The Divine Invention

The Divine Invention

The Beguiling of Merlin, by Edward Coley Burne-Jones. 1874

 The truly divine thing is invention, creation, imagination. All religions were created by novelists and poets. That has been on my mind and under my thoughts for decades. It reached the surface again tonight, like the creative process itself. In a rush, a burst, a light coming on against nuanced black. We tell stories. Some of us make stories. Some repeat them. But novelists invent, poets invent. Song-writers invent. They take things from nature and their own lives and think again. They expand from kernels and images they can’t escape. They weave and add new people and make stories for them, too. A world. They build up a world and try to make it cohere.

All religions were created by human beings seeking to tell stories. All religions are beautiful fictions, attempts to get at truths, perhaps higher truths. But the only truths are here, now, on earth. We gaze beyond this planet and this life and wonder about the future when we’re dead. We invent a story for that, too, because we don’t want the novel to end. The song can’t die, the poem runs off the page but does not find completion.

No gods or goddesses exist beyond our own minds. Once invented, we threw them out into the air for all to see. But outside of us, outside of our minds, they don’t exist. Have never existed. And that’s beautiful, that we would do that, that we would make novels and poems and songs and paintings about things that never existed.

The brilliance of that enterprise, its incredible journey of success and domination, humbles me. That humans created god is something truly astonishing. That we built those creations into cities of scripture, nation-states of devotion, empires of scholarly exegesis, and worlds of worshipers, leaves me in wonder.

We are merely passing through, and we go to all of that trouble. Thousands and thousands of years of that endeavor. We pass this way just once, and we make sure we never forget our religious novels, our heavenly poetry. Based on something that does not exist in the same way as the page, like fictional characters in Hardy, Murakami, Austen, Camus. We create. The creation makes us divine. Makes us deities. The reception of those beautiful fictions makes us one with god. The reception is like sitting at the same table, eating the same food, drinking ambrosia with the heavenly hosts.

Few things have inspired humans as much as the invention of deities. Our music, our art, our literature, our philosophy have been infinitely enriched by that invention. Would it be wise to ever stop believing in fictions? Will they always be necessary? Nietzsche and Wallace Stevens and thousands of others have asked those questions and I have no new answers. But I want the inventions to go on and I want people to believe in themselves and each other enough to let the fictions go. A stage. A further step in our journey, our evolutionary process.

Realizing it’s all been a beautiful, incredibly brilliant invention, does not have to stop the show. We invented the deities as stepping stones, as ladders. Perhaps we don’t need them now. Perhaps we can pull that ladder up after ourselves and say our dignified last goodbyes.


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