our friends’ annual Beaujolais party. Rosenn and Jöel’s daughter Laetitia went to school with Kenzie. I had introduced myself to Rosenn at an end-of-school kid pickup early the first year, and we all soon became good friends.

Everybody brought a bottle; Jöel had also laid in a supply of Spanish red. Anne, at the suggestion of one of her friends back home, made some Southern-style ham biscuits, replacing the traditional Virginia country ham with Italian prosciutto. Everybody savored this little taste of American rustic cuisine; everyone agreed it belonged with the dried sausages and the terrines and the goat cheeses that traditionally accompany the new wine.

Beaujolais nouveau is a gulpable pleasure, and we pleased ourselves. Packs of children roamed noisily through the house, and eventually the grown-ups got to dancing. It’s kind of sweet dancing to old American pop standards with a bunch of French people. They know the words too; they just don’t quite know what the words mean.

Rosenn’s three other children were at the party: Cécile, Nicholas, and Juliette. Rosenn’s first husband had died of cancer when the kids were young; Juliette, who was very little at the time, had few memories of her father.

Cécile’s husband David had appointed himself DJ for the evening; he and Rosenn’s three older children stood near the stereo drinking and bemusedly watching the old dancers. As the empty bottles accumulated on the tabletops David gradually steered the mix toward his own musical tastes. The dancers, more adventurous now, went with it. At some point he put on the Doors.

“I heard the Doors play!” I shouted to David.

“No way! Fuck you, man!”

“Three times!” I yelled with pride.

“Fuck you! The Doors were great, man! Their influence on music just begins!”

In Paris we once found ourselves in front of the apartment building where Jim Morrison had died. There’s no plaque that I could see, but there is a bar across the street that looks like a gathering place for rock pilgrims. My best friend in high school had turned me on to the Doors. Cliff is dead too now, killed by side effects – Mayo diagnosed brain tumor, but it turned out to be an aneurysm instead.

The next year there was no party because Juliette got sick. The doctors thought the cancer was gone, but after five years it had come back. She took a leave from her pharmacy studies to undergo more treatments. A few months later she died. She was twenty-three.

Within a year Rosenn’s father died. The day I first met the old man and he found out I was American, he kept repeating solemnly: “Quarante quatre. Quarante quatre.” Forty-four: the year of the Normandy invasion. On the day of his grandfather’s funeral Nicolas’ wife told him she was leaving him. She got custody of their two kids. Last month, on All Saint’s Day, Rosenn’s mother died.

There will be no Beaujolais day party at Rosenn and Jöel’s this year.

 

16 November 2006

New Wine

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 11:48 am

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est Arrivé! Here begins my running commentary on Beaujolais Day, the 16th of November. I’m just about finished with a major project, so now I’m ready for a new start. Maybe the new wine will help turn the trick.

12:30 a.m. The wine is released at midnight, so I took a walk around the town to see what was happening. I walked up rue Albert 1ere to the Place DeGaulle. Above, a city worker stood in a cherrypicker hanging Christmas decorations from the streetlamps. The doors were open at the big restaurant facing the Place, pumping the pop music into the street. Inside, a couple sat drinking beers while the bartender rinsed out glasses. I moved on.

Aside from two kids on a motorcycle, the rue de la Republique was completely empty as I walked into la Vieille Ville – the medieval district. I passed the empty storefronts and the darkened windows of the apartments above street level. From time to time I caught a glimpse of the motorcyclists as they wove their way through the labyrinthine streets. Even the Irish pub down by the marina was closed. The barkeep at the otherwise-empty La Porte du Port talked loudly into his portable phone. A guy and his dog slept next to one another in one of the shop doorways, feeling grateful perhaps for the persistently fine weather. I walked under the strings of Christmas lights draping the old covered market – I’d never seen it complety deserted before. Climbing the stone stairs, I headed over to the medieval ramparts that overlook the sea. Behind me the lights outlined the Baie des Anges sweeping its long unbroken arc from Nice to Antibes. Soon I found myself back at the apartment.

2:00 p.m. Anne and I walked over to the InterMarché supermarket just up the street. Immediately upon entering the store we encounter some guy wearing a sport coat and tie, microphone in hand, standing in front of a huge display featuring lots and lots of bottles of new Beaujolais from maybe six different vignobles. He’s there to tout the product. I’ve never seen this before at the InterMarché. Maybe the sceptics are right about this whole thing being a marketing scam. So what, we agree. Just this morning we watched the guy who runs the wine store around the corner making a home delivery to our next-door neighbor, a very old French lady who’s not about to jump on every fad that comes down the rue.

We approach the guy with the mike; he asks us if we want a sample. Bien sûr. He hands us the little plastic cups, and we sip as if this was some sort of fancy wine. It’s fine, we agree. We buy two bottles: a Georges Duboeuf (the acknowledged godfather of Beaujolais and the marketing genius behind new Beaujolais day) and a vintage produced by the regional cooperative. The prices: 7 euros for the Duboeuf, 2,50 for the other one. We pick up a slice of duck paté and a saucisse from the deli and head for the exits. We stop at the boulangerie next door to pick up a baguette, and now we’re done shopping.

