by
Tony Golsby-Smith
Published
2.7.2024
Published
July 2, 2024

Letter to an agnostic friend about glory

Context – Your Experience as a trampoline to the divine …

(massages, intuition & the mind of God)

You were explaining how intuition has guided a lot of your typical strategic thinking, particularly after a massage.  You also were explaining how you had conceived a new product range based on some of these moments – when things came to you in a synthesising flash. We contrasted this with some of the more tedious thinkers and thinking around you, which I characterise as ‘spreadsheet thinking’ wherein people think in details, can’t see the big picture, and most importantly don’t appear to be guided by any higher purpose or vision.

I think I jumped off this to explain how our ‘intuition’ (which we can call ‘Second Road thinking’ as a catch-all) mirrors the divine. So our human experience of ‘thinking’ – particularly ‘creative thinking’ – reflects or echoes the ‘divine’ or the ‘transcendent’.

Philosophical implications of creativity

1) Participation in a bigger game:

In ‘thinking’ we are participating in a bigger (metaphysical) gameWhen we think like this, we are not just doing so autonomously as pure individuals. In other words, this kind of ‘intuition’ moment cannot be adequately explained (probably can never be fully ‘explained’!) merely by looking at our internal cognition. Rather we are participating in something bigger and we are flowing in it.

I explained this in terms of language. When a child learns language, they don’t personally ‘invent’ the paradigms or the vocabulary in which they are acquiring skills. A single child does not merely ‘invent’ the language they use. Nor can we limit their learning to merely copying what others say – although this certainly plays a part. Nobody can seriously claim that language is just the invention of either individuals or accumulated individuals. Rather it is ‘topdown’. We seem to be swimming in some higher metaphysical forms that are bigger than all of us. Music is very similar.

2) Metaphysics is philosophy more than religion

This idea of us participating in a bigger game – a metaphysical game – is not really ‘religious’.  It is philosophical.   ‘Religion’, from ancient times, refers to rituals and cultic practices, controlled by priests and boundaries not ideas.   But ‘philosophy’ in classical times was different – it was the pursuit of ideas and higher order meaning. Hence modern ‘atheists’ like Richard Dawkins are not really disagreeing with ‘religion’ (like many people I don’t like that word, and don’t pin my identity to religion, I don’t particularly like it).  Rather they are disagreeing in the first instance with metaphysics - with Plato, Aristotle and most of the Greek philosophers.

Hence the early Christians (ie 60AD – 500AD) interacted intelligently with Greek philosophy.  They studied it and the best of them excelled in it. Rather than saying ‘philosophy is wrong’, they said ‘good start but we can take it further…’ Their early Graeco-Roman opponents categorised them as a ‘philosophy’ not a ‘religion’.

3) Your desire for the good – Meaning exceeds metaphysics.

You also mentioned how you had changed the mission of your company from ‘finding truth in the digital world’ to ‘doing good by finding truth in the digital world’.  I commended this and said that your desire for shaping the good was an even deeper participation in the divine mind.  ‘Desire’ or ‘intent’ is intangible but absolutely critical in our creative experience; it directs creativity and is the beginning of formation.

But like intuition it is more than a merely internal individual cognitive function; it is in essence a reaching out for higher order meaning – or transcendence.  But unlike intuition, it implies a moral quality.  The word ‘good’ brings this ethical essence into the picture. Intention or desire is in fact a yearning for the ‘good’ which we could call a yearning for meaning.

The human heart is hungry for ‘higher things’ or ‘meaning’. The search for meaning is initiated within our souls so there is a choice involved. But the very existence of ‘meaning’ as a horizon for human endeavour did not begin with us – it is a gift from a higher order. So, our individual (or group) searches for meaning are also a participation in a higher order.

This reaching out of the heart is often named as ‘beauty’.  We seek the ‘good, the beautiful and the true’ according to Greek philosophy.  So when we admire a sunset, we are not just admiring the sunset, we are seeing it as an emblem, and we seem to lift our spirits out of ourselves to the meaning or ‘beauty’ behind that sunset.  We don’t just admire it mechanically as a certain diffusion of light rays; it is musical and transporting to us – we seem to sense it is some kind of ‘speech’ to us from a divine artist.

But of course, this reaching out for the good is often under threat. Humans often sink down from pursuing ends into pursuing means. This diminishes us as human beings. In the case of your company, they had sunk down into pursuing ‘technology’ as a vision, but you lifted it back to ‘meaning’ as the vision and technology as the means to that end. In this way you humanised the organisation and restored it to a more transcendent identity.

The Creative Experience and Genesis 1

I aligned these experiences – and the humanism they signify – to the Judeo-Christian theology that I build my life around. As I think I told you, much Christianity sinks down into morality and institutional controls and in so doing betrays its heritage. For my part, I advocate what I call ‘creation theology’ which takes the faith back to first principles of seeing nature and humanity as a gift of God. This confirms our experience as not merely private but divine, and not merely a function of our contrivance, but rather a participation in the meaning that has structured the universe.

There are several pillars to this creation vision.

1) Our creativity echoes the divine

Humanity’s creative experience mirrors, and echoes God’s creativity.

