Monday, February 09, 2009

Inspiration

SORRY THAT I haven't posted in a while. I just haven't felt inspired.

The English word ‘inspired’ comes from the Latin verb inspirare, meaning ‘to breath into’ and was used in antiquity to describe the action of divinity filling the artist with graces. Nowadays, the word ‘inspired’ merely means having an urge or feeling to do something, which is how I used the word above.

The other day, a correspondent sent me a link: TED: Eat, Pray, Love Author on How We Kill Geniuses, which describes a contemporary attempt to bring back the old meaning of the word ‘inspired’. According to that article, contemporary society tends to put excessive demands on talented people, which is deadly in some ways: it leads to disproportionate pressure to perform, and leads to narcissism.

From the article:
Instead of seeing the individual as a genius, we should view the brilliance as a gift from an unknowable outside source...
Or in other words, some works are inspired by divinity. The article continues:
She looked at other societies to see how they regard this pressure on artists and found an answer in ancient Greece and Rome. In these places, people didn't believe that creativity came from inside. They believed it was an attentive spirit that came to someone from a distant, unknowable source, she said...
This view served the artist's mental health, she suggested, because by attributing the artist's talent to an outside force, the artist was relieved of some of the pressure to perform, and was not narcissistic. If an artist's work was brilliant, the outside force got the credit.
All that changed with the Renaissance when mysticism was replaced by a belief that creativity came from the self. For the first time, people started referring to an artist as being a genius rather than having a genius....
This is consonant with Catholic teaching: inspiration is a free gift from God, an unmerited grace.

Divine inspiration is de fide, a part of the Faith, but we must proceed with caution, since much of contemporary religion's view of grace is far from orthodoxy.

Consider these two views:
  • Atheistic, materialistic view: Nobody is inspired.
  • New Age, pantheistic view: Everybody is inspired.
Although seemingly very different, these two views have much in common, and both imply the moral equality of persons. Tawdry grace is indistinguishable from no grace. "If everybody is special than nobody is". There is little cognitive distance between these views; according to the article: 
Gilbert received a full standing ovation for her talk from an audience of people who generally don't give in to beliefs about muses, fairies and god forces.
Unorthodox opinions about grace and inspiration are a core part of the modern worldview. Please consider:
  • The doctrine of sola scriptura: that believers receive inspiration of the meaning of Scripture by reading Scripture itself, and that this inspiration is the sole foundation of faith.
  • Churchmen who discern the "movement of the spirit" in an ordinary, unremarkable manner. Contrast this with scriptural descriptions of inspiration, which are typically terrifying.
  • Denominations that place inspiration of the spirit above any sacred tradition, doctrine, rational opinion, or logic. Denominations where the gifts of the spirit are ordinary and expected parts of worship.
  • Occult practices commonly found among rationalists, including Enlightenment intellectuals and contemporary scientists.
  • The philosophical opinion of the zeitgeist or ‘spirit of the times’, which is a theoretical underpinning of Marxism, Naziism, and the unorthodox interpretation of the Second Vatican Council.
But Catholic teaching also says that we each have to use our own free will to cooperate with grace, which is only briefly mentioned in the article as "Just do your job." Forgetting about our cooperation with grace can lead to problems.

Heterodox opinions about the interrelationship between free will and grace led to the Reformation and to the subsequent splintering of the denominations. The influence of these heresies is so great that Protesting views have greatly shaped the opinions of Catholics and even secularists. One problem is where someone believes that they are in fact inspired and that their inspiration is binding on others. Closely related is the attitude that most people lack free will and so must be forced to do the right thing. Others recognize the subjectivity of inspiration, but are instead led to the conclusion that only personal subjectivity is true and that there is no higher truth. Fatalism can develop when a person believes that they are in fact without grace and that there is nothing they can do about it. Also common is the opinion that grace is received merely by a single act of the will at a single point of time.

The Catholic view instead states that grace elevates our free will, and that we must cooperate with inspiration and other grace at all times by developing and practicing virtue, which as I personally know, is a difficult matter. We must keep the commandments, exercise ourselves unto godliness, and we each shall expect a reward according to our labors. Likewise, the practice of art is also a virtue, although not a moral virtue, and so inspiration must be substantiated by the skills and talents of the artist: feeling alone is insufficient.

The article linked above is rather abstract by not identifying the source of inspiration, and therefore is well-suited to our New Age where people are ‘spiritual but not religious’.

What appears to be inspiration can indeed come from God and His angels, but certainly it is filtered through ourselves, and so an inspired moment can be largely, or even entirely subjective. But inspiration can come from another source.

Demonology is a subject that I care to know nothing about (out of fear, mainly!), but the process of ‘discernment of spirits’ is required to test supposed inspiration. This is a subject that can scare the hell out of you, but unfortunately, many do not preach or teach the doctrine of hell, because it is very unpleasant.

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