When we get home we lay out a simple charcuterie lunch, perfect for new wine: the paté and smoked sausage along with some dried ham, a plate with four kinds of cheese, a little green salad, the baguette, a bowlful of clementines. Two wine glasses. We decide to open the Duboeuf. Everything is delicious. The wine is crisp and fresh, not deep or extravagant – just the way it’s supposed to be. Half a bottle later we’re ready for a nap.

[Note: My wife is compiling links to expatriate blog entries on Beaujolais Day at blueVicar.

 

13 November 2006

The Seventh Creation

Filed under: Genesis 1 — ktismatics @ 2:03 pm

Five paradoxical creations, maybe six, each one effaced by its own particular irony: Genesis 1 overflows with a surplus of creation and self-destruction. Our reading of Genesis 1 extends a bridge between empirical science and Biblical inerrancy, but those encamped on opposing sides of the chasm are likely to ignore it. Jesus said that he spoke in parables not to make it easier for people to understand him but to make it harder. Apparently there are revelations that hide inside themselves.

Putting ourselves in the middle of Genesis 1, we watched as a formless void opened itself outward into a whole reality that incorporates us into itself. The history of humanity is contained within that brief interval when our forebears first began separating themselves from the meaningless determinism of raw nature. This unexpected, unprecedented thing: is it something we made up, or was it hidden in the text all along? If no one else can see it, does that mean it doesn’t exist? If it doesn’t support traditional presuppositions, does that mean it’s bad? And what about those of us who can see: do we share something in common with that first witness, and perhaps also with that earliest creator?

Did we discover the truth of Genesis 1 hidden from the foundation of the world, or did we create it? The answer, of course, is yes. We entered Genesis 1 as creators looking for clues to our heritage, and we found what we were looking for. The Creation wasn’t a one-time-only spectacle, a demonstration of sheer ex nihilo power, but rather the exercise of a subtler force. Rather than cowering awestruck beneath the Almighty’s unapproachable otherness, the witness sat at the teacher’s feet learning the ethos, participating in the work of creation. Humanity emerged from prehistory as a product of time and chance, just like everything else in the world. At last, at the beginning, our ancestors became shapers of those very forces that shaped them. They became fruitful and multiplied, not just as one biological species among many but as the only godlike creatures on this planet. We, their not-so-distant progeny, are bearers of the seventh creation, the most important one of all: the creation of creation.

From the inside, this new reading of Genesis 1 seems like the only interpretation that’s any good. The spiritual insights of medieval Catholicism and the tight exegeses of the Reformers are no good any more; neither are mythopoetic genre interpretations or the neo-Freudian analyses or the Derridean deconstructions. A new reality was created inside Genesis 1; this reality expanded without limits until finally it absorbed the text that generated it. Like all complete realities, it’s a self-contained system that reaches back to create its own beginning. But if I leave the theater and step back into the street it doesn’t take long to realize the tenuousness of this newfound reality, the proximity of all creation to fiction. It’s harder to see this ephemeral indeterminacy of creation as a good thing. But it’s what keeps an overstuffed universe from imploding; it’s what makes possible the unpredictable appearance of formless voids that, almost miraculously, open out into alternate realities. Who knows? Maybe other realities will open up from inside the one we’ve been immersed in since the beginning of this work. Creation isn’t a destroyer of alternatives; it’s a fruitful multiplier.

You stand before the full universe and see something that doesn’t exist – yet. You enter into the void and find an entire universe opening up around you. Those who didn’t come along with you can see your trajectory and lament its futility. There’s nothing there, they tell you; you’re heading into a cul-de-sac. As you accelerate into the void you hear their Dopplerized voices receding and you wish you could make yourself turn back. You will not be heard from again in that place. If you’re one of the lucky ones you won’t care.

In every act of creation we can feel ourselves leaning into the future. The work pulls us toward its completion, when potential becomes fully realized, when we can rest assured that what we’ve made stands on its own. But do we also feel the past leaning into us, infusing us and our creation with something ancient and legendary and heroic? Every time we create we return to the beginning. The interval, the formless void, the three-way oscillation between discovery and creation and revelation, the search for excellence in what we’ve made – every new creation retraces the first creation.

