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.]



  1. The difference between “law” and “justice”?

    Now that sounds downright Derridean!

    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 13 November 2006 @ 9:31 pm

  2. Perhaps God is the difference between….power and justice…

    Are you going a Derridean direction here? Derrida’s distinction between “law” and “justice” – the difference is where deconstruction exists and operates.

    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 13 November 2006 @ 9:34 pm

  3. Maybe law vs. justice is better than power vs. justice. Either way, I think the concept is Biblical before it’s Derridean. There’s always a gap between the all-too-human and the something higher to which the human aspires but never quite reaches. The Derridean allusion I use over and over here isn’t “deconstruction” but “difference.”

    Comment by ktismatics — 13 November 2006 @ 10:36 pm

  4. “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.”

    That wasn’t the case last night when the Spirit of God was suddenly in the room the week a TV camera appeared. Due note the sarcasm (in relation not to you but rather in relation to my own aggrevation with my own experience with my own church…particularly last night).

    And you said: “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?”

    Clearly you and McLuhan have different takes on what idolatry is…where McLuhan talks about idolatry as man’s trust in his own image extended in his technologies but thereby turned dumb, blind deaf and mute.

    And I will simply mention the Gnosticism thing again. the stuff you describe as what makes man sounds a lot like the Gnostic Godhead…sort of, at least…that divine spark left in each man.

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 26 March 2007 @ 9:15 pm

  5. It’s kind of disheartening that you quote back to me a part I didn’t write and then infer from it further evidence of my Gnosticism. It reinforces my sense that people just can’t hear what I’m saying. The Gnostic stuff to which you refer is a quotation from Caputo, a “post-liberal” Christian. It’s his speculation, not my position. The paragraph before Caputo’s is mine, and it’s for believers who are no longer prepared to believe all the superlatives about God (omniscient, omnipotent, etc.) but who still might believe there’s something there other than us. It’s the gap between what Caputo calls God as “strong force” versus “weak force.” For Christians who feel like intelligent design is a shaky premise, can they abandon the idea of God as creator and move toward something like Caputo’s position?

    I’m mostly interested in “the gaps” of the last paragraph of this post, and whether the agnostic can see any possibility of something outside the human condition that lifts him at least partway across the gap from, say, opinion to the pursuit of truth for its own sake. So, based on my version of Genesis 1, can anyone imagine themselves moving from straight materialism to a Caputo-like “weak” god? For me personally man is made of matter and that’s all he’s made of. I’d be more prone to consider something like a call that says “Hey, you can do better than just survive.” Some subtle but persistent force that impels man beyond self-interest and the interest of the genes toward something outside of himself.

    So there are two sets of “gaps” at work in this post: the gap coming from the top down between a God of superlatives and a more “weak” God, and the gap coming from the bottom up between no God and a “weak” God. Is there any meeting place on the horizon? I’m fairly sure that this meeting place isn’t “strong” enough for you; it’s probably too strong for me.

    Comment by ktismatics — 27 March 2007 @ 2:53 am

  6. “It’s kind of disheartening that you quote back to me a part I didn’t write and then infer from it further evidence of my Gnosticism. It reinforces my sense that people just can’t hear what I’m saying.”

    Sorry. I read that and it hurt. Not in that you hurt me, but in that I didn’t listen…apparently. Because I’m usually half-decent at figuring out what someone is actually saying, if I open myself to it…but there’s definitely that stubborn part of me that never wants to do that. So I’m glad you were honest about how my reaction made you feel. It brought to ligth the truth of what was going on in me.

    I must say, though, that this post threw me for a bit of a loop, because I didn’t know where the opening quote came from. Now I see that it must have come from Caputo…? My assumption before was that it had come from you, and that Caputo’s thoughts just went along with it quite well…??

    Anyway, upon a re-read of the post under the assumption that the opening quote was from Caputo (which I did not previously consider), it sounds to me like the whole thing leads to more of a biologically centered position…or at least a position that finds itself in questions posed as a result of a purely biologically centered position, like evolutionary biology or psychology. Then if the opening quote came from you, now that I think about it…the whole post still heads in that direction, I suppose (now that I think about it, I guess that, as soon as I saw that opening to the post, the Gnut of “Gnosticism” got lodged in the forefront of my head).

    Anwyay…then in the end all of that questioning seems to lead to your very end of the post, which is an artiuculation of your God-position anyway. “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?” I seems that the answer to that question is, “Who knows?”

