Published on February 24, 2014
THE CHRISTIAN SELF SERIES Part II: Meaning, Ambiguity, Co-Creation
I. MEANING “Meaning” = “the end, purpose, or significance of a thing” Meaning ≠ Truth
CREATING MEANING “…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” - Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2, lines 250-51
“Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.” GENESIS 2:19
II. AMBIGUITY “Ambiguity” = “doubtfulness or uncertainty of meaning or intention” Theoretical Examples: -What is freedom? - Is it better to be happy or to know the truth? - Is intelligence the same thing as wisdom? Practical Examples: - What did Sally mean when she told Sam that “everything’s fine?” - What did Sally’s death mean? Her life? - What does Christ mean when He says that “few shall find the narrow gate?”
Genesis 22 – Abraham told to sacrifice Isaac. How old is Isaac? Luke 18:18 “A certain ruler asked him, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered? ‘No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’ ‘All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.’” AMBIGUITY IS PURPOSEFUL
Eric Auerbach – Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in the Western World Biblical Style – “Just the facts, ma’am.” Homeric Style – “Awe and wonder.” Why is the Biblical Style the Biblical Style?
Without ambiguity, without some flexibility of meaning, the will is not free. Creation of meaning is the primary mechanism for the assertion of the will. Ambiguity results from the difference between the infinite (God) and the finite (man, but also everything else). In the establishment of free will, there is a (partial) withdrawal of God from us, so that the absolutism of the infinite does not overpower us, stripping us of our individuality. AMBIGUITY AND FREE WILL
EXISTENTIALISM Secular Existentialism and Christian Existentialism “Existence precedes essence.” – We start our philosophical discussion from the premise that things are, not what things are. Secular existentialism leads to the idea that there is no meaning in the universe. See Jean-Paul Sartre, Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, Albert Camus, Friedrich Nietzsche, etc. This leads to existential angst.
“If nothing we do matters, the only thing that matters is what we do.” JOSS WHEDON
THE “SACRED PARADOX” Secular Existentialism: There is no meaning. Secular Humanist Existentialism: Because there is no inherent meaning, the only meaning is the meaning that humans make. Humans make meaning; that meaning has power. Christianity: In creating, God has given meaning to everything created. Ambiguity is the space between the two halves of the paradox.
Søren Kierkegaard: God and the love, hope, and faith that flows from Him are the only solution to existential angst. See The Sickness Unto Death. Fyodor Dostoyevsky: The Brothers Karamazov Paul Tillich The indirect style of Christ’s teachings. CHRISTIAN EXISTENTIALISM
PAUL TILLICH “…life is ambiguous because it unites essential and existential elements.” -Systematic Theology, Vol. III, p. 29 “essential” – (absolute) meaning created by God “existential” – relational meaning created my Man “So my life oscillates between the possible and the real and requires the surrender of the one for the other—the sacrificial character of all life.” -Systematic Theology, Vol. III, p. 42
Ambiguity is, by definition, doubt. The resolution of ambiguity, that is, the creation of relational meaning, is an act of faith. The Christian places her faith in God, as revealed through scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, when making meaning and resolving ambiguity. Though we cannot fully understand essential meaning because of its source in the infinitude of God, God nevertheless whispers hints about essential meaning (i.e. truth) to us. See C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 1, “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe.” DOUBT AND FAITH
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF MAKING MEANING “If we survey the Law in another point of view, it is supreme, unchangeable reason; it is unalterable rectitude; it is the everlasting fitness of all things that are or ever were created.” John Wesley, “The Original Nature, Property, and Use of the Law” Our responsibility: Aligning essential and existential meaning. Making Meaning and sin.
Is our ability to create (particularly meaning) what makes us “in the image of God?” Unlike God, we cannot create ex nihilo. Instead, we create through reference and relation—by taking things that are and combining them to make something new. IN THE IMAGE OF GOD?
STORYTELLING See Anne Foerst, God in the Machine: What Robots Tell Us About Humanity and God. Fiction writers—particularly fantasy writers. Sir Philip Sidney In Defence of Poesy (1579, published 1595) The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia (1580’s)
“CO-CREATION” OR “SUBCREATION?”
“Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” -Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2, Line 226.
The incarnate mind, the tongue, and the tale are in our world coeval. The human mind, endowed with the powers of generalization and abstraction, sees not only green-grass, discriminating is from other things (and finding it fair to look upon), but sees that it is green as well as being grass. But how powerful, how stimulating to the very faculty that produced it, was the invention of the adjective: no spell or incarnation in Faerie is more potent. And that is not surprising: such incantations might indeed be said to be only another view of adjectives, a part of speech in a mythical grammar. The mind that thought of light, heavy, grey, yellow, still, swift, also conceived of magic that would make heavy things light and able to fly, turn grey lead into yellow gold, and the still rock into a swift water. If it could do the one, it could do the other; it inevitably did both. When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter’s power—upon one plane; and the desire to wield that power in the world external to our minds awakes. It does not follow that we shall use that power well upon any plane. We may put a deadly green upon a man’s face and produce a horror; we may make the rare and terrible blue moon to shine; or we may cause woods to spring with silver leaves and rams to wear fleeces of gold, and put hot fire into the belly of the cold worm. But in such “fantasy,” as it is called, new Form is made; Faerie begins; Man becomes a sub-creator. -J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories”
My first and last philosophy, that which I believe in with unbroken certainty, I learnt in the nursery. I generally learnt it from a nurse; that is, from the solemn and star-appointed priestess at once of democracy and tradition. The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales. They seem to me to be entirely reasonable things. They are not fantasies: compared with them other things are fantastic. Compared with them religion and rationalism are both abnormal, though religion is abnormally right and rationalism abnormally wrong. Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense. It is not earth that judges heaven, but heaven judges earth, so for me at least it was not earth that criticized elfland, but elfland that criticized the earth…. But I deal here with that ethic and philosophy come from being fed fairy tales…. I could note many noble and healthy principles that arise from them. There is the chivalrous lesson of ‘Jack the Giant Killer’; that giants should be killed because they are gigantic. It is a manly mutiny against pride as such…. There is the lesson of ‘Cinderella,’ which is the same as that of the Magnificat—exaltavit humiles. There is the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the Beast’; that a thing must be loved before it is loveable. -G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, “The Ethics of Elfland”
(1)Everyday questions of meaning are writ large in fiction and fantasy. (2)World-building in fantasy lays bear the process of creating meaning. (3)Literature causes us to question the meanings we’ve given to the things in our life. WHY IS FICTION SO POTENT?
WHY DOES ALL OF THIS MATTER? (1)We are called to participate in the world and in the making of meaning. (2)We have a responsibility to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth; we do this (in part) through the existential/relational meanings we assign things. (3)The co-creative process is essential to spiritual development.
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