 

12 November 2006

Two Linguistic Jokes

Filed under: Ktismata — ktismatics @ 4:40 pm

When Chagnon began to gather genealogical data among the Yanomamo, he had to work around their taboo against mentioning the names of prominent people (a bit like the sensibility behind our own forms of address like Sir and Your honor). Chagnon asked his informants to whisper the names of a person and the person’s relatives into his ear, and clumsily repeated it to makee sure he had heard correctly. When the named one glowered at him and the onlookers giggled, Chagnon felt reassured that he had recorded the person’s true name. After months of work he had assembled an elaborate genealogy, and during a visit to a neighboring village he tried to show off by dropping the name of the headmans wife. Chagnon reported the reaction:

A stunned silence followed, and then a villagewide roar of uncontrollable laughter, choking, gasping, and howling. It seems that I thought the Bisaasi-teri headmand was married to a woman named “hairy cunt.” It also came out that I was calling the headman “long dong,” his brother “eagle shit,” one of his sons “asshole,” and a daughter “fart breath.” Blood welled in my temples as I realized that I had nothing but nonsense to show for my five months of dedicated genealogical effort.

Philosophers relish the true story of the theoretician who announced at a scholarly conference that while some languages use a double negative to convey an affirmative, no language uses a double positive to convey a negative. A philosopher standing at the back of the hall shouted in a singsong, ‘Yeah, yeah.”

– from Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works

[Tomorrow: the seventh creation.]

10 November 2006

The Creation of God?

Filed under: Genesis 1 — ktismatics @ 2:49 pm

In ancient times, it is told, the tribe was visited by a band of travelers who would come to be remembered as Elohim. Whether gods they were or men it matters not for, if men, they had been so perfectly wrought in the image and likeness of the gods as to be indistinguishable from them. Elohim were seafarers; the awestruck shore-dwellers who witnessed their arrival swore they had seen a spirit moving over the surface of the waters. Speaking into the void of what was destined to become the first dawn, Elohim pulled reality out of the raw world. “This is this,” Elohim declared, “and it is placed here; that is that, it goes there.” And so they imposed order where neither order nor disorder had reigned. Did they bring a new universe into existence, or did they discover that which already was and reveal its truths? To the haphazard and anonymous denizens of that land newly made Elohim said: “You are become fully human, like unto us as like can be.” In the speaking of the words their truth was made manifest, and the inhabitants understood what Elohim had declared: they were human indeed.

And so we stand poised on the nether shores of heresy. Made in the image and likeness, are we any different from elohim? Our exegesis has reduced the gap between man and God nearly to the vanishing point. What remains of godliness in elohim is the kind of creatorliness that distinguishes man from beast: creating for its own sake, teaching others about it, valuing the goodness intrinsic in the creation. Perhaps the moment when man became aware of himself as a unique being was precisely the same moment when he saw the possibility of self-transcendence made manifest in elohim. Perhaps, at the moment that man became man, God became God…

If you already believe in the Judeo-Christian God, chances are you believe in all the superlatives that have been associated with him since at least the Greek era: omniscience, omnipresence, perfection, omnipotence. Even though we have no personal experience of anyone creating anything out of nothing, we have no trouble imagining that God could have done so. It’s more difficult to imagine a God who didn’t create ex nihilo, who perhaps couldn’t do it – a God more like us, in other words. When it comes to God, it’s easier to believe the extraordinary than the ordinary. Probably that’s because in religious realities belief is associated with worship, and we find it hard to imagine worshiping someone who’s too much like us.

What if God doesn’t know everything but is a good learner? What if God can’t do everything but works really hard? What if God can’t imagine every possibility but likes surprises? What if God can’t control everything but is a great improviser? What if God makes mistakes but isn’t too proud to admit them? What if God can’t transcend time but uses time as an opportunity to introduce change and difference? What if God had absolutely nothing to do with creating the material world but has everything to do with making sense of it? Is it possible to imagine such a God?

Instead of this God of superlatives, contemporary theologian John Caputo proposes that we re-envision God as a “weak force”:

Suppose the sense of “God” is to interrupt and disrupt, to confound, contradict, and confront the established human order, the human, all too human way and sway of doing business, the authority of man over man – and over women, animals, and the earth itself – human possessiveness and dominion – to pose, in short, the contradiction of the “world”?

Revisiting Genesis 1, Caputo sees not the omnipotent hand of God creating ex nihilo but the weak force hovering over the deep. And what of man?

Indeed, suppose it turns out that we human beings were made not simply in the image of God, which is surely a central part of the story, but that we are also made of an unimaginable, or hardly imaginable, unmanageable, and unstable stuff, something that is neither icon nor idol, that is prior to both, reducible neither to Elohim nor to a demon or false god?

Let there be light,” says elohim to the witness – it’s as though elohim is asking the witness to make the light real. Man already has the potential to become godlike: does he really need elohim to witness that potential and to summon it forth? Couldn’t man have become the creator of his own reality?

Man is an animal, a grasping and striving thing – a survivor. God is a seer, an imaginer, a thinker, a namer – a creator. Perhaps God is the difference between adapting and creating, between surviving and living, between evolving and improving. Perhaps God is the difference between individualism and individuality, between communalism and community, between choice and calling, between license and liberty, between necessity and duty. Perhaps God is the difference between fitness and goodness, opinion and truth, taste and beauty, power and justice; the difference between force and faith, desire and hope, need and love; between raw existence and meaningful reality. Would that make God more like us, or more different?

