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April 17, 2007

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I'm often asked about the connection between my creativity theories and religion. Usually, people are talking about the negative effects of organized religion, and in particular the religious right, on tolerance and creativity.

So I was ecstatic to meet Rod Garvin who was one of the 30 community catalysts in our Knight Initiative in Charlotte, and even more ecstatic to find this thoughtful post on Rod's blog.

"As a Christian and a creative person by nature, Florida's theories resonate with me on many levels....Florida emphatically stresses that everyone is creative, but we need an economy which allows all people to utilize that God given talent, especially those in the service and manufacturing sectors, so that they can contribute more ideas, and hopefully improve their compensation as well.  The kind of conversations I am having as a part of this initiative should be happening in the church, and a few congregations are having this dialog. But, are Christians as a whole ready to tackle some tough and uncomfortable questions? What happens when society becomes more accepting of gays and lesbians than the church? Racism and ethnic separation is a global problem, but churches are far more segregated than most corporations and many neighborhoods. Poverty and low wages are driven by economic structures and policies, though personal choices can play a role. Do we have the courage to ask if our capitalist economy can be made better and turn scarcity into abundance? How do these issues affect our ability to bear witness to the Good News of God's Kingdom? How can Christians become the creative Revolutionaries we are called to be?"

Rod and I talked for quite some time about this.  It's clear that creative types are moving away from organized religion to less hierarchical and more organic forms of spirituality and spiritual expression.   And for reasons similar to other large-scale organizations, organized religions are having great trouble responding in a forward looking way. 

Your thoughts?


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Michael Wells

Back at the beginning of the Millennium, a Harvard theology prof. named Diane Eck wrote a wonderful book called "A New Religious America" about the flourishing of different religions in America -- Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, etc. She found that academics were looking at many other impacts of immigration but ignoring religion. A very hopeful book. Then came September 11, 2001 and foreign things were suspicious to much of America. Nevertheless, these various religions are expanding in the US and providing cross-cultural ferment for creativity. For example, anyone who thinks of India as an economic engine but doesn't consider Hinduism is missing the boat. So what about all of those creative Indian engineers in Silicon Valley (silicon forest, silicon prairie, etc.), what do you think they practice spiritually?

As an outshoot of her work at Harvard, Eck founded The Pluralism Project http://www.pluralism.org/. Rather than go on about this, I'll just recommend the website and the book highly.


Thank you, Michael. This is the type of thinking I have been looking for. As my Jewish/Finnish friend said to me today, "Pray to any God, Tree, Rock you can find." Timely.

Rich, thanks for venturing into this rather hot topic. Glad to find people who can think discussing these issues.


Totally agree. There has been much work and thinking in what is called the "Emergent Church" which is a postmodern and creative manifestation of the church. Toss in the urban culture and there are many communities that are springing up all over the place that are filled with Creatives. The struggle continues to find a god balance of positive structures that provide some stability with a freeing experience of open-source theologizing.

Brian Knudsen

Quick check. Which are the most atheistic countries? According to Phil Zuckerman, "Atheism: Contemporary Rates and Patterns", chapter in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, ed. by Michael Martin, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK (2005), the 5 most atheistic countries are (starting with the most atheist) Sweden, Vietnam, Denmark, Norway, and Japan. He estimates that from 46%-85% of Swedes are agnostic/atheist. Interesting that 3 out of the top five are Scandinavian, the most urbane, just countries in the world. And, those identified by Florida as creative leaders. Meanwhile, my Senator, Bob Casey, a Democrat, has stated that he will vote against a stem-cell bill coming up, no doubt due to his religion (Catholic). To the extent that religions admit no dissent, I have a hard time understanding how they leave room for innovation and creativity.


Rod asks, "How can these issues affect our ability to bear witness to the Good News of God's Kingdom? How can Christians become the creative Revolutionaries we are called to be?"

This is precisely what Austin City Life has committed to exploring answers to. I recently moved to the #2 creative class city in the U.S. to redemptively engage the peoples and cultures of Austin for social and spiritual change.

To be human is to be creative, and in that regard to be like God. However, as Florida has pointed out, many Creatives are fairly indifferenct and unaware to their negative social impact on non-Creatives. Thus, relying on creativity alone will not resolve some of the urban issues of poverty, economic depression, crime, etc.

