Ktismatics

31 December 2008

Return of the Ktismatically Repressed

Filed under: Culture, Genesis 1, Ktismata — ktismatics @ 5:16 pm

I originally started writing this blog with the intention of promoting a book I’d just written about the Genesis 1 creation narrative. Subsequently I’ve come to realize that, while the central exegetical premise remains strong, the book itself is kind of lame. But I can do better, and now I’m ready to get on with it. Here’s a tentative outline for the rewritten nonfiction, working title 7 Creations Redux.

* * *

The book would begin by putting forward two basic and seemingly incompatible commitments. One, evolutionary and cosmological theories are right: the gods had absolutely nothing to do with creating the material universe. Two, the Genesis 1 creation narrative is literally true. This sets the stage for the paradoxical reading of Genesis 1; namely, that it’s the story of two guys having a week-long conversation about the universe. What gets created isn’t the material stuff of the universe but the conceptual-linguistic structure by which the idea of a universe came into being. It’s the archetypal story of that first singularity when prehumanity became fully human.

By looking closely at this reading of the ancient text the reader witnesses a sevenfold creation.

  1. The creation of science: the first attempt to match observation with thought.
  2. The creation of hermeneutics: the first attempt to understand one another through language.
  3. The creation of creation: the recognition that, even in a pre-existing universe, it’s possible consciously to create something unprecedented.
  4. The creation of history: the first time something recognizably new happens in human experience.
  5. The creation of culture: the beginning of a cumulative and communicable result of human invention.
  6. The creation of man: the emergence of that which most distinguishes humanity from the other animals.
  7. The creation of god: man’s amazement in witnessing his own seeming transcendence of nature.

This “original” version of the creation story preserves the words of the Biblical text as written. It also is surely a true story. At some point prehistory turned to history: early humans developed language; they began to arrive at an understanding of the world they live in; they started progressively reshaping the world; they arrived at self-awareness. Even if we don’t remember the details, each of us has personally lived through this true story of achieving sentience.

With the creation of god the original narrative undergoes a mystifying transformation. The basic story remains recognizable, but the meaning of the story is completely inverted:

  1. Creating the idea and structural concept of a thing gets conflated with creating the thing itself. This mystification leads to the reification of the social order.
  2. The mutual give-and-take of conversation gets replaced with revelation and reception, making belief more important than understanding and agreement.
  3. Instead of marking the beginning of human history, the sixth day marks the beginning of the end, when man starts falling away from God’s created order.
  4. God is the only creator, with man demoted to the position of maintenance engineer.
  5. Instead of arising as a cumulative “second nature” built on and complementing the first, human culture is regarded as the degenerate product of human arrogance.
  6. Man, rather than ratcheting himself up on these earliest experiences of invention and self-awareness, immediately descends into decadence.
  7. God, instead of being indistinguishable from man, becomes wholly other and above.

Despite updated theologizing, or perhaps because of it, the contemporary Christian church maintains its commitment the creator-god of its scriptures and traditions.

  • By adopting the postmodern rejection of the scientific “metanarrative,” the church is able to discount the massive empirical support for a creatorless cosmogeny.
  • By adopting a postmodern reader-centered hermeneutic, the church is able to discount the factuality of the Genesis 1 narrative while upholding its “truth.”
  • By upholding a postmodern skepticism regarding progress, the church is able to discount human cultural advances.

Even in limiting God’s role to that of designer, first cause, or immanent force of creativity driving the evolutionary process, the church retains its belief in God as ultimate creator of the universe, with humanity still relegated to an infinitely lower status in the cosmic hierarchy. Suppose this belief in a creator were completely excised from the Bible: what would a creatorless Judeo-Christianity look like?

  • By abandoning the idea of the Creator’s ultimate power over the world, the theological justification for holy warfare is nullified.
  • By abandoning the idea of a created natural order, moral rationales justifying institutionalized homophobia and misogyny are nullified.
  • By abandoning the idea of humanity’s fall from an original created purity, the notion that human culture is intrinsically corrupt is set aside. In addition, there remains no justification for perpetuating the belief that Christians are magically restored to the original pure human state, which supposedly bestows on Christians an ontologically superior essence relative to non-Christians. This sense of superiority has been used to discount the significance of violence and persecution perpetrated by Christians on non-Christians.
  • That God is creator is seen by New Testament writers as the reason why God can restore humans to life after death. Without a creator the notion of the immortal soul would be jeopardized.
  • Similarly, abandoning the idea that the creator can decide to destroy his creation and start over would presumably reduce Christians’ belief in unlimited abundance of natural resources and their tacit zeal for bringing on the apocalypse.

The proposed book concludes with an exercise in speculative theology. Would Christianity survive if it lost the creator? Would people continue to worship the Christian God, seek his counsel, pray to him, etc. if he no longer claimed to control the universe? Is it possible to reconfigure the basic job description for the Christian God if his creatorly credentials and functions are eliminated? Would God have to be radically redesigned? Or does the whole point of God slide down the slippery slope into irrelevance? Does the Apostle Paul’s concept of a “new creation” render the old creational underpinnings of the religion obsolete?