[Note: In light of this new concluding section that I’ve been posting I decided to change the name of the book to The Seven Creations of Genesis 1. I’ve posted a revised book summary here.]

9 November 2006

The Persistence of the Imago Dei

Filed under: Genesis 1 — ktismatics @ 12:29 pm

Man as Creator of Meaning

God is creator; God created man in his own image: now man too is a creator – this is the dramatic climax of the Genesis 1 narrative and the crowning glory of elohim’s creation. As a biological species man isn’t that different from the other animals. As a maker of historical change, as a creator of meaning, as a user and interpreter of language, as a carrier and creator of culture, man is fantastically different from the other animals. Genesis 1 marks the turning point when man first came into his uniqueness, his reality, his godliness.

A lot of time has gone by since God created man – do we still share his image and likeness? Ever since the beginning man has been creating realities. Cognitively, linguistically, culturally – really – it’s as if we’ve become a different sort of being altogether from what the witness must have been like before the beginning. When God looks at humanity today, does he still see himself in a mirror? I suspect he does, in the same way that we humans recognize our image even in people from very diverse cultures.

Western tradition has long maintained that God established the meaning of life once and for all: to know, love and serve God, if my memory of the Baltimore Catechism is still reliable. Creating your own meaning was condemned by the defenders of religious orthodoxy as an act of existentialist or hedonist rebellion, a rejection of God’s right to declare who you are – your nature, your purpose, your destiny. Now, after careful consideration of Genesis 1, another possibility opens up: maybe it’s part of our job – our calling – to create meaning for ourselves and the world, even if it deviates from long-standing traditions. Maybe we creators aren’t just tinkerers and mechanics; maybe we’ve lost what it means to bear fully the image and likeness of elohim, who without hesitation or precedent went about the task of imposing meaning on raw material existence.

To be able to act not only in the world, but on the world – this is how gods walk the earth. Is it godly for us to suppress this inherent godlike characteristic? Are we demonstrating humility when we, made in the image of the creator, deny that we’ve been given the innate ability to create? Can we even claim to be partakers of God’s image unless we create? Commandments are plentiful in Scripture, but nowhere does God command humanity to create. Does that mean we should regard unbidden creation as an evil to be avoided? God doesn’t command the creeping things to creep, nor the swarming things to swarm – they just do it. They’re creeping things, so they creep. We humans, made in the image of the creator, are creating things, and so we create. Do we regard the swarming things as sinful when, unbidden, they swarm? It might be possible to swarm in a way that’s contrary to the will of God, but swarming per se would seem to be a spontaneous manifestation of a God-given nature. So too with human creating.

According to Christian theology the image and likeness of elohim has become distorted and corrupted within us. Though Augustine knew man to be a fallen creature, he wasn’t totally pessimistic about man’s potential: We must remember that the image of God in the human soul has not been so completely obliterated by the stain of earthly affections, that no faint outlines of the original remain therein. Even Calvin, persuaded by Scripture of man’s total depravity, saw some redeeming value: Truly there are many things in this corrupted nature which may induce contempt; but if you rightly weigh all circumstances, man is, among other creatures, a certain pre-eminent specimen of Divine wisdom, justice, and goodness.

Corruption of the Creatorly Imago

The witness became godlike by watching, listening, understanding, learning – in seeing God as someone like himself, the witness was able to put himself in God’s shoes. God may have been surprised, but he wasn’t disappointed: he was the speaker, the teacher, the one who made the witness in his own image. Maybe our corruption comes from striving to be godlike instead of simply acknowledging it, from competing for dominion instead of accepting its inevitability. The more we try to be gods, the more we prove ourselves worse than beasts. In our corruption what abominations have we created; in our redemption what possibilities lie before us?

In our reading of Genesis 1 the imago Dei manifests itself primarily as a God-like ability to create. Clearly man has not lost that ability entirely: we have subdued the earth after all, just as elohim foresaw. Still, most of us don’t create very often, or even very creatively. We make incremental changes in prior creations; we make more of what we’re already familiar with. We’re also not particularly receptive to others’ creations, especially if they come completely out of the blue. We’re drawn to what others are already drawn to, a phenomenon that Rene Girard calls “mimetic desire.” Even in presumably fad-free areas of culture like science, grant money and research projects and job offers accumulate around the hot topics. We have a difficult time rendering independent evaluations of new creations, waiting for the experts and the marketplace to weigh in first. Don’t get me wrong: chimpanzees are a whole lot less creative than we are. Human creation is disappointing only from an elohimic standard, from the unrealized potential of godlike creatorliness.

Is this diminished capacity to create a consequence of the Fall? Our exegesis of Genesis doesn’t get as far as the Garden; still, it’s not too far-fetched to see how immorality might result in an atrophied and corrupted creativity. A corrupt imago means a corruption in human creativity, resulting in a corruption of the cumulative works of human creation – of culture. To please self and others, to wield power and influence, to achieve social and material gain, to cooperate and to compete: often cited as incentives to create, these motivations might actually limit our own creativity and harden us to the creativity of others. Maybe the bohemians are right: orthodoxy and community standards don’t protect us from the self-glorification of the builders of Babel; instead they reinforce immoral tendencies toward conformity, shame, philistinism and squareness that already hamper our work as creators.

