WILLIAM EDELEN: The Future Requires Courage



The Contrary Minister

We live in an exciting and stimulating period of history. One age is dying… and the new age is not quite born.

We see radical changes in sexual patterns, lifestyles, marriage styles, women’s roles, family structures, education, energy, religion, the Christian church and in almost every conceivable aspect of life. We can withdraw in anxiety, or we can become negative and pessimistic. If we choose either of these paths, we forfeit our chance to participate in the creation of the future.

To live in this age, or any age, requires an enormous amount of courage, faith and willingness to take risks. But to participate in the forming of a future is to create. And courage, risk-taking, creativity and faith are the attributes that have continually reformed the structure of civilization.

What is creative courage? It is the willingness to pursue new forms, new symbols and new patterns of truth. The alternative is stagnation.

Every profession — technology, diplomacy, business, arts, medicine, law — requires those who possess a creative courage. Certainly that is true in teaching and the ministry.

At the end of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce has his young hero write these words in his diary: “Welcome O Life… I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”

In other words, every creative encounter is a new event, and every time requires another assertion of courage and faith and involves risk. I especially like the words, “to forge… the uncreated conscience of my race.” Joyce is saying here that conscience is not something handed down ready-made from Mount Sinai, nor the Sermon on the Mount, given once and for all.

Why is creativity so difficult? Why does it require such courage? Why is it such a risk-taking venture? For the very reason that it does contribute to the process of creating a new conscience for the race. It is not just simply a matter of clearing out debris from an ancient age, of clearing away dead norms, defunct symbols and myths that have become lifeless. It is not that simple.

The major risk is that creativity provokes the jealousy of the institutional gods. That is why genuine, authentic creativity always takes such courage.

An active battle with the gods occurs, whether the gods be an institution, a church, a government, or those protecting an outmoded image of a supernatural God. Courageous creativity always provokes the jealousy of, and outrages, the gods. In ancient Greek civilization Prometheus challenged Zeus, and Zeus was outraged. The same truth was presented in the myth of Adam and Eve. “God” is outraged at the audacious courage of Adam and Eve.

The relating of rebellion and creative courage to religion is hard for many people to swallow. In religion it has not been, by and large, the flatterers of the popular God who have been ultimately praised. It has been the insurgents and the rebels who are praised by history and immortalized, among them Socrates, Jesus and Joan of Arc.

The pharaoh of the 18th dynasty of Egypt, Akhnation, challenged the entire corrupt priesthood of Egypt saying, “you are enslaving people with your superstitions… your ignorant beliefs.” Zoroaster was persecuted; Buddha made scathing attacks upon Hindu corruption in his time; Luther and Schweitzer were excommunicated from their church.

The biblical prophet Micah had the courage to speak: “There is no anthropomorphic god up there waiting for your sacrifices and rites and rituals. No. All that is required of you is to do justly and love mercy and to walk humbly.”

In one of Renan’s philosophical dramas there is a dialogue in heaven where Gabriel speaking of the Earth and its skeptics says to God… “If I had thine omnipotence, I would quickly reduce those wicked atheists to silence.” But God, benevolently replies: “Ah Gabriel, thou art so faithful, but thy faithfulness has made thee so narrow. Learn my special tenderness for those who deny me. For what they deny is the image, grotesque and abominable which has been put in my place. In all the world of idolaters, they alone, the doubters and deniers, are the only ones who really respect me.”

The cemeteries of history are filled with the graves of the dead gods… Astarte, Baal, Isis, Horus, Osiris, Jupiter, Thor. It is time to bury at least one other god, the god of vengeance and anger, a theological policeman whose beat is the universe, a heavenly trigger man, a celestial hit man who has a contract out on some earthly humans.

There is a far greater archaeology than digging for lost cities. It is an archaeology of the mind, aimed at uncovering the foundations of the authentic city of the soul, covered with all the debris of conventional and antiquated religious systems. We must dig through, layer by layer, until once again each of us can experience in our own lives the fresh new spirit that speaks again “let there be light… and there was light…”