History is overthrowing the way we think. Futurist Ray Kurzweil in fact believes our era will end 6,000 years of “civilization” as we’ve known it. And, in this century alone, we’ll see on the order of 20,000 years of change (at today’s rate of change).
In massive historical shifts, the very structure of knowing changes—not “what” we know, but “how” we know. We are changing, for example, to an oral culture where words do things—where virtual reality becomes real—where fiction becomes fact—where metaphor becomes the very seed of the future.
In other words, language is breaking with the past. Today’s spiritual language, for example, is going against “proper” churches and “respectable” seminaries. It’s shifting from logic to revelation, from mind to spirit, from proposition to intuition, from labeling to doing, from the literate to the prophetic. . . .
Today’s clergy may “walk the walk,” but few can “talk the talk.”
Meanwhile, the Lord of History moves on. Already, the World Wide Web holds the great metaphors of our era. More art than science, its “infosphere” has become an intuitive system ruled by invisible forces—forces made sensuous. And its virtual reality has captured the popular imagination before reaching anything close to its potential. In all probability, virtual reality will soon take over the economy as television did. And, it will pervade our culture—both online and off-line.
Of course, virtual reality—like metaphor—represents something “not there”—something beyond itself, something unseen. And, like faith, it gives “substance” to its vision. Why not? It’s the language of the church! Yet today, this new language totally outpaces theology and hurries the collapse of both modern and postmodern thinking.
Virtual reality, then, is metaphor. And, at the right moment. For metaphor has become central to all studies of meaning. We now know, for example, that human thought—including scientific thought—is metaphorical. And, all the things that make life mean what it means require metaphor.
It’s the lingua franca of the future, and it works this way:
The power in an Oral Culture is creativity. The power in creativity is art. The power in art is metaphor. And the power in metaphor is emotion. Yet, the church has no theology of creativity. It has scant understanding of prophetic art. It reduces metaphor to a figure of speech. And it has a love/hate relation to emotion.
That’s how far behind we are. Take a closer look:
CREATIVITY. Creativity is the doing of our faith. It is an inspired collaboration—a bold, proactive faith. As in Scripture, it gives form to the substance, evidence, and proof of faith. It speaks for example “of nonexistent things . . . as if they [already] existed.” And, it declares “the end and the result from the beginning.”
It is a life of serious make-believe, the risk of daring utterances, the hazard of impossible possibilities. Yet, its “fictions” prove far more powerful than “facts.” Contrary to modern thought, creativity is not mere “thinking,” “analyzing” or “inventing.” It’s not a monologue in other words. And, it’s not just for “creative people.”
ART. But creativity also requires art—a different art—an ancient art. This art has nothing to do with high culture or fine art. It has nothing to do with the bland safety and shallow preachiness of Christian art. And, no big surprise, it has nothing to do with religion—in the first instance. For this new/old art transcends our culture, our apologetics and even art itself.
METAPHOR. Yet, art is impossible without metaphor. Metaphor, we’ve discovered, is the very seed of art. It is a tiny portion of art, a poem in miniature. It is the prototype and power—the only power—of all the arts.
All metaphors—whether words, sounds, movements, stories, images or anything else—put things side by side that don’t go together, and the tension or interplay between these differences conveys the message of the metaphor. That’s the reason future clergy will be creators of comparison and contrast—artists of analogy and affinity—virtuosos of similarity and similitude.
Today’s clergy however, misunderstand metaphor. Metaphor does not reduce to mere figures of speech, decorative images or colorful language. It does not suffer the mediation of literal worlds, logical ideas or absolute knowledge. And, it has no need of rhetorical eloquence, a charismatic personality or manipulative tricks. For metaphor finds it power on the ruins of rationality and on the death of heroic narcissism.
EMOTION. Finally, metaphor is impossible without emotion. For intuitive visions and felt meanings require each other. These feelings, though, are not the knee-jerk, garden-variety emotions of the natural world. They are instead “felt-meanings,” “knowing-emotions,” “empowered passions.” They yield “light” with their heat, revelation with their warmth, and insight with their inspiration.
They “see” as well as feel.
Yet, we’re taken by an even greater surprise. The creativity, art, metaphor and emotion of the coming world will breach the strict borders among music, poetry, dance, drama and visual art. For what we once called art will show up incognito in life itself—anywhere, any time and in any form. In other words, we will break the barriers between art and life itself. And, we will honor whenever and wherever the “Word becomes flesh.”
Hosea confirms that prophetic metaphor is the Language of God. And today, great minds agree that metaphor has something resembling “supernatural power.” It will become our primary tongue and our only advantage in a world overcome by machine intelligence.
Today, then, we witness the end of a theology that simply thinks, that forms from mere passive assent, that fades day by day with the dying gasps of the unempowered. For a new theology is being born—a theology of lived parables, baptized imaginations and empowered spirits. And, in this new credibility—this new orthodoxy—artists will become theologians and theologians will become artists.
We will be stunned beyond disbelief.
© 2006 Thomas Hohstadt