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Creatively Conservative

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Written by Basil on 04/17/2006 7:11 PM. Filed under:

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The Light Fraction: Creative Thinking Victoria provides us a question (from other members of her household):

This question has come up in my house a couple of times recently, so let me throw it to the blogosphere:

Does religion, specifically Christianity, encourage creativity and thinking-outside-the-box? Or does religion, specifically Christianity, stifle critical consideration of new evidence? Does religion [Christianity] permit or disallow change?

Christianity believes itself to be revealed by God. This places Christians in the position of preserving the revelation until the master returns. This manner of describing it reminds me of the parable of the talents, but let me return to that later.

Heresies have always been recognized by their novelty. In the fights over various doctrines and heresies, the question that the fathers always demanded an answer to was and is, “Is this the faith of the apostles? Is this the faith of Peter? Is this the faith of Paul?” If the answer is, “No, this is new, provocative, creative, inventive,” then the Church responds by manifesting this reality. “This is not the apostolic faith; it is a false opinion.”

This is, essentially, a faith that encourages and nearly requires conservatism as a doctrinal position. Yet, the revelation of God is that he became human and took on our flesh. His energies continually interpenetrate the world we live in. And if there is anything true about this world, it is certainly that is always changing. The heretics often realized this and were afraid, resorting to some kind of dualism where the world of change (the material) is evil and the world of stability (the spiritual) is good.

I think it is safe to say that the triumph of incarnational theology in the councils and in the writings of such fathers as St. Maximus the Confessor give us a foundation for celebrating the material world of change. The Church exists in this material world, and so she is always responding creatively while responding from the position of the faith she conserves.

In the parable of the talents, the servants who make a profit on the money their master entrusts to them are praised and rewarded, while the servant who hides the money in the earth with cowardice is banished. Certainly, profiteering is a risky move, but being banished for keeping the money without any increase seems the riskier move here. Perhaps I am extending this parable beyond its intended interpretation, but I think the extension is valid.

Look at the world of art: Religion (Christianity specifically) has inspired some of the best music, paintings, sculpture, poetry and novels. O’Connor, Dostoevsky, Verdi, Palestrina, Rublev, Michelangelo, Rouault, Donne, to name but a few. In the world of social work, no one has worked harder or brought about a more complete change in the world than the Church: Look at the world today and compare it to the world of the first century. Most of the permanent changes wrought were worked by Christians.

It has in fact been argued (I cannot now remember the author) that the Christian worldview was the necessary seedbed for empirical science to be born and flourish. A simple look at history will show that Christians have been some of the most creative people.

It will also reveal that people fear change, and when people who fear change wield power, the results can be tragic. Most people think of the Inquisition as an example. However, the most atheistic regimes ever unleashed upon the planet ruled during the last century, and their fear of true creativity was beyond compare. You may add Solzhenitsyn to the list above.

So, is Christianity capable of creativity? The answer is complicated, but in reply I favor a guarded, “Yes, with reservations.”

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