SPIRITUALITY AND THE LANGUAGE OF THE FUTURE
History is overthrowing the way we think.
Futurist Ray Kurzweil in fact believes our era will end 6,000 years
of "civilization" as we’ve known it. And, in this century alone,
we’ll see on the order of 20,000 years of change (at today’s rate of
In massive historical shifts, the very structure
of knowing changes—not "what" we know, but "how" we know. We are
changing, for example, to an oral culture where words do
things—where virtual reality becomes real—where fiction becomes
fact—where metaphor becomes the very seed of the future.
In other words, language is breaking with the
past. Today’s spiritual language, for example, is going against
"proper" churches and "respectable" seminaries. It’s shifting from
logic to revelation, from mind to spirit, from proposition to
intuition, from labeling to doing, from the literate to the
prophetic. . . .
Today’s clergy may "walk the walk," but few can
"talk the talk."
Meanwhile, the Lord of History moves on. Already,
the World Wide Web holds the great metaphors of our era. More art
than science, its "infosphere" has become an intuitive system ruled
by invisible forces--forces made sensuous. And its virtual reality
has captured the popular imagination before reaching anything close
to its potential. In all probability, virtual reality will soon take
over the economy as television did. And, it will pervade our
culture—both online and off-line.
Of course, virtual reality, like metaphor,
represents something "not there"—something beyond itself, something
unseen. And, like faith, it gives "substance" to its vision. Why
not? It’s the language of the church! Yet today, this new language
totally outpaces theology and hurries the collapse of both modern
and postmodern thinking.
Virtual reality, then, is metaphor. And, at the
right moment. For metaphor has become central to all studies of
meaning. We now know, for example, that human thought—including
scientific thought—is metaphorical. And, all the things that make
life mean what it means require metaphor.
It’s the lingua franca of the future, and
it works this way:
The power in an Oral Culture is creativity. The
power in creativity is art. The power in art is metaphor. And the
power in metaphor is emotion. Yet, the church has no theology of
creativity. It has scant understanding of prophetic art. It reduces
metaphor to a figure of speech. And it has a love/hate relation to
That’s how far behind we are. Take a closer look:
CREATIVITY. Creativity is the doing of our faith.
It is an inspired collaboration—a bold, proactive faith. As in
Scripture, it gives form to the substance, evidence, and proof of
faith. It speaks for example "of nonexistent things . . . as if they
[already] existed." And, it declares "the end and the result from
It is a life of serious make-believe, the risk of
daring utterances, the hazard of impossible possibilities. Yet, its
"fictions" prove far more powerful than "facts." Contrary to modern
thought, creativity is not mere "thinking," "analyzing" or
"inventing." It’s not a monologue in other words. And, it’s not just
for "creative people."
ART. But creativity also requires art—a different
art—an ancient art. This art has nothing to do with high culture or
fine art. It has nothing to do with the bland safety and shallow
preachiness of Christian art. And, no big surprise, it has nothing
to do with religion—in the first instance. For this new/old art
transcends our culture, our apologetics and even art itself.
METAPHOR. Yet, art is impossible without
metaphor. Metaphor, we’ve discovered, is the very seed of art. It is
a tiny portion of art, a poem in miniature. It is the prototype and
power—the only power—of all the arts.
All metaphors—whether words, sounds, movements,
stories, images or anything else—put things side by side that don’t
go together, and the tension or interplay between these differences
conveys the message of the metaphor. That’s the reason future clergy
will be creators of comparison and contrast—artists of analogy and
affinity—virtuosos of similarity and similitude.
Today’s clergy however, misunderstand metaphor.
Prophetic metaphor does not reduce to mere figures of speech,
decorative images or colorful language. It does not suffer the
mediation of literal worlds, logical ideas or absolute knowledge.
And, it has no need of rhetorical eloquence, a charismatic
personality or manipulative tricks. For metaphor—at this level—finds
its power on the ruins of rationality and on the death of heroic
EMOTION. Finally, metaphor is impossible without
emotion. For intuitive visions and felt meanings require each other.
These feelings, though, are not the knee-jerk, garden-variety
emotions of the natural world. They are instead "felt-meanings,"
"knowing-emotions," "empowered passions." They yield "light" with
their heat, revelation with their warmth, and insight with their
They "see" as well as feel.
Yet, we’re taken by an even greater surprise. The
creativity, art, metaphor and emotion of the coming world will
breach the strict borders among music, poetry, dance, drama and
visual art. For what we once called art will show up incognito in
life itself—anywhere, any time and in any form. In other words, we
will break the barriers between art and life itself. And, we will
honor whenever and wherever the "Word becomes flesh."
Hosea confirms that prophetic metaphor is the
Language of God. And today, great minds agree that metaphor has
something resembling "supernatural power." It will become our
primary tongue and our only advantage in a world overcome by machine
Today, then, we witness the end of a theology
that simply thinks, that forms from mere passive assent, that fades
day by day with the dying gasps of the unempowered. For a new
theology is being born—a theology of lived parables, baptized
imaginations and empowered spirits. And, in this new
credibility—this new orthodoxy—artists will become theologians and
theologians will become artists.
We will be stunned beyond disbelief.
© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt