When I was a young boy, I grew up with parents who were disillusioned with organized religion. As the first people to go to college, not to mention graduate school, in either of their families, they chose reason over religion. In spite of this, I early on developed a fascination with spirituality, but the concept of the sacred eluded me until recently. As I became more deeply immersed in studying and understanding the Big Shift that is playing out around us, I began to see elements of a very different kind of sacred. Until recently, though, I had a hard time verbalizing what I was encountering. With the help of the writings of two men that I deeply respect, this post seeks to put into words something quite remarkable that I see emerging from the Big Shift.
The Big Shift will play out in many domains, in ways that we may not be able to imagine today. For example, the concept of the sacred has been criticized by rationalists for centuries, but it may be slated for rehabilitation from a very unlikely direction.
Certainly, fundamentalists of all stripes have engaged in a crusade to revive the sacred over the century. At the risk of over-simplification, their notion of the sacred is a defensive, static one. The sacred has already been revealed and our job is to protect it from attack.
A different form of the sacred is taking shape, one resulting in the unlikely collaboration of an experimental and theoretical biologist and a professor of divinity, both with the surname of Kauffman (albeit spelled slightly differently). These two individuals – Stuart Kauffman and Gordon Kaufman – have been pursuing a mission to reinvent the sacred by focusing on the theme of creativity.
In my previous post, I discussed the shift our identity from consumer to networked creator. As this shift plays out, we will likely find this rehabilitation of the sacred very appealing. It will help not just to connect us with each other in richer and deeper ways, but will begin to reveal that our connection with the universe may have creative or sacred foundations that have been part of the human story for millions of years.
Stuart Kauffman’s book “Reinventing the Sacred” really got me thinking about creativity and the sacred. The book is an impressive stroll by a deeply thoughtful scientist through many domains from the microscopic to the cosmic, with a particular focus on the common patterns emerging in the universe, the biosphere and human culture. Kauffman observes:
“We live in a universe, biosphere, and human culture that are not only emergent but radically creative. We live in a world whose unfolding we often cannot prevision, prestate, or predict – a world of explosive creativity on all sides. This is a central part of the new scientific worldview.”
Throughout the book he offers a sustained critique of reductionism. Instead, he stresses the importance of emergence as a way to begin to understand the dynamics that we shape - and that in turn shape us. He is also deeply skeptical of universal laws, focusing instead on understanding the situatedness of the objects under discussion. I found it refreshing that, in discussing situatedness, he puts equal emphasis on context, the surroundings at any point in time, and history, the trajectories that have been traveled by the object.
Kauffman also highlights the central role of agency in emergence, observing that “ . . .we are co-creators of a universe, biosphere, and culture of endlessly novel creativity.” He argues that agency helps to define meaning and in turn gives rise to values. His book is an ambitious attempt to overcome four “injuries” splitting humanity apart at the seams – the divisions between science and the humanities, facts and values, secularism and spirituality and divisions across diverse value systems.
Kauffman follows the admonition of Scott Momaday, a Kiowa poet, to “reinvent the sacred.” Kauffman seeks to demonstrate that “in this ceaseless creativity in the universe, biosphere, and human culture and history we can reinvent the sacred, and find a new view of God as the fully natural, awesome, creativity that surrounds us.”
Kauffman later clarifies what he means by sacred: “The word sacred is, for many, tied inextricably with the concept of the divine, but in many instances it is used to express an immense respect or reverence. . . . . if we are the authors of what is to be held sacred then we will engage in mature reasoning about what is sacred. Might it be the case, then that at this stage in human cultural evolution we are, at last, ready to assume responsibility for our own choices of what is to be sacred?”
Kauffman goes further and asks: “Do we use the word God meaning that God is the natural creativity in the universe? . . . How dare we use the word God to stand for the natural creativity in the universe? Yet I say yes, we can and should choose to do so, knowing full well that we make this choice. . . .This sense of God enlarges Western humanism for those who do not believe in a Creator God. It invites those who hold to a supernatural Creator God to sustain that faith, but to allow the creativity in the universe to be a further source of meaning and membership. I hope this sense of God and the sacred can be a safe, spiritual space we can all share.”
In this effort to reinvent the sacred, Kauffman treads a similar path that Gordon Kaufman has been following for at least the past fifteen years. Gordon Kaufman announces early in his book “In the beginning . . . Creativity” that “for a good many years I have been speaking and writing of God as creativity rather than creator . . .” A great interview with Gordon can be found here.
Kaufman, a professor of divinity emeritus at Harvard University, offers a similar perspective to Stuart Kauffman: “The metaphor of creativity, as I have been suggesting, is appropriate for naming God because (1) it preserves and indeed emphasizes the ultimacy of the mystery that God is, even while (2) it connects God directly with the coming into being – in time – of the new and the novel.”
Kaufman amplifies this theme: “. . . God should be thought of as creativity; creativity is the only proper object for worship, devotion and faith today . . . . Everything other than the ultimate mystery of creativity is a finite created reality that may indeed be valued and appreciated within certain limits, but which is itself always subject to distortion, corruption, and disintegration and thus must be relativized by the creativity manifest in the coming into being and the ultimate dissolution of all finite realities – that which alone may be characterized as ‘ultimate.’”
I especially like Kaufman’s emphasis on serendipitous creativity: “This whole vast cosmic process, I suggest, displays (in varying degrees) serendipitous creativity: the coming into being through time of new modes of reality. It is a process that has frequently produced much more than would have been expected or seemed possible, given previously prevailing circumstances . . .” He further clarifies: “But mere change is not what we mean by the word ‘creativity,’ for changes can generally be understood and often explained, and they do not involve the coming into being of something truly novel.”
Stuart Kauffman and Gordon Kaufman co-taught a course at Harvard Divinity School this past Spring – something I would have loved to attend.
The bottom line
So, why am I writing about this? Why should a hard-headed business strategist and management consultant be spending time on God and the sacred? What does this have to do with the daily quest for profits?
Well, it all has to do with the Big Shift. The Big Shift is not just about disruption and profits. It is also about identity, meaning and values that are changing in profound ways. More than ever before, if we just focus narrowly on commercial quests, we will find ourselves blindsided by much broader changes playing out on the global stage.
As we shift our identity from consumers to networked creators, we will find that creativity plays a more and more central role in our lives, especially as our personal and professional identities knit together again. More and more of us will come to realize that creativity is indeed sacred, worthy of respect and reverence. By cultivating a view of creativity as sacred, we reinforce a sense of wonder, curiosity and, most of all, humility that will help us to become even more creative. By honoring creativity and giving it a more central place in our worldview, we will find that it strengthens our perception of possibility, motivating us to create in ways that we previously never thought would be feasible. The focus on agency highlights the potential opportunity we all have to co-create the universe we live in – this is not (just) about watching others, it is us about us working together.
Even more importantly, this reinvention of the sacred represents a move from a static to a dynamic worldview. Rather than the sacred representing perfection already achieved, the sacred emerges as a process of becoming without end. This reinvention of the sacred is profoundly consistent with the broader movement of the Big Shift from a static world of knowledge stocks to a dynamic world continually re-shaped by ever evolving knowledge flows.
Embracing this new notion of the sacred will strengthen us in our quest to harness the forces of the Big Shift to create things never before imagined. Just as the Big Shift is changing our beliefs about ourselves, most certainly it will change our beliefs about the cosmos. Perhaps these new beliefs will provide a common ground where we can all come together – believers in a divine being and believers in a divine becoming – to heal the injuries that have separated us and helping all of us to more effectively achieve our potential.