Creatives, myself included, need re-creative power, redemptive power that comes through a changed way of thinking and believing, to affect new patterns of social change. Austin City Life believes that can happen through the gospel of Christ, that not only patterns responsible creativity but empowers and renews it through changed affections, thoughts, and actions.

Brian Knudsen

JD wrote that "relying on creativity alone will not resolve some of the urban issues of poverty, economic depression, crime, etc.". First off, I don't like the expression "urban issues", or "urban problems". There are societal problems that sometimes are most obviously manifested in urban areas. However, these problems are not inherent to cities. More importantly, the pathologies JD enumerated are not over-represented in cities. It just so happens that the parts of the US with the highest murder rates, highest poverty rates, highest divorce rates, teenage pregnancy, lowest educational attainment, etc etc etc, are the regions of the country with the highest rates of religious adherence and practice - such as the rural regions of the midwest and deep south. I can dig up sources if you want. This holds internationally as well. Countries with lower rates of religious belief and practice are also the nations with the lowest crime/murder/divorce/teenage pregnancy, and highest education, life expectancy, etc. See Scandinavia again. The US does horribly on all these measures. Just think about this whole pathetic Intelligent Design matter. Do other countries just look at us and shake their head at that sort of thing? The following link shows that we (the US) have fewer atheists than Mongolia. Good grief. Are there religious reasons for brain drain and the "flight of the creative class"?


Really enjoyed reading this conversation. Religion and creativity from a Scandinavian point of view, being a part of agnostic/ateist Sweden? :-) :-) :-)

I do believe that the lack of religion has made us more open-minded and tolerant. We had a famous art exhibition here some years ago in the "national cathedral" illustrating Jesus in different "gay environments" ...OK--some were upset, but not a lot :-)...I can just imagine that exhibition on US ground :-) :-) :-)

here's a link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecce_Homo_(exhibition)


On behalf of compassionate, creative and thinking believers in Christ everywhere, I ask that we not be discounted on the basis of the shortcomings of dominant Western Christian religion. It is far too easy to see comparisons between the presence and absence of religious-tinged control madness as synonymous with the value of faith in Christ versus other faiths, including atheism (my stance on that being an entirely different discussion). Please don't pride yourself on acceptance and openmindedness, and maintain a blind spot regarding people of true faith in Christ. We are people, just like yourselves; with all the capacity for greatness and failure that we all possess. Don't sell us short, for the sake of the betterment of us all; a challenge the Christ-believing community is themselves, I believe, increasingly learning to embrace regarding others.


Just want to add that the artist herself (behind this exhibition) is deeply religious and lesbian. The exhibition was a statement - for Christian love, the kind of love that wouldn't exclude anyone...

Brian Knudsen

Magenta: I agree with the spirit of what you write and the kindness that comes through. And, it is all too clear that there are important gradations of religiosity, from the liberal to the reactionary, and that those gradations matter in profound ways. And I don't sell religious people -like my entire family and girlfriend- short. But, if we are trying to make generalizations about the relationship between religion and other social outcomes, then the problem I have is with faith itself. _Faith_ is the root of the issue for me. If we define faith as the permission that people give themselves to believe in something when evidence is absent, then I see it as a major source of many (social) problems. If a religious person says, "well there may be no evidence or basis for my belief, but I believe anyway, and there is nothing you can say or do to change my mind", then faith is a conversation stopper. In the US, Christian faith tells many people (including politicians) that a soul exists in a microscopic blastocyst in a petri dish. As such, vastly promising lines of stem cell research is not funded. In other parts of the world, Muslim faith apparently holds that it is appropriate to burn Danish flags and threaten violence because of an editorial cartoon. These sorts of restrictions on inquiry and free expression, to me, flow directly from faith itself, from beliefs that people hold in the absence of evidence that then permit them to take actions and make decisions that would otherwise be unthinkable. (This faith needn't only be religious in nature either.) For me, it is an interesting question to ask whether on average, across space, those places that are least burdened by adherence to faith in all its forms are also the places that are most likely to build civil, tolerant, creative, economically prosperous societies, while faithful societies will, on average, languish.

