Sunday, June 12, 2016

#164 / Returning The Favor

God created man in his own image. And man, being a gentleman, returned the favor.
                  -- Variously attributed

According to the Impolite Company website, the quotation above has been credited to Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Among others, probably!

Recently, I heard someone articulate the quote the other way around: 

Man created God in his own image, and then God returned the favor.
That way of putting it may well be the underlying message of "The Creation of Adam," the fresco painting by Michelangelo that is reproduced above. The original "Creation" graces the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and physician Frank Meshberger has observed that Michelangelo's depiction has God emerging from "a perfect anatomical illustration of the human brain in cross section." 

One possible interpretation of the fresco, thus, is that God appears out of the human brain to create Adam. Human consciousness precedes God, and makes God appear, and then God "returns the favor." The human precedes the divine. 

While that is one possible deconstruction of "The Creation of Adam," based on Meshberger's observation about the depiction of the human brain in Michelangelo's fresco, the interpretation Meshberger actually proposed in his article in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, has the polarity running the other way. 

As R. Douglas Fields reports, in an article in Scientific American, Meshberger speculates that "Michelangelo surrounded God with a shroud representing the human brain to suggest that God was endowing Adam not only with life, but also with supreme human intelligence." In this way of looking at it, the divine precedes the human. 

Anyone who reads this Two Worlds blog regularly, or even sporadically, knows that I adhere to a "Two Worlds" understanding of reality. Within the world we most immediately inhabit, the "human world," a "political world" that we ourselves create, and that we most typically call "civilization," the human comes first. In fact, everything within the human realm is created by human beings, and that includes, of course, the concept of "God," as that concept is employed within those very human institutions that we call the "major religions of the world."

Religions, in my view, are indubitably "human" in origin, and human beings have created the depictions and explanations of the divinity that appear within the various human religions. This confession should comfort some of my friends, who believe that my one year in theological seminary may have warped my cognitive capacities. One point for the atheists!

However, my understanding of reality is that we do live, ultimately, in the World of Nature, a world upon which we are radically dependent, governed by laws that we cannot amend, and to which we are inevitably subject. The World of Nature is a world we most emphatically did not create. We are born into that World of Nature, and our existence is a gift from an unknown Giver. I will never quarrel with anyone who says that God has created that World (and us).

In my way of thinking, in other words, the polarity runs both ways, and if we want to assign some sort of primacy, as between the idea that humans create God, or that God creates humans, the most proper understanding is actually the one articulated by Iris DeMent in her wonderful song, "Let The Mystery Be."

In the beginning, according to the Bible, God created the Heavens and the Earth (the World of Nature), but since Eden is in the rearview now, we're in charge of a human world that we create. In our world, we are doing the driving. 

Considering the World of Nature, so majestic, so inspiring, so providing of resources upon which all life depends, is it wrong to think that the Creator of this world (person or process) must actually have done so out of we call love?

That is my conclusion. 

And I would like to suggest that we, where we are, return the favor.

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