Renewal of the Imago

Renewing the Creation would mean reclaiming the original glory of human creativity through a redeemed, decorrupted imago – not the undoing of human endeavor but its restoration, not the decreation of the man-made world but its reclamation. There would be a renewal not just of the earth but of what man has done to the earth, of man’s cumulative creation across the millennia, of human culture in all its forms: language, art, science, government, philosophy, economics. In a word, renewing the Creation would mean renewing the human spirit of creation.

 

The postmodern evangelical church has begun reclaiming the imagination as a manifestation of godlike creativity. The tendency is to use imagination pragmatically in service of the church’s distinctiveness vis-à-vis the world: to make the church more visible in an already-flooded marketplace dominated by spectacle, to make church services more engaging, to make evangelism more effective. The church doesn’t see as part of its mission the unleashing of a redeemed human creatorliness in the world at large. No truth in the world, no progress, no good human culture, no good human nature – isn’t all this a nihilistic impulse that’s the destructive side of postmodernism? When Christianity barricades itself behind tradition and interpretive community and apophatic encounters, it insulates itself from the world. Is this what Christ had in mind? What elohim had in mind?

8 November 2006

The Creation of Man

Filed under: Genesis 1 — ktismatics @ 12:46 pm

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness (Genesis 1:26)

Through the six days of creation God has been speaking to a witness. The witness is proto-man: a genetically modern human who had not yet acquired the ability to apprehend meaning in the world. Light, said the creator to the witness on day one; light, echoed the witness. God revealed a truth about reality, and the witness understood that truth. The witness understood without being told that God saw goodness in the light. Without explicit instruction from the creator, the witness began counting the days of linear time. How, asks elohim, can the witness understand our words and our thoughts, see what we see, perhaps even create as we create? It’s because the witness is just like us. But the witness is only a natural being, like the other beasts brought forth by the earth. Now the witness transcends his raw biology; this proto-man is become godlike – how can it be? It’s because we are making him that way, say elohim. In our image and likeness.

Reality doesn’t exist solely in the creator’s mind or in the raw world; reality comes forth through the creator’s imaginative engagement with whatever is out there to be engaged. If the witness is able to see God’s created reality, then the witness, like God, must be able to engage the outside world with a creative mind. But where did the witness acquire such a mind? Presumably his raw ability was there all along, but it took exposure to someone who could demonstrate the higher-order manifestations of awareness on which reality depends – someone like elohim – for the witness to realize his potential. God showed the witness what he perceived, taught him the words, demonstrated the closely-related activities of discovery and creation and revelation. By allowing the witness to be with him in the midst of creation, God fanned the creative spark that already smoldered within the witness.

None of this is startling, given our own transition from proto-human to fully human. Even though we all know the word “light” and understand what it means, we weren’t born with this knowledge. There was a time, back when we were very young, when we didn’t know what it meant. We’re born with raw capacity but no understanding. If we’d never been exposed to others who could understand, we never would have gotten the hang of it on our own. We need to emulate our parents and teachers, the mature carriers of culture, the creative wielders of ideas and language, if our latent abilities are to make themselves manifest. Only then, after we begin to take on the image and likeness of the creators with whom we live, does the world begin to make sense.

Paleontologists tell us that the human species has remained virtually unchanged genetically for a hundred thousand years or more. The oldest Paleolithic drawings date from thirty thousand years ago, and the earliest known written languages are only around five thousand years old. When did human speech advance beyond guttural grunts? When did people begin to pay attention to the sun not merely as an instinctual trigger – to wake up, to warm themselves, to hunt and gather – but as a thing in and of itself? All the other species survive and thrive without a cognitive or verbal understanding of the world they inhabit. We’re different from them all.

The God of Genesis 1 doesn’t talk much about himself: he’s too engaged in what he’s doing for that. The narrator likewise is too immersed in the work at hand to elaborate much on the nature of God. Already we see a similarity between God and the witness: an active, task-oriented presence in the world. Godlike engagement isn’t limited to the physical manipulation of concrete things; it includes observing, thinking, speaking, listening. Most of all it involves the discovery, creation, and revelation of meaning. God makes sense of the universe and reveals it to the witness; the witness makes sense of what God is doing and explains it to his listeners and readers.

Real and lasting change can happen in the reality that God created. Sexual reproduction and linear time virtually ensure that the earth and sky and sea will become filled with an ever-changing menagerie of creatures. God blessed the creatures in their genetic profligacy. Man, equipped with even more volatile and dramatic mechanisms of change, his innate potential as a creator now activated, was sure to transform God’s creation in ways that perhaps even God couldn’t have anticipated. On the sixth day God beheld man in all his genetic and cognitive and cultural powers – powers which make man virtually indistinguishable from God himself – and God blessed man. The regret comes later.

