Martin Luther’s interpretation of the leap of faith went beyond divine Grace into individual creative power. Familiarity with the Stoic idea of freedom is plausible groundwork for Luther’s conclusion that you can’t be certain of anything except your own internal act of self-creation, self-determination, self-declaration. Descartes’ famous “Cogito ergo sum” is a slight recasting of that insight. Luther’s finding internal power to experience transcendence, overcoming the oppressive gravity of original sin and the taint of nature, showed a way for Descartes and other Baroque era rationalists to abandon the age-old terror of nature and apply rationality to understanding the laws of a merely clockwork nature. It also enabled Jean-Jacques Rousseau to experience a new kind of love of nature, initiating an important thread of romanticism in philosophy. The beginning of the change in the cultural attitude to nature was Luther’s overcoming original sin in human nature.
However, there were still tenets of religion, deeply rooted, that contradicted the tendency from Luther’s work to ascribe freedom to individuals. The natural progress of philosophical thinking in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries built on increasing appreciation of fruitful subjectivity, responding also to the increasing esteem for individual minds as literacy became more universal. For several reasons, however, philosophical discoveries about subjectivity did not have their natural consequences in the Euro-American cultural system. Instead of having a balanced understanding of subjectivity and objectivity we have totalitarian objectification.
Two metaphysical propositions of mainstream Christianity stand as barriers to progress. The first is the view, from Augustine, that human nature is so weak and prone to evil that it needs continual supervisory repression and intimidation to achieve a semblance of good. With original sin corrupting the inward person, individuals cannot be trusted to themselves and there is no basis for inward values such as creativity, which genuinely define individual persons. All virtue must be objectively defined and enforced with authoritarian systems of incentive, reward, and punishment. That ancient prejudice was re-invigorated in the backlash against the French Revolution of 1789, and has endured at a semi-conscious level as a bedrock justification for inequality and supervisory control of “the masses”. It has also served as an excuse for the powerful to torture, murder, and enslave. In addition, there is a bit of Christian theology or metaphysics common to monotheism, claiming creativity as a special and definitive attribute of divinity, so only God is capable of creativity. That rules out creativity as an individual human quality. In a cultural system still quietly dominated by Christian metaphysics there is only so far the philosophy of subjectivity is permitted to think. So, what prevents us from embracing the transcendent gusher of subjective originality, the real guarantor of freedom, is scraps of old culture such as father-in the-sky-religion which insists that only the high God is creative and good. In a culture still permeated by Christian assumptions it seems impossible to abandon the (only semi-conscious) theological principle that creativity is an attribute of God alone. The concept of God can be stretched and molded but not easily replaced by creative individual subjectivity.
Although Augustine’s Christianity still has a strong grip on western supervisory practices, its cultural dominance was affected by market-commerce and science. The transition to science was easy, as celestial father-god religions share with science a strong outward focus on eternal cosmic forces and principles. Reverence and deference toward external gods was so entrenched at the root of the Euro-American cultural system that this orientation imposed itself onto all new developments. Science became so prestigious in its mathematical precision and its rigour of measuring observations that physics and chemistry came to represent the ideal of intellectual power and legitimacy, and inspired imitation in all intellectual culture. Subjectivity, as the blind spot of science since questioning has no appearance, cannot exist officially. The consequence of scientific inability to comprehend a fruitful and complex subjectivity, in combination with the military and commercial success of science, is that modern culture is under the enchantment of an ‘objectivity fetish’ in which anything subjective or mental/ internal is suspect, and so the very reality of thinking as an individual process has been marginalized and ridiculed. Distrust of the non-rational or ‘lower’ impulses of subjectivity moves by easy extension to mistrust of subjectivity in general. Individuals have to be supervised in their obedience to military nation-states and market-wealth, the modern gods, and institutions representing those gods have much in common with ‘old regime’ patriarchies.
Market-commerce represents, in part, a revolt against the self-denial imposed by old-style Christianity. Everybody is gratified to some extent by having stuff, and after centuries of denial and an ongoing threat of denial, the glamour of consuming and having stuff became frenzied. Yet, market commerce shares with science a profound objectivity. In the market-sphere values are: accumulated property, status in corporate and professional hierarchies (quantified in money), and the glamour of trophies from competitive victories. Although these are gratifying, they are also self-denying in their own way when made dominant.
Another obstacle to recognizing creativity as the core of personal existence is the common observation that by far the majority of individuals blend perfectly into a crowd. That can be shown to be compatible with individual creativity by a study of culture and its suppression of some crucial individuality. The portal back to individual creativity is exactly to by-pass all cultural knowledge and sophistication with the goal of achieving a state of creative innocence. There is an echo here of the myth in which eating fruit from the tree of knowledge caused humanity to lose its glorious natural existence. The portal to innocence was pioneered long ago in Luther’s personal use of thinking.
Copyright © 2012 Sandy MacDonald. The moral right of the author is asserted.