I located this in Genesis 1, the first chapter of the Mosaic books. I talked about the profound opening words,

The earth was without form, and void and darkness lay across the deep. Then the Spirit of God hovered over the waters… (Genesis 1. Verse 2)

These words shine a light onto our own creative experience – as well as locating that experience as a mirror of the divine. And I think they go one step further; they give our life a moral imperative to be ongoing ‘creators’ or ‘transformers’ walking in the footsteps of Genesis’ words.

2) Creativity transforms ‘disorder’ into ‘order’

The Genesis sentence also crystallises the creative act as transforming three primordial states of chaos or disorder;

  • Formless (without form)
  • Empty (without function)
  • Dark (without understanding)

Thus there are three axes of transformation that we (following God) want to transform.

Form

We want to shape things into proportions and symmetry, to uncover and recover the wondrous ‘form’ of things. This is like being an architect; the building has raw materials, but the architecture turns this into shape and curve and space.  This is the desire for beauty which I see as the heart of all product development.

Fulness

Then we have ‘emptiness’.  This suggests that the primordial state is without function and utility. All the energies are ectopic and contradictory like a whirling vortex.  Our design/creative faculty drives towards production and efficiency.  We don’t just want beauty, we want to fill things with enterprise and operations.

Light

Finally we have darkness.  This suggests that we seek light and understanding.  We are driven to illuminate, radiate and shine the light on situations that are obscure, murky and confusing. Humanity is a meaning making and insight seeking community on the planet.  We have unique faculties of rationality to achieve that.

So we see that ‘creativity’ reshapes situations, circumstances, raw materials along these three axes.  It is very easy to align your strategic mind with these three axes – and indeed the wider mission of your company.

3) The Act of creativity is an act of love = “hovering”

But Genesis does not stop there. It offers the verb ‘hovering’ to capture the creative act.  This word is very evocative. It is not from the mechanistic word family of ‘making’, or ‘constructing’, and nor is it from the impersonal word family for ‘analysing’ or ‘deducing’. Rather it suggests the kind of mysterious reflection that I am sure characterises all creativity and of which your massage/intuition experience is an example. Creativity begins when we suspend ourselves from the machinations of organising and managing and elevate ourselves to a balcony of reflection that lets the deeper part of our mind find patterns and paradigms.  These patterns at their best become generators of actions and plans but they are separate from those actions and plans.

I think I also mentioned that this word ‘hovering’ only occurs in one other spot in the Mosaic books where it describes the embracing wings of the mother eagle over her young. So ‘hovering’ is a maternal word and captures love not just cognition.  Being maternal, the word implies procreation and nurturing. So our creative act is positioned closer to a maternal instinct of giving birth and nurturing than to a merely reductionist algebra of deduction.

In this way Genesis shines a revealing light onto our experience of creativity, but as I said above, it does more. It secures that experience which our intuition suggests is bigger than us, and cannot be ascribed to our private origination, in the act of the divine and says in effect that we are following in divine footsteps.

4) The ‘word’ is the engine of creation

I introduced the idea of ‘synecdoche’ to you – which is the literary term for a class of metaphor.  A synecdoche is the kind of image when we use a small part of something to signify the whole. A simple example is the use of the word ‘crown’ to describe the whole system of monarchic government. Once you think about it a bit, you can see that we do this all the time. It is quite miraculous cognitively. We can quite adequately converse with the shorthand of synecdoche knowing all the time that we are covering a wider world – a world so wide that we could never find words big enough to cover it.

I always find this heartening in addressing the challenge of big change. If we characterise the challenge of big change, we start to assume that we need change energies of equal weight and scope to the problem – and this delusion leads to cumbersome programmes of change. But the principle of synecdoche tells us something very different.  It tells us that we humans work by leverage whereby little things (the synecdoche of ‘crown’ as an image) can influence far bigger things (a whole system of government).  This encourages us that small levers can influence change not just big ones.

The contest between the Genesis world view and the Graeco-Roman worldview.

I also explained how this Judeo-Christian philosophy of creation challenged the Graeco-Roman world of the first century and how this contest of ideas helped form the western world. I quoted the eminent historian, Prof Edwin Judge, in this theory. He sees western history/culture as proceeding from the contest of ideas between ‘Rome’ and ‘Jerusalem’.  (The popular historian Tom Holland has built on this theory in his epic book “Dominion” which is definitely worth a read.) They were not entirely hostile to one another, so the dialogue was fruitful not just polarising. But it was nonetheless a contest and at heart there were two diverse ways of seeing reality.

He deployed this contested philosophical landscape across three developing zones of ideas. Firstly there is cosmology – which is our picture of reality and how the cosmos is organised. Then flowing from this will come our sociology – our picture of what good society constitutes flows from our cosmology.  And finally we will construct our picture of individual morality and virtues from these antecedents. So you can imagine a schematic like this across which Edwin explained this huge contest of competing ideas.

There is a link to these interviews on our GospelConversations website.

https://gospelconversationsaustralia.podbean.com/e/science-and-faith-how-the-gospel-shifted-our-view-of-reality/

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