7 November 2006

Why the Creation of Culture Interpretation is Doomed

Filed under: Genesis 1 — ktismatics @ 3:44 pm

Genesis 1 was where it all began: culture, not nature, was what elohim created in the beginning – or at least that’s the paradoxical conclusion of our exegesis. Traditional interpretations of Genesis 1 reach a dramatically different conclusion, of course. In the beginning God creates nature. Man doesn’t start creating culture until after the Fall, when God expels Adam and Eve from the Garden. That makes culture at best a necessary adaptation to a corrupted world, at worst a direct manifestation of corrupted human nature. Man builds culture to compensate for his separation from God and from paradise: is it any wonder that culture becomes a mechanism of self-sufficiency and a source of pride? The Tower of Babel becomes paradigmatic for this kind of cultural striving:

Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words… And they said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” And Yahweh came down to see the city, and the tower which the sons of men had built. And Yahweh said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So Yahweh scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. (Genesis 11:1-8)

Historically Christian theologians have maintained a scrupulous ambivalence regarding human cultural accomplishment. Here’s Augustine in The City of God:

[H]as not the genius of man invented and applied countless astonishing arts, partly the result of necessity, partly the result of exuberant invention, so that this vigor of mind, which is so active in the discovery not merely of superfluous but even of dangerous and destructive things, betokens an inexhaustible wealth in the nature which can invent, learn, or employ such arts? What wonderful – one might say stupefying – advances has human industry made in the arts of weaving and building, of agriculture and navigation! With what endless variety are designs in pottery, painting, and sculpture produced, and with what skill executed! What wonderful spectacles are exhibited in the theatres, which those who have not seen them cannot credit! How skillful the contrivances for catching, killing, or taming wild beasts! And for the injury of men, also, how many kinds of poisons, weapons, engines of destruction, have been invented, while for the preservation or restoration of health the appliances and remedies are infinite! To provoke appetite and please the palate, what a variety of seasonings have been concocted! To express and gain entrance for thoughts, what a multitude and variety of signs there are, among which speaking and writing hold the first place! what ornaments has eloquence at command to delight the mind! what wealth of song is there to captivate the ear! how many musical instruments and strains of harmony have been devised! What skill has been attained in measures and numbers! with what sagacity have the movements and connections of the stars been discovered! Who could tell the thought that has been spent upon nature, even though, despairing of recounting it in detail, he endeavored only to give a general view of it? In fine, even the defence of errors and misapprehensions, which has illustrated the genius of heretics and philosophers, cannot be sufficiently declared. For at present it is the nature of the human mind which adorns this mortal life which we are extolling, and not the faith and the way of truth which lead to immortality.

If human culture is the cause of the earth’s corruption, then what happens when God redeems the world and removes that corruption? Do we look forward to a purified human culture? Jesus contrasted the kingdom of God with “the world,” by which he seemed to implicate the political, economic, and societal endeavors that we think of as human culture. First Israel and then the church foreshadowed the ever-coming kingdom, imperfectly rehearsing the restoration of perfect fellowship among the pure of heart. Either gradually or apocalyptically the world would be overthrown and the kingdom of God established on earth. For high-medieval Europe the kingdom and the world seemed one and the same. The Reformers exposed the worldly corruptions of the church, restoring the separation between the two domains. Despite the cultural upsurge that lifted the Protestant West to world dominance, Reformation theology and practice emphasized neither innovation nor contribution to secular culture. Through sin man lost his innocence, and fallen man has been progressively corrupting the world ever since.

Evangelical Protestantism inherited the Reformation tendency to renounce human innovation and its fruits, the desire to reverse the course of human cultural history. In practice the evangelical church functions as a kind of “alternate reality” operating in parallel with the world. The kingdom comes not by purifying human culture but by replacing it with church culture. For religious liberals the world and the kingdom were gradually and progressively coming back together. Fundamentalists split themselves off again, living in cultural isolation from the world, though later they would begin trying to superimpose their version of the kingdom politically on the world.

What about the post-evangelicals: are they prepared to extend the spirit of renewal to the world outside the church? They may reach out to the world evangelistically; they may protest corruptions and excesses of the world; they may engage the world counterculturally in ecological interventions or performance art installations or aid to the disenfranchised. But the post-evangelical church does not typically envision itself as working toward a reformation of human culture. The post-evangelicals discount the hard-headed empiricism, the individual autonomy and the “cult of progress” that collectively define modernism — a modernism that arguably began with Calvin and the Reformers. Perhaps the most prevalent post-evangelical vision of the future is that God will restore everything – human nature, human society, the natural world, fellowship with God – to its pre-Fall pristine condition. The spirit of renewal means stripping away undesirable cultural accretions that have accumulated over the centuries, thereby restoring the world and mankind to its original virtuous state. Echoes of this sort of restorative theology reverberate through the back-to-nature utopianism of Rousseau and the romantics; it continues to be heard in the postmodern reaction against the technological dystopia of modernity.