    Anyway, asking the question in this way, in which you have all these things that seem like hopelessly separate dualities in everyday living determined by exactly the biological reality in question (I am referring to the dualities of experience as being determined by the biology, rather than to the questions that you are asking), and whose answer is ultimately “who knows?” – whether you are gnostic or not, or to whatever degree – certainly sets the stage for gnosticism’s answers about life to look appealing.

    So…speaking of those gaps in question…I suppose there would obviously be a relation between a-gnosticism and gnosticism, eh!? To be properly discerned by Jason!! Argh.

    Anyway…concerning the last two paragraphs of your last comment, the second to last leading to the last…I see this whole line of questioning as another of those interesting ways that we speak the same language but are saying different things. I mean, it’s obvious that QUESTIONS of God’s omniscience, omnipresence, perfection, and omnipotence are present in man…and that questions and doubts about these things very much constitute much of the thinking and living of man and men.

    And these questions I think lead to a struggle with the very “gaps” with which you were strugling in the post. Hope and desire, faith and force, life and survival constitute, in my mind the very living, thinking and struggling of men, and are as well the revelations to men of the character of God. This is key, that man’s struggles for me constitute revelations of God.

    For you however, and apparently Caputo (?), God is (possibly) imagined as having the struggles as well. Man’s struggles get projected onto God (if the struggles are taken that far from a place of man’s own not-knowing). If I were here, I would be too prone to think that I was conjuring God.

    I mean, the post is called “The Creation of God”, but I must ask…what is a god? As far as I can figure out, even if God isn’t a Being who created the material universe, gods have always been the “reason for” the existence of something. Even at the most man-centered levels, for example, Ceasar is regarded as a god because of what he “caused” to be, because of what would not have been if not for him (its just not an abstracted phiolosophical question that is purely about the a priori ideas of “cause and effect”). And even in your notion of God in relation to concept formation, God is the “reason” for meaning, in that in His being God to man there would be no concepts or meaning of things to man.

    So here, in this post and in your last comment, I am lead to ask the most fundamental question: what is a god in the first place? Because if men create gods, cause gods, construct gods, produce gods, or project themselves onto imaginary gods…then what is a god? This is a genuine question.

    And further…if we take the postition of God as a “weak force”…weaker I suppose than I am in fact willing to accept…then what is faith? In the end how is the faith of a man actually distinguished from the force of a man. How is actual living actually distinguished from mere survival? If the answer in any way affirms the TRUTH of faith, life, hope, love or freedom (and the QUESTION in itself may in fact do so), then how is there is any longer any real difference between the strongest of Gods and a semi-weak God who makes it possible to entertain the possibility of the truth of faith, hope and love? I suppose, though, that this is what defines your A-gnosticsim, eh?

    This weak God is precisely what makes it possible to entertatain the possibility of the truth of these things, but it is not the truth of these things…to the point where that might even be able to be considered a “definition” or “essence” of this weak God.

    And if this is the case…if this “weak God” is, by definition or in essence, what allows speculation on faith, hope and love (and such things), then is it also the case that this situation constitutes a God-essence who is even “weaker” than and different from the kind of “essence” that “breaks through” or is referenced in “My friends, there is no friend”?

    So anyway…a very particular question…who wrote the opening quote of your post? You or Caputo? And if Caputo, was it a bit of an imaginative experiment in order to find meaning in some previously established line of questioning, or was it partially constitutive of his actual postion on who God is?

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 27 March 2007 @ 5:54 am

  7. Thanks for revisiting this. I woke up with that disheartened feeling this morning (3am), and my response to your comment was written under that cloud. You are on target, and I can see how the layout of the post could have been confusing. I really like this post a lot: it’s a new piece I wrote for the book, and it’s the turning point to the inspiring conclusion about “the creation of creation.” And the gaps in this post are the basis for my attempting to engage the emergo-pomo-posto-evangelicos and the less doctrinaire of evolutionists. It’s a hope that seems generally thwarted, as evidenced by the general lack of interest in what I think is about as good a book as I’m likely to write — along with my two equally unpublished novels, of course. So revisiting this post re-opens certain hopes that have proven unwarranted, which triggers my melancholia.

