Sunday, January 06, 2008

Religion and Creativity

Creativity (or "creativeness") is a mental process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations between existing ideas or concepts (Wikipedia Definition).

In simpler terms, creativity means thinking outside the box. It involves freedom of imagination, asking any question and being able to consider all possibilities. Creativity flourishes in an open environment where there is no danger of persecution, bullying or discrimination for free-thinkers.

In most cases the creative man needs to step over the boundaries of tradition and common belief to bring in the "new". Once he creates, he needs to find the opportunity to present the creation. For that, the environment needs to be welcoming, otherwise hostility and rigidness could kill the new-born right at birth.

For that reason, I believe religious environments are not suitable for creativity.

A religion is a set of common beliefs and practices generally held by a group of people, often codified as prayer, ritual, and religious law (Wikipedia definition).

However, religion should not be mistaken with faith. In fact, faith has been an inspiring factor in human history. Whereas religion is mostly a set of common beliefs, rigid rules and traditions that are followed under an assumption of truthfulness and holiness. True or false, many people believe while faith is a natural human instinct, religion is only a creation of governments. Human history has a lot to say about how religions were formed and how they evolved from every "faith" over time, but this is not the venue to enter such discussions at this point.

Many scientists and artists (creative minds) have been subject to accusations and persecution in religious societies throughout history: from Galileo Galilei, Darwin, Louis Pasteur, Thomas Edison to Salman Rushdie.

In an October 2, 1910 interview in the New York Times Magazine, Edison stated: "Nature is what we know. We do not know the gods of religions. And nature is not kind, or merciful, or loving. If God made me -- the fabled God of the three qualities of which I spoke: mercy, kindness, love -- He also made the fish I catch and eat. And where do His mercy, kindness, and love for that fish come in? No; nature made us -- nature did it all -- not the gods of the religions." Edison was accused of atheism for these remarks.

It is important to realize although much artistic and scientific activities have taken place in religious societies (art in Christian environments and science in the Muslim world) there have always been limits imposed on the extent of creativity.

While creativity demands flexibility more than anything else, religious environments represent rigidity. Throughout history creative minds have sought a "free land" as their utopia. That has resulted in the appearance of a Creative Class in major urban centres of the world, where the dominant culture promotes liberalism and tolerance. This goes hand in hand with freedom of speech and democracy, since freedom of "presentation" is crucial to the creation process.

Although I haven't seen solid statistics on the extent of religious practices in major urban centres (centres of creativity such as New York, Paris, London or San Francisco), but their reputation for racial and sexual tolerance, freedom of press and secular politics proves the point.

My question is why are we afraid to put numbers to such facts? Are we afraid of being politically incorrect and lose our reputation for religious freedom and tolerance? There is no debate about the fact that creative society of the major urban centres have nurtured freedom of religion, but the underlying reason is most important: they are not religious.

What the creative class around the world shares includes their affinity for a good life, open and inspiring environment, arts, technology, new horizons, democracy (mainly secular politics) and a "non-religious" environment.

After all, how many Bohemians do you know who go to church?


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