Michael Wells

I'd like to go back to what Richard said at the beginning.
"It's clear that creative types are moving away from organized religion to less hierarchical and more organic forms of spirituality and spiritual expression. And for reasons similar to other large-scale organizations, organized religions are having great trouble responding in a forward looking way."

To the extent that any large institution puts restrictions on thought, it hampers inquiry and free expression. On the other hand, to deny the individual wonder of the world and the sense that there may be realities that are beyond our comprehension, is I believe also a disservice. One of the problems for modern humans is how to escape the first without belittling the second.

I think lumping atheism (which is a settled faith, a [dis]belief) and agnosticism (which is a sort of open mind) together is a mistake. I wonder if you probed a little deeper with those Swedes, Danes, etc. if you'd find a significant percentage who have some sort of sense of something greater than ourselves in the universe, whether or not it fit a church's teachings.

Japan and Vietnam are interesting in that both have strong Buddhist populations, and Buddhism is a non-theistic tradition/religion -- I wonder what atheistic means in that context. One of the things that Diane Eck mentions is that by bringing non-theistic Buddhism and multi-theistic Hinduism into America, it changes the Judeo-Christian-Islamic assumptions of what the dialogue is about.

I may be typical of what Richard was saying. I'm a rarely attending member of a Quaker meeting, so sort of a Christian -- at least in liking what Jesus said. I have a regular Buddhist meditation practice. I was deeply touched by Hinduism in India and feel its effects. I sometimes go to a nearby Trappist Abby for silent retreats. I'm not so much agnostic about a God as feeling like the question is beyond my capacity to understand, let alone decide.

On a different note, of my friends who are believing and church going Christians, a disproportionate number are Gay. And I think from my own observations that without Gay members, relatively few churches would have either good organists or choirs.

Brian Knudsen

I stand with mouth agape at the immense wonder of the world and universe. I just don't see why an appreciation of the vastness and wonder of the world and nature requires a belief in 2000 year old myths, superstitions, or beliefs held with no evidence. I am sure that Swedes love nature and appreciate it and marvel at it like we do. They just don't believe in God. Period. Societies can at the same time see the world in all its varied splendor without religion. In fact, if such societies can combine that amazement and curiosity with the freer expression and fewer restrictions on inquiry that comes from the absence of faith, it will likely make for a more innovative climate.

Secondly, atheism is not a settled faith. Faith is defined by the adherence to dogma and precepts for which there is no evidentiary support. Atheism is merely the refusal to do so. Atheists do not have their own set of tenets or dogmas that they believe without evidence. Agnosticism is a slightly watered down version of this. Think about this: there is no such word as a-alchemy. Likewise, in a perfect world, there would be no such word as a-theist.


There is some exciting work and exciting thinking going on in the organized religious realm. Some of the work by the Liberal Islam Network (http://islamlib.com/en/page.php?page=article&id=817) is interesting to consider as is the new evangelism campaign by the United Church of Christ (www.stillspeaking.com). I think that the problem isn't as much about organized religion per se as how its organized and what its been organized for. I think more democratic religious institutions with more progressive messages will attract more and more of us creative folk who begin to look for opportunities for community and accountabilty. . .

Jennifer Monti

Most churches are like stagecoaches on the runway at Kennedy airport (Saul Alinsky, anyone?). Why would anyone expect, that as the world expands, our tastes, transportation, building materials, literature, communication, etc. will change, but our basic tenets about what is and is not 'allowed' will not change?

I am interested in the distance between formal policies and the reality of how faith is 'dispensed' at the local level. I am interested in testing out this distance through a confessional experiment - please check out the post at http://www.emptybarrels.blogspot.com to see what I propose. Please help me document this. The more we can document, the more we can change instiutions or define the value of creating new centers for community ties.

In the meantime, existing churches need the good men and women sitting in the pews to stand up each time he/she disagrees with a tenet being espooused from the pulpit. You may not be popular in your church, but I bet you will not be alone in your thoughts. Most people who want to change their world are not popular, because they alter the status quo. It is all power relations, and has little to do with who is 'right' - let us not forget this.


What a fantastic discussion! I for one am learning a ton. Thanks everyone, especially Rod for kicking this whole thing off.

Eric O

I've done some quick searches on observations regarding the religious observance rates of countries.