    I’m afraid there’s still some confusion about the post itself. The opening italicized portion is from me. It’s the summary of my materialistic exegesis rewritten in a kind of mythopoetic style, making it perhaps more palatable to gnostics, mystics, and other fellow travelers. It must have worked at least in conveying the literary spirit that was intended. To my knowledge no one has written this exegesis but me, and certainly not Caputo. I think Caputo is a kind of disciple of Teilhard de Chardin and his “teleological evolution” theory — that evolution is inspirited by some sort of force that drives the universe toward higher consciousness. Caputo’s paragraph about man being made of some other “stuff” — that I will agree has a Gnostic ring to it. I’ll continue later on some of your other observations.

    Comment by ktismatics — 27 March 2007 @ 6:43 am

  8. These are a bunch of excellent questions and observations. Regarding gaps… recently on another post we talked about how it’s easier to present a believable image of yourself to others if you believe it yourself. It’s nearly always in your genetic best interests to present a strong, competent, trustworthy version of yourself — chicks dig it so you get more opportunities to pass your genes on to the next generation, guys dig it so they’re more likely to cooperate with you rather than kill you off. Why don’t we always project such an image? Partly because we can’t always fake it that well, of course. But isn’t it partly also because we may value honesty above self-interes? Why? Do chicks find self-deprecating honesty even hotter than trustworthiness? Doubtful. So here’s a gap between self-interest and honesty. Some sort of self-transcendence is at work here: is it an artifact of a self-consciousness that emerged from the natural evolutionary flux that spewed man forth from the primal soup, or evidence of the “weak force” of God reaching in and lifting us above ourselves? Gnosticism is some sort of middle ground between the material and the spiritual, perhaps — an unwillingness to choose which side of the gap to jump to. Same with quasi-gnostic ideas like Caesar as a god. Even a really powerful race of space aliens wouldn’t count as gods for me.

    I have jumped to the materialist side. I think God is a human self-projection onto the void. I think omniscience, omnipotence, etc. are imagined endpoints to abstract ideas about knowledge and power that man thinks up, combined with an innate tendency to attribute intentionality and purpose to random natural events. I think the “still small voice” is self-generated, part of man’s ability to separate himself from himself. And so on.

    But I’m a-gnostic: I can’t really know. I leave open the possibility that I’m wrong, that God is. But if he is, I’m suspecting that he had nothing to do with creating the material universe, that he doesn’t know the end from the beginning, that the Bible is mostly human interpretations of events that are beyond their understanding, etc. In other words, I’d lean to God as a weaker rather than a stronger force in the universe.

    When does a force get weak enough no longer to count as a god rather than just a strange force of nature? I’m not sure: it’s a good question, and I haven’t really thought much about it. What’s the role of faith? I’m not sure. In the end how is the faith of a man actually distinguished from the force of a man. This gets to Deleuze a little bit: maybe faith is a kind of innate desire, a desire to rely on things, people, etc. Or maybe it’s a lack: lack of knowledge generates faith as a kind of knowledge that cannot be had in this world, that points to an ideal world where the object of faith is. And you’re perhaps right: maybe our ability to ask the questions about the gap is evidence of the existence of a God that answers the questions. I doubt it, but it’s possible. The ability to ask the questions rather than instinctively holding onto the answers might conversely signal the end of those gods that can be spontaneously conjured by man. Who knows: maybe a new god will emerge, or the old god will get reterritorialized, or the real territorialization can reveal itself without all the prejudices and biases getting in the way.

    Comment by ktismatics — 27 March 2007 @ 2:50 pm

  9. As for how we present ourselves…the relation between honesty and self-interest…why is it that those would be in tension in the first place? Why is it in the first place that not presenting a positive self-image is a question of not faking it? Why is it not honest to speak forth a good image? I’m not suggesting that this is not in fact a tension of everyday living…of cousre I very much experience that tension myself…

    Further, it sounds as though you are identifying either the presentation of a positive self-image or honesty as spiritual…or material. “Honestly”, I’m not even sure which would be which in that situation. From the construction you’ve set up, I suppose that the epiphanic presence of a positive image, setting aside the need for “honesty” about a negative image, would be the spiritual transcendence.

    I mean, I’m sure you’ve heard that the Cross both explodes and closes completely that gap! This is why I have like no chance at a typical L.A. Club…not because we “have different interests”, but because we are invested in different images (or maybe different routes to the same – or a very similar – image).