If God completed his good Creation long ago, if since then man hasn’t added anything to the Creation, if man has done nothing but detract from the Creation’s original goodness – then what happens after the renewal is accomplished? It’s not clear what a renewed humanity can find to do with itself in a restored paradise.

 

6 November 2006

The Creation of Culture

Filed under: Genesis 1 — ktismatics @ 7:15 pm

Culture is the name we give to all the created realities we inscribe into the raw universe. Human culture is collective, incremental, cumulative. Each of us as an individual is a carrier, a transmitter, and a potential creator of culture. Culture permeates our kind. Culture ratchets its way forward in historical time, each new generation gaining access to the accumulated knowledge of the generations that came before. Culture is possible because we are capable of discovery, imagination, communication, interpretation, imitation, elaboration – capabilities on full display during the Genesis 1 exchange between the creator and the witness. We thrive in a world of multiple overlapping cultural realities, a second created universe built on top of the raw natural one. Science is one kind of cultural reality; so is language. Literature, economics, philosophy, technology – realities layer our world, penetrate our society, permeate our selves.

Humans as Carriers of Culture

Genetically, humans differ hardly at all from chimpanzees; culturally, the difference is incalculable. Chimpanzees can learn to use primitive tools; they can even learn tool-using skills from one another. But they cannot make modifications to their tools, nor can they accumulate these modifications over time. The computer on which I’m writing this sentence was built from an interrelated set of inventions, each of which constituted an incremental improvement on a prior invention, and so on back in history, beginning with the first human who ever scratched intelligible glyphs into a piece of stone. Psychologist Michael Tomasello describes the crucial advantage that humans hold over all other creatures:

The process of cumulative cultural evolution requires not only creative invention but also, and just as importantly, faithful social transmission that can work as a ratchet to prevent slippage backward – so that the newly invented artifact or practice preserves its new and improved form at least somewhat faithfully until a further modification or improvement comes along. Perhaps surprisingly, for many animal species it is not the creative component, but rather the stabilizing ratchet component, that is the difficult feat.

Humans operate the cultural ratchet by learning from one another. It seems that humans alone are capable of cultural learning because we individually have the ability to see one another as beings like ourselves. This ability, says Tomasello, enables individuals to imagine themselves “in the mental shoes” of some other person, so that they can learn not just from the other but through the other. Most importantly, we are able to recognize the other’s intentions with respect to the world: a toy is for playing; an axe is for chopping; an idea is for understanding. Only a human can recognize that the other shares similar intentions toward the world; only humans can transmit culture to one another.

Between the ages of nine and fifteen months, human infants begin demonstrating an ability that lets them learn in remarkably short order the cumulative successful results of generations of innovation. The crucial precondition for human learning is deceptively simple: when an adult points to something in the world, the child spontaneously looks toward whatever it is that the adult is pointing to. This might seem like child’s play, but even adult chimpanzees can’t do it. The child has to “stand in the mental shoes” of the adult, both to infer the adult’s intent and to follow the trajectory of the adult’s gaze. Soon children extend their new ability by emulating adults’ interactions with the world, not just imitatively but intentionally. When, for example, the adult wants to eat he opens the refrigerator door; I’m hungry, realizes the child; therefore… Next, crucially, children learn to interact linguistically. Language isn’t just a matter of verbal pointing; it’s a way of communicating complex interrelationships between people, objects, and intentions. Speech is a social act, linking speaker and listener in meaningful engagement of the world.

The Transmission of Culture in Genesis 1

And God said, “Let there be light;” and there was light. Elohim points to a source of light and says the word; the witness follows elohim’s gaze and repeats the word. And there was evening and there was morning, one day, says the witness, turning the ratchet one more notch. Elohim continues the exchange: “Let there be lightbearers in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years.” Later the witness would teach others, and the learners in turn would teach another generation. Every now and then someone would give the ratchet another turn until, one day, someone said, “Let there be waveicles.”

Writing was invented independently perhaps only three times in human history; complex language, perhaps only once. How many times did abstract thinking arise in world history? Who’s to say when someone first conceived the idea of the heavens and the earth, a hierarchically-organized macrolevel schema for describing absolutely everything? Humans are incredibly adept mimics, and language is the best medium for transmitting something like abstract thought or natural science. Creating ways of understanding the world that transcend local cultures and the immediate demands of raw survival: this seems like a distinctly metropolitan sort of undertaking. Perhaps a Sumerian trader was the first to expose nearby tribes to those advanced ways of ascribing meaning and establishing context on which the creation of a scientific reality depends. Perhaps the earliest Mesopotamian settlements once were visited by a traveling emissary of an even higher culture, one not of this world, who gave them a cultural head start.