Some have noticed that the more godless a nation's population is, the more giving it also is. The Commitment to Development Index (CDI) consistently tracks the least religious nations as the most generous among developed countries. (See http://www.gavinsblog.com/?p=2364 for an explanation crediting foreignpolicy.com).

Interestingly, some of the least religious nations, however, also report higher suicide rates. (See, for example, where the godless Scandinavians fare relative to Americans in the Wikipedia suicide rate ranking list crediting the World Health Organization: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate ).

This leads me to theorize that religious observation may give succor to those experiencing "lack of fulfillment" in populations with high expectations for life—both higher personal expectations and higher expectations for the lives of others (leading thus to lower suicide rates).

Paradoxically as it may seem, then, this may also offer a tentative explanation as to why Americans are more sinful than their godless counterparts. Religious observation may lead to a quicker satisfaction with “one’s lot in life”, detracting from personal ethical examination and away from a higher regard for the well-being of others (evidenced in relatively lower giving rates).

If so...my advice is: Find a religion (or ideology) which sustains your high expectations for life, while encouraging you along the way. Seems to me that this is what might be meant by "Faith". ;-)


“The history of our civilization has been that it starts when theocracy ends. There are no exceptions. Only when people separate the church from the state . . . can art, science, or philosophy have a chance. There are no exceptions and there never will be either.” – Christopher Hitchens The Blasphemy Debate 52:15-51:55 @ http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/culturevulture/Blasphemy.mp3


Thanks Rich for posting my blog and I appreciate the thoughtful and stimulating comments that have been made. I'm learning from all of you.

Grace, Peace and Creativity to everyone.

Lynn DellaPietra

Hi everyone,

I would like to announce a conference entitled "Perspectives on Creativity," to be held at Holy Family University in Philadelphia on March 29, 2008. This will be a one-day, interdisciplinary conference exploring various aspects of creativity and the creative process.

We are seeking submissions for papers which address any of the following questions: What is creativity? What are the characteristics of creative individuals? What external influences (social, political, cultural, historical, religious) shape creativity and creative products? How does creativity develop in children? What is the relationship between creativity and mental health? What is the relationship between creativity and brain functioning?

We aim to bring together individuals from a wide array of disciplines, such as psychology, philosophy, theology, sociology, and the arts, to explore answers to these questions. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Ellen Winner, Professor of psychology at Boston College, and author of "Invented Worlds: The Psychology of the Arts."

If you are interested in hearing more about submission requirements, please contact me at Ldellapietra@holyfamily.edu The deadline for abstract submission is December 5, 2007.

Thank you!

Dave Atkins

A great resource--a book that might change your whole view of organized religion--is The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg. I just blogged a summary of some key points from that book and my perspective at


I think many us have no interest in "organized religion" because it seems like the antithesis to creativity and individuality, and we perceive the belief requirements and political positions of most churches to be irrational and offensive. I have to admit, when I see people writing in religious terms like the "Good News of God's Kingdom" I've come to expect a bunch of stereotypical, fanatical rhetoric. But Borg's book helped me realize:

1) Personally, I am a Christian, not an atheist, not an agnostic, not a deist, pagan, naturist--whatever. Returning to a modernized Christian faith based on heartfelt faith rather than rational quibbling means I don't have to just spin my own spiritual philosophy out of random thoughts.

2) Religion has to be organized to be meaningful in a community. The point is not just to line up your own belief system so you can sleep at night, but to interact with others to reinforce their faith. When you understand faith as being not just believing a bunch of rules, but living and acting in accordance with principles of trust, fidelity, and an optimistic vision of the future, I think we can see a significant role for religion in creative diverse communities.

Lynn DellaPietra, Ph.D.

Dear colleagues:

I am proud and excited to unveil the webpage for the "Perspectives on Creativity" conference to be held at Holy Family University in Philadelphia on March 29, 2008. It promises to be a stimulating occasion for individuals from all fields of study.

On the webpage you will find information about registration, lodging and travel, as well as the schedule of workshops. There is also a 1-page flyer in pdf format that you should feel free to print and post wherever you think interested individuals might see it. Please also forward this email to anyone you know who might be interested in attending.

For conference information and details, click on http://www.holyfamily.edu/sas/creativity/index.shtml

If you have questions, I'm happy to assist or you can contact the conference organizer, Jennifer Hanna jmcguigan@holyfamily.edu

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