Friday, June 27, 2008

God and Creativity

Continuing rumination on David Ray Griffin's Reenchantment without Supernaturalism:

Two hundred and fifty-some pages into a careful exposition of Process theology's understanding of God, Griffin introduces us to Creativity and explains its role in PT. Creativity is embodied in existence, always. To be is to create: "being itself is creative experience as such." (p. 263) In each instance and at each moment of our existence, or that of every other "actual entity" something new is being created.

Creative energy is akin to Aristotle's prime matter. It's existence can be inferred because there is some concrete version of it present in every form. It is an essential character of all existence.

It is not a thing, however, or a being or an actual entity. It is, however, the ultimate reality in the universe.

But isn't God the ultimate reality in the universe? Yes. Are God and creative experience the same? No. There are two ultimate realities in the universe. God is the in-formed ultimate; creativity is the unformed ultimate. God is personal; creativity is a-personal. God is always the persuasive force for good, the ultimate persuasive force driving evolution forward towards higher expressions of value. Creativity is an a-moral reality in the universe. It is not God because it is not a purposeful agent. It is not God because it is not an actual occasion. It is nevertheless an ultimate reality because it is always present in every actual occasion.

God and creativity are closely, in fact always, related. God embodies the creative energy perfectly, but creativity, along with God, is also embodied in every lesser form. Creativity is always influenced by God, but creativity can be mis-used. So, for example, when we make a decision God is always present as the subjective aim - that inner voice suggesting the best possible outcome - as one of many possible choices we make. When we make our decision, whatever it is, something new will always be there. That is creative energy at work.

Why is it important to understand the place of both God and creativity in the universe, as two ultimate realities? Because it helps us understand a huge bifurcation in religious experience:
In religious experience of one kind, the experience is said to be of a personal, perfectly good, loving, Holy Being distinct from the experiencer. In the other kind, the experience is said to be of an ultimate reality, finally identical with one's own deepest reality, that is impersonal, indifferent ("beyond good and evil"), and in some Buddhist accounts, wholly "empty." (p. 273)
Both of these religious expressions, East and West broadly differentiated, are valid religious experiences. Both have tended historically to dismiss the other as not real or as a lesser derivation of the one true understanding. But each is directed towards a separate but real ultimate reality. In one the personal ultimate reality has "risen to consciousness; in the other it is the impersonal ultimate reality that has risen to consciousness. And in each religious expression, the influence of the other is always present.

Is this a satisfying explanation? Yes and no. Given the importance of creativity in Process thought as described by Griffin as a co-equal with God as an ultimate reality, its late introduction and short description doesn't seem to do it justice. And its relationship to God feels a little forced; it's like reading explanations of the Trinity. Pre-existing assumptions (God must be this) meet reality on the ground (Jesus did and said this). How do you make them work together?

On the other hand, if you take religious expression seriously, and if it is your intent to honor not only the reality but the integrity of different religious expressions, then this explication of two ultimate realities provides a framework for understanding two real, but different, kinds of religious experiences.

On a personal note, I had one of those "aha" moments when I read the above quoted description of the ultimate reality that is "finally identical with one's own deepest reality." I get that. It is the personal God - even the Process personal God - that I struggle with.

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