* * *

One good thing about this proposed book is that I’ve already done the background work on almost all of it. Portions of the old book I can cut-and-paste into the new one. I’ve also written a number of blog posts that could be adapted for the book. But perhaps the main thing I like about 7 Creations Redux is that it’s more irreverent and less conciliatory to the Christian tradition than was the old book. Plus the speculative theology bits should be fun to play around with.

I’d given considerable thought to rolling this whole idea into a novel. I do think there are interesting fictional implications to be exploited. But separating out the detailed exegetical and theoretical components and gathering them inside a tightly constructed speculative nonfiction gives me greater freedom to loosen up the fiction-writing.

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10 Comments »

  1. good luck brother. i will be marking your progress :)

    Comment by dionysusstoned — 1 January 2009 @ 2:29 am

  2. Long time no see, DS. You went silent for awhile at your own blog, but you seem to be back in action now. I hope all is reasonably well with you.

    Comment by ktismatics — 1 January 2009 @ 3:10 am

  3. Can’t wait!

    Comment by samlcarr — 2 January 2009 @ 12:34 am

  4. John, your sidebar says that you commented on this post, but i can’t see it here.

    Comment by samlcarr — 3 January 2009 @ 9:39 am

  5. Nothing new here from me, but I do have two new comments on the Doppelganger post.

    Comment by ktismatics — 3 January 2009 @ 11:05 am

  6. “Suppose this belief in a creator were completely excised from the Bible: what would a creatorless Judeo-Christianity look like?”…”Is it possible to reconfigure the basic job description for the Christian God if his creatorly credentials and functions are eliminated? Would God have to be radically redesigned? Or does the whole point of God slide down the slippery slope into irrelevance?”

    On the ground the fact appears to be that Christians of all hues who have tried to think their way through the OT-NT divide have come to various conclusions that do strip off a lot of the traditional stuff attributed to God. There is also now a growing consciousness that the theologian’s opinion is just as likely to be right or wrong as anyone elses.

    Where we go from here is another question. I like the God that Jesus projects, but does this make it any more likely that God is so? Very often it comes down to a complete subjectivity…

    Comment by samlcarr — 7 January 2009 @ 6:33 am

  7. I’m thinking that the rewrite of this Gen. 1 book should take on a matter-of-fact tone where irreverence to the traditions is taken for granted rather than pushed forward as a matter of controversy. This outsider tone is one reason I see the book as nearly fictional. It’s speculative, a what-if thought experiment performed by an author who comes to the task more like a design consultant rather than a scholar, as if he’s been hired by a religious think tank to re-invent the whole religion. Of course the believers aren’t going to sign up for the reinvented religion: it’s more playful than that. You could say that it’s an experiment not unlike some of those played out fictionally in The Stations — the pilgrimage, the HemoBoy bleeding performance, the Outlier and the Identifier, the Elohim rediscovering themselves by reading Gen. 1-3, etc. No plot or characters this time: just the speculative scenarios.

    Comment by ktismatics — 7 January 2009 @ 1:00 pm

  8. I actually thought of mentioning “The Stations” but decided against it as most of your readers would be left clueless, but I really like the thought experiment idea especially as it renders freedom to create whole realities that are not interdependent on each other but still ‘make sense’.

    I’m sure that there are not ‘many’ gods or even more than one, but I’m equally sure that for humankind there have to be many gods even when we think there are none.

    Comment by samlcarr — 7 January 2009 @ 11:43 pm

  9. So the thought experiment is this: Let’s say that the Judeo-Christian God exists. Suppose that neither he nor any other gods had any role whatsoever in creating the material universe; i.e., the universe just happened. What becomes of the Judeo-Christian God, the book that purportedly describes him, and the religion built up around him when he is stripped of his title as creator? What is the non-creator God’s job description? Would people still worship him, ask him for favors, talk to him in their heads, expect him to save them? Or would he have to find some other niche for himself, perhaps even go into exile from human society? That sort of thing. So the book would start by posing the initial premise (no creator-gods), then move into some Bible study: re-envision Genesis 1-3, remove creatorly justifications for various theories and political projects supported by this God’s followers in OT and NT texts. Then move into the extra-biblical speculations about whether Christians would still accept this demoted God in various aspects of belief and life and hopes. And what about this God? Maybe he would experience a sense of relief knowing that these unrealistic expectations had finally been laid aside. And so on.

    “I’m sure that there are not ‘many’ gods or even more than one, but I’m equally sure that for humankind there have to be many gods even when we think there are none.”

    This is a densely-packed sentence, Sam, and worthy of extensive elaboration on your part.

    Comment by ktismatics — 8 January 2009 @ 3:31 am

  10. Well, though you may have been joshing, I took you at your word and ‘expanded’ a bit on my ‘statement of faith’, but rather than distracting from your present trajectory that meditation can be found at my blog, Challenge.

    Comment by samlcarr — 11 January 2009 @ 2:43 pm


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