Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Recovering Creativity

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Recovering Creativity

Article excerpt

According to Gallup, less than one-third of the U.S. population describes itself as socially liberal. Yet in 2012, more than 95 percent of Ivy League faculty and employees who donated money to a presidential candidate did so to Obama. The same is true of employees at Facebook, Google, and Apple. Any survey of filmmakers, musicians, actors, painters, or writers would probably reveal similar results.

When pressed to account for these disproportions, conservatives emphasize liberals' readiness to discriminate against non-liberals. But that does not explain how liberals took charge of these fields in the first place. Nor does it explain why the same imbalance appears even in activities open to all. Anyone can grow purple Peruvian potatoes or make artisanal cheese. But try surveying the vendors at a green market. When I did so in Charleston, South Carolina, a state that has voted Republican in almost every presidential election since 1964, all but one self-identified as liberal.

A better explanation starts with the understanding that liberalism is more than a set of political opinions. It functions in some ways like a religion, identifying sacred values that help people find meaning in their lives and direction for their energies.

An Apple advertising campaign from two decades ago, "Think Different," is a good window into the liberal faith. From billboards and televisions, the faces of Picasso, Frank Lloyd Wright, Jane Goodall, and others gazed like religious icons. "Here's to the crazy ones," a commercial intoned. "They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. . . . They invent. They imagine.... They create."

The ad amounts to a catechism in liberalism's cardinal virtues. And the company's iconic logo, a bitten apple, symbolizes the liberal faith that rebellion against "rules" is the father of imagination and originality.

The person who views liberalism solely as a set of political attitudes finds its monopolies on the academy, the arts, and Silicon Valley baffling. But someone who recognizes in liberalism a Zeitgeist with answers to life's basic questions notices a family resemblance among the fields liberals dominate. All are associated with innovation or self-expression-what popular culture refers to as "creativity." It is not happenstance that liberals enter the areas they do or that people working in them gravitate toward liberal ways of thinking. Such results flow from liberalism's insistence that creative endeavor is a path to human fulfillment.

This invites the question of whether Christian belief also encourages expressiveness and innovation. The campaign contribution data that let us track political affiliation by profession do not also track religious practice by profession. But we know that those who attend church regularly and who accept Christian doctrine as authoritative tend not to be liberal. People who feel what James Davison Hunter called "the impulse toward orthodoxy" are almost certainly underrepresented in the fields where liberals are overrepresented.

That makes sense intuitively. A person who limited himself to the articles, devices, software, plays, and music made recently by liberals would not lack for stimulation. But few people, religious or secular, are ready to abandon their iPhones, stop using Google, and feed their imaginations only on the articles and entertainment orthodox Christians have produced in the last several decades.

The relative infertility of the orthodox is puzzling. Christianity sees man as made in the image of the Creator, charged with finishing the world begun in Genesis. This calling invites not generic obedience but varied creation that bears witness to the uniqueness of each human soul.

To be sure, the orthodox rank virtues differently than liberals do. While liberal icons tend to be artists and innovators, Christian icons depict saints, stressing zeal and piety rather than color or originality. For believers, expressiveness and innovation tend less to be priorities in themselves than to be byproducts of the drive to live faithfully and glorify God. …

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