Jay's Head
The Ghost and the Machine, p. 3

Let's take seriously the interpretation of "man is created in God's image" as meaning that human beings can create, just like God can. True, there may be some animals that create things like nests or dams or spider webs, but, as far as we know, only human beings possess the ability to consciously, intentionally create in the way that God creates. We can make art, furniture, weapons, whatever. And we can do so according to our design and our preferences. Ultimately, everything we create is really just another vessel for something that has already been brought into Being -- wood, petroleum, luminescent chemicals -- but we have to deconstruct an object before we can see it in this way. Consider a blue pen, for example. Of course, the pen is blue only because of certain pigments, and those pigments are manifestations of God's creation. But to perceive the ‘blueness' of the pen, the pen has to stop being a pen and start being whatever pigments radiate blue (and, I'm noticing now, rather beautifully reflect the light from the window). I'm not really contemplating the "pen" as pen anymore -- I'm taking it apart, contemplating its constituent elements.

Of course, God is in the pen just as God is in the plants. But not in the pen-as-pen, as object created by people for use by people. The pen-as-pen, I want to say - and I admit this is a potentially radical and somewhat uncertain claim on my part - is a form created by human consciousness, not by Divine consciousness. Thinking it is just like a plant is a bit like idolatry. Yes, the mind is also an expression of God, but to say that "God created the pen" is to speak poetically rather than purely descriptively. Paper Mate created this pen in a factory, out of materials that God created and using a mind that is itself part of and created by God. But the agency that created this pen is only, in these ways, secondarily God.

Or, another example: I've been practicing food-mindfulness lately, trying to practice eating as a meditative technique, really concentrating on the taste of each food, its feel in my mouth, the sensation of swallowing it. Sometimes the vividness of the food is intense; other times less so. I've noticed it's much easier to focus on the qualities of ‘raw' or ‘live' foods, foods that are only minimally processed and cooked, as opposed to those of highly worked-over foods like pasta or cereal. (Let alone barely-recognizable food products like snack foods or soda.) The presence of the fruit, or vegetable, is so clearly there, so clearly part of Being. Whereas, in complicated or processed foods, it is subsumed by the art of the chef or the anonymous conditioning of the food factory. I find in foods with complicated sauces, for example, I am taking apart the sauce in my mouth, trying to recognize ingredients -- much as the blue ink of the pen. And yet surely part of the essence of a fine pastry or wonderfully complex dish is the artistry not of God but of the chef. In other words, I seem to be admiring two different artists, one Divine and one human.

So what about New York, where it may be the case that, on balance, more stuff is created by people than by God? I love the symphony of traffic, the art people make, and the Koyaanisqatsi-like bustle of the city. I think the energy of people, and the way some of their non-commercial activities can express the ineffable, is certainly a manifestation of the best of Being. But stop and think for a moment about how little we let in the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of anything other than that which we humans have created. New York is all construction, all (beautiful) artifice. It's like a delicate cuisine, where the individual, divinely-created ingredients seem not only subsumed by but also subordinated to the human genius that has organized and presented them.

If you're looking for God, go where God is directly responsible. This principle explains how God is immediately present in the gaze of the Other, because of course God designed that Other. And it explains why God is easier to perceive in the wilderness than the city. It's not that God is not present in skyscrapers, air conditioners, and telephones. God is here, now. Indeed, there is nothing here but God. But there is another set of voices in the city that make it harder to focus on that of the Infinite. I don't run away from reality when I leave the city; I run toward reality unmediated and unobscured by a chorus of humanity, all singing songs of themselves.
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August 2002

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