It’s certainly possible to construct an incremental evolutionary pathway from lower- to higher-order cognitive schemata, from simple to complex language, from an intuitive to a scientific understanding of natural phenomena. Still, someone had to be the first one to turn the ratchet far enough, extending pre-cosmology all the way to the ends of the universe. Uncounted generations later, we moderns can conceive of a whole universe not because we thought it up on our own, but because we learned it from others. Genesis 1 recounts not only the creation of the universe idea, but also the beginning of its cultural transmission.

God said – God was a language-user, and so was the witness. Language, like science, is a cultural acquisition, ratcheted up incrementally from simpler components. And language, like science, is intersubjective: it’s a way of making sense of things to one another. When God said light, he wasn’t creating a verbal image of light; he was grabbing the witness’ attention, orienting him toward a phenomenon of mutual interest and offering an interpretation of it. For the witness to get the message, he had to take God’s perspective, to see God as someone like himself, to imagine himself in God’s “mental shoes,” to “learn through” God. Likewise, for God to discern that the witness had received the message and understood it, he had to see himself as someone like the witness. In one another’s image.

Is it ethically right for a culturally advanced being to teach at least some of what he knows to a less advanced civilization, giving them knowledge that might otherwise have taken them millennia to acquire on their own? This isn’t a new question, of course; it has fueled debates about Western incursions into underdeveloped cultures. Perhaps elohim didn’t buy into the Prime Directive, to which the Starship Enterprise and the entire Federation of Planets subscribed, prohibiting Captain Kirk and his crew from interfering in the natural cultural development of less advanced planets.

Light and darkness, declare elohim; day and night, land and sea, sun and moon and stars, swimming and creeping and flying things. Heavens and earth. What a startling series of revelations it would have been to anyone who happened to be there to witness it. In retrospect we can say that, through the natural course of cultural evolution, it was inevitable that someone would eventually think up the idea of a universe on their own. Still, there would just as surely have been a time before, when no one had ever yet thought the idea – just as there was a time before music, or trousers, or the differential calculus.

Where Were We Again?

Filed under: Genesis 1 — ktismatics @ 10:26 am

Genesis 1 isn’t the story of God creating the material world. Instead, Genesis 1 is the memoir of a student’s conversation with his teacher about the nature of the world. The teacher describes light and darkness, earth and seas and heavens, plants and creatures. Let this be called ‘light,’ proposes the teacher. The student looks, hears, understands, repeats the lesson: ‘light,’ affirms the student. As we read the ancient narrative we witness the student emerging from raw nature into a meaningful universe, from raw animality into full humanity.

This is a literal reading of Genesis 1 that preserves inerrancy without recourse to mythopoetic allegory. This interpretation of the text isn’t just compatible with the findings natural science – it describes the creation of natural science itself. And yet this literal, inerrant, scientifically viable reading seems doomed to oblivion among post-evangelicals. Why? That’s the question we’re in the process of answering.

Five creations, maybe six, are described in Genesis. In previous posts we’ve considered three of these creations: science, hermeneutics, and history. I’ve taken a few days off to reflect on other things, but now we’ll charge ahead to the Dramatic Conclusion. Next, the fourth creation: culture. Later today I’ll summarize how Genesis 1 describes the creation of culture. Tomorrow I’ll speculate as to why the “creation of culture” reading of Genesis 1 is doomed.

4 November 2006

Full Moon Saturday

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 7:30 pm

I’m beginning to see some alternative resolution — something that almost feels like hope. There’s something coming out of my ongoing conversations on this and other blogs. It’s ktismatic for sure, something maybe that calls from more optimistic times about humanity and my place in it, but at the same time pervaded by deep melancholy.

It’s hard to resist orthodoxy, even your own idiosyncratic version. This old-school hope: that if we think hard enough and write persuasively enough, if we’re earnest and gracious enough, if we persist, we will all arrive together at the mature mind and heart — God help me, I still wish it could be so.

But difference, pursued with equal rigor? If Hitler asked me to help him work out his Aryan utopia before he started implementing it, would I do it? We’ve started watching pirated downloads of The Sopranos — you say you’ve heard of it? Anyhow, Tony the mob boss sees an analyst. She has doubts: why am I helping this murderous thug? I understand her dilemma. Will the process fully pursued lead to the end of civilization or its fullness?

I live in a town first settled by the Greeks, conquered by Romans, besieged by Visigoths and Saracens, controlled by Provencals and Savoyards and Franks. Restaurants prepare for the evening, tourists weave through the medieval streets, crippled beggars hold out their cups, little children ride the carousel, old women look down from open windows. I’ve been inside the cro-Magnon caves, where the gap between this drawing of a mammoth and the bison next to it is wider than the one separating me from Moses. What gods visited those ancient artists, and where have they gone? Will we recognize them when they return? Walking the streets of Antibes under the full moon, do they carefuly study the restaurants and the tourists and the beggars and the children, or are they lost entirely in their own brooding resentments? As they watch in silence from the open windows the arrivals and passings of generations, do the old gods remember, or do they dream?

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