    Anyway…I’m not sure I fully understand the difference between being an “a”-something (a-theist, a-gnostic) and an “anti”-something (anti-theist, anti-gnostic). I mean, an anti-gnostic I suppose might be a feidist. Whereas an a-gnostic is far from a feidist. Additionally, an a-gnostic is only such in regards to a particular sense or meaning of the term “gnosis”. An a-gnostic can almost, in fact, appear as either a rationalist or an empiricist. Regardless, an a-gnostic does not deny knowledge, per se, but knowledge of God.

    Just on an informative level, however, I don’t know the actual roots of the prefixes (I think they would be called) “a” and “anti-“. I sort of just took them for granted growing up. Then when it crossed my mind to look for them, I was too busy looking for other stuff higher on my list…then eventually I didn’t have access to the big voluminous Oxford anymore.

    Anyway…sorting out the differnece between an anti-gnostic and an a-gnostic seems much easier than the difference between an a-theist and an anti-theist. Most a-theists I’ve ever known, or at least those who called themselves atheists, sounded a lot more like anti-theists. But I’m not even sure I know what I just said!

    Anwyay, when I say “anti-theist”, I am referring to the typical bitterness and annoyance that often comes with the territory of an atheist. Which leads me to my question of your cynicism. I suppose gnosticism is acutally a much more hopeful and possibility-latent place than is a-gnosticism (despite the defining statement of a-gnosticism’s being “there MIGHT be a God, lol!). So…is cynicism a byproduct of your agnosticism, or the other way around?

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 28 March 2007 @ 5:48 am

  10. Revealing a truth that doesn’t make you look good vs. concealing a truth that does — surely neither is the ideal of a true revelation of goodness. That’s why I find it an interesting example: to present an honest picture of yourself, flaws and all, to someone who can potentially do you some good seems like a higher virtue than mere self-interest. But you also have to “step out of yourself” in order to see that an honest presentation might not look so good to the other person. Some people might be honest without even realizing that they’re making themselves look bad. So you’ve got to be aware that the other person might think less highly of you if you tell the truth, but you do it anyway. There are, of course, nuances, because at some point self-deprecation becomes charming. And so on — I’m sure you know these things. Self-interest vs. a “higher” motivation is the issue in question. Why would someone set self-interest aside? Perhaps there’s an innate drive for truth that goes along with the drive for self-interest.

    Greek: “a-” is “not;” “anti-” is “against.” I live in Antibes, which is a shortened version of the original Greek name Antipolis: “anti-city.” It’s really “across city” or “opposite city” — built 6th century BC across the bay from Nikea, now Nice.

    As I said here recently, I think, cynicism is frustrated idealism. I’ve had this frustration about the gap between what is and what could be for a long time: before, during, and after my evangelical days. I think there’s some value in imagining realities other than the one we happen to be territorialized by. The frustration reflects the resistance of the territory to the flows of my desires (see Deleuze and Guattari).

    Comment by ktismatics — 28 March 2007 @ 7:51 pm

  11. Funny, you live in the anti-city while I’m hoping to build in cities (since that’s the only Archi-techture that I know). Isn’t there something mega-famous about antibes that I’ve forgotten? Besides the fact of your living there, of course! Anyway, thanks for the explanation.

    In that case I think I’ll go with Deleuze as an anti-a-a-gnostic :) Not Gnostic in the sense of his biological materialism. But not agnostic in the sense of not your version of agnostic. But “against” his own a-gnosticism as well in his whole territorilization discourse. Whew! Glad I got that straightened out!
    :) How’s that for some good ol’ fashioned territorilization in acocrdance with preconceived ideas!

    Self image stuff…what lead me to ask about that was my struggles that lead me into counseling, which I shared with you. The dude who leads my support group likes to say, “Our biggest enemy is not the problem/habit itself, but the shame and condemnation…Shame is about who you ARE, whereas guilt is about what you DO.” Of course for me Jesus is my only help in that struggle. Like, the presently risenness version of Jesus, where in a sense there is no gap whatsoever, but in a sense there is a huge and nearly-infinite and totally unknowable gap.

    Through my confrontations with my struggles, through Jesus and his Grace, I am becoming a WARRIOR again – rather than hiding in the shadows – which feels REAL. Interestinly and marginally: one of my New Age friends (very close friend at the time, actually) once told me that I was a great warrior in a former lifetime long ago. Like some sort of Irish or Scottish rebel leader or something funny like that.

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 28 March 2007 @ 9:01 pm

  12. A warrior: excellent! I’m glad to hear it.

    Comment by ktismatics — 29 March 2007 @ 6:22 pm

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