Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Imagination

Three quotes of interest, from unrelated sources:
"[T]here are no higher moments in the scriptures than when we stand up to God. Like Abraham arguing with God about Sodom and Gomorrah. God wants us to develop our own moral sense. God wants us to stand on our own ethical legs, even to challenge him. He loves it when his children grow."
-Rabbi Yonah, via Real Live Preacher
"Tara" smirked at me. "Why don't you just color things the way you're supposed to?" she hissed as the teacher went away. "It's easier. It doesn't look so stupid."

Oh, I was pissed. I didn't want to color at all, and I loved coloring. I had been quite pleased with the previous paper; now I wanted to tear this one up. Just color things the way I'm supposed to. Why were there blank spaces for me to fill, like those windows, if I couldn't fill them sometimes? Why did she want us all to waste our time on this, if all she wanted was a bunch of papers that looked the same?
-Crackerlilo

Why should be be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

-Thomas Merton, via Henri Nouwen (The Genesee Diary)

To the fundamentalist, no value is greater than conformity. Most of them wouldn't state it that way, of course - they would couch it in terms like "holiness" or "righteousness" or "obedience," based on the assumption that the main purpose of this existence is to test how well we stay within "God's" boundaries. It's a way of thinking that's more inherently Muslim than Christian, though its roots can be traced far enough back in Christian thought that few are conscious of the distinction.

One of the consequences of this mindset is that creativity is seen as a suspect trait at best. Even when we recognize human creativity as an aspect of the image of God within us, we believe it to be so heavily tainted by sin that it must always be kept under tight rein. Incidentally, this is an attitude that would have been right at home in any Communist state. The Soviet Union and its allies did not try to eliminate all art, music and literature - simply those creations that could not be channeled to properly glorify the state.

Similarly, Christian fundamentalists have no problem with the arts when they explicitly (and aggressively) promote the right doctrines, but if a song is too subtle in its lyrics or a story not suitably heavy-handed in its moral, it's too "worldly" to be of any real value. And while many within the evangelical church have begun moving away from this mindset, the tendency to place a creative endeavor's evangelistic value ahead of its artistic merits persists in many quarters.

Our capacity for moral judgment, like our creativity, is an aspect of the image of God within us. Again, as with creativity, all fundamentalist belief systems (Christian, Muslim, Marxist or otherwise) view this trait as so hopelessly corrupted that it must be strictly regulated by the exacting (and one-size-fits-all) dictates of an external authority. Any dialogue with God (or God's equivalent) is necessarily one-sided, because any objections we might raise to what we are told God has decreed cannot be anything more than the evil stirrings of our thoroughly sinful nature.

But what if conformity is not the main purpose of this life? What if God made each of us unique precisely so that we could, through our differences, learn far more about him than we ever could through our sameness? What would happen if we ever truly focused on what we could see of the image of God in others without trying to beat them down for being "wrong"?

Not that everyone will fulfill their potential, and not that society can exist without any rules at all, but those are separate issues. Even given what human imperfection can cost us, how much more do we lose when we allow our pride to convince us that we can know enough to tell another person what God's will is for their life? How much beauty do we destroy in our crusade to prevent the sins and errors of others?

4 comments:

Existential Punk said...

"Even given what human imperfection can cost us, how much more do we lose when we allow our pride to convince us that we can know enough to tell another person what God's will is for their life? How much beauty do we destroy in our crusade to prevent the sins and errors of others? "

Wow, this is brilliant and so beautifully worded. What a great post. Thank you.

i found you at Sister Friends.

i look forward to future posts from you as you have a way with words.

EP

Rachel H. Evans said...

I just discovered your blog through Existential Punk. Great thoughts! I'll definitely be back.

The Blogger said...

"How much beauty do we destroy in our crusade to prevent the sins and errors of others?"

This is a beautiful thought. I so enjoy your thoughtfulness and thought-provoking posts.

Hope to see you in Cali!
-ps403

CrackerLilo said...

Guess what? That same teacher was fundamentalist! She tried to convince our parents that the Smurfs (TV cartoon) were evil and got disciplined for proselytizing to us (a Jewish boy was most upset).

Strange to see one's words typed out elsewhere.