Gordon D. Kaufman, is emeritus professor of divinity at Harvard University. He is the author of many books, including Theology for a Nuclear Age (1985), In Face of Mystery (1993), and In the Beginning . . . Creativity (2004).
I did not have a manuscript for my concluding remarks, only some fragmentary notes on seven items that I thought about during the evening before our last meeting. So on the basis of those notes, I have put together what follows. It will be recalled that in my two lectures I had focused especially on two ideas: that today (a) we should think of humans as biohistorical beings (rather than in the traditional dualistic body-and-soul terms) and (b) we should no longer think of God as The Creator (a kind of super-person) but rather as the creativity manifest throughout the universe from its beginning in the Big Bang, through the cosmic and biological evolutionary developments, all the way down to and including the emergence and development of us humans. In response to those lectures we had excellent conversational exchanges on the respects in which these theological ideas might be of some use to mental health professionals. Then in our final morning meeting we were presented with several beautiful statements responding to and summing up these matters from a number of different points of view.
I have not had the opportunity heretofore to interact in this kind of intensive fashion with mental health professionals, and in this summation of my final remarks I would like to sketch briefly ways in which some of the concepts and metaphors I set out for you might be of use in your ongoing work. I shall make seven points here.
1. In my lectures I suggested that what we today should regard as God is the ongoing creativity in the universe - the bringing (or coming) into being of what is genuinely new, something transformative; the opening up of new possibilities through time - a creativity that has been, overall, significantly serendipitous for us humans. According to today's sciences, we can trace this creativity all the way back to the Big Bang, 14 billion years ago; followed by its moving forward through the subsequent emergence and development, over many billions of years, of the universe in which we humans are situated, and including eventually the emergence of life on planet Earth; and finally the creation and continuing development of human forms of life, with their many complex biohistorical features. In some respects and some degrees this creativity is apparently happening continuously, in and through the processes or activities or events around us and within us. Therefore, it is important - especially in vocations attempting to diagnose and address destructive maladies and patterns of living - always to be on the alert, attempting to see where creative openings and possibilities may be appearing.
2. This creativity - often a surprising breaking out of established patterns of behavior and thinking, and completely unexpected - is a profound mystery to us humans. Those of us dealing with difficult human problems need to train ourselves to be open to the signs that something truly new may be happening before us or to us; we dare not be rigid or dogmatic about what will be possible or impossible, even in difficult cases. Real creativity (God) - the bringing into being of something truly novel - is nearly always something we had not anticipated, but which may open up promising possibilities for healing.
3. Not all creative events are welcome to us humans; in fact some bring disaster into human affairs - think of the recent tsunami and other earthquakes, AIDS, the possibility of bird-flu coming over into humans, the breakdown of a "good marriage"; and we must try to prepare ourselves to deal with these happenings also. But on the whole, as we look back on the long and often painful developments that slowly brought human life and our complex human worlds into being, we cannot but regard this creativity as serendipitous, for it has facilitated the coming into being of the highly complex and quite varied forms of the human life that we so much prize. So despite all difficulties that have arisen in human affairs over the years, and which continue to arise among us - including what we humans may regard as serious evils - in "the long run," though this creativity that has brought us into being has often not brought immediate relief to our serious human difficulties and problems, it has continued to sustain and to advance the human project; and it has enabled us to find ways through the hurts and pains and fears with which we humans have had to deal.
4. I want to stress that this serendipitous creativity - God! - to which we should be responsive is not the private possession of any of the many particular religious faiths or systems that humans have created and lived in. Rather, it is the creativity apart from which none of these human belief systems, with their many varied practices and requirements, could have appeared and developed. This profound mystery of creativity is manifest in and through the overall human biohistorical evolution and development everywhere on the planet; and it continues to show itself throughout the entire human project, no matter what may be the particular religious and or cultural beliefs and practices to be found there. Clinicians who pay attention to this creativity have every reason to avoid being rigidly dogmatic or judgmental with respect to any of the beliefs or practices or religious ideas of their clients. Instead, they should be open to thoughtful consideration of anything and everything their clients may present. And the actuality of this creativity means that there is always a significant basis for hope respecting the client with which one is dealing.
5. As I stressed in the lectures, humans are biohistorical beings, beings which have been created in and through very long and (from the standpoint of our human time-scales) quite slow evolutionary and historical processes. It is important that all humans - and in particular your clients - are not thought of as simply or essentially minds or supernatural souls, as has been the case all too long in our religious traditions: humans are biohistorical beings, and the creativity necessary to address many human ills and other problems may appear almost anywhere in the complex biohistorical reality that we humans are, or in the complex biohistorical context within which we are living and working. Clinicians should remember that they are not alone in their healing activities: the serendipitous creativity that has brought about this whole human biohistorical process can be expected to continue manifesting itself within it.
6. If we take seriously the claim that we are living and working within contexts in which creativity (God) is always also present, one of the problems with which clinicians should concern themselves is whether their clients have beliefs or practices or habits (religious or other) that somehow block the creativity that may be at hand. I am no expert in these matters, but I would think many of you would become aware of problems of this sort, and would also know of ways to help your clients break through the barriers preventing them from becoming freer in their to responses to the problems at hand.
7. I want to emphasize that these concluding remarks have been influenced very much by the conversations that we have had during this conference, and the thoughtful presentations and remarks made by many of you in attendance. Our creativity - like all of human life - is basically a sociocultural reality, a manifestation of the wider serendipitous creativity (God) found throughout the universe. All of us have creative capacities, though it is true that there are great differences in the degrees and the kinds of creativity that various humans manifest. The particular creativity of each one of us is, of course, made possible by the kind of skills we were taught in growing up, the education we were fortunate enough to have, the books we read, the conversations which have importantly stimulated us, the human beings we interact with day by day, and the many other features of the sociocultural contexts in which each of us find ourselves to be living and acting.
This conference was a stimulating context for me in many ways, and I hope others of you also feel that there has been some living creativity going on here as we worked together for these two days. I am very grateful to those of you at Prairie View who invited me here, and I also want to thank all of you who have participated in our discussions. Thank you very much.
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