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Writing my own creation story

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JUNE 30, 2022

I’m what I like to call a recovering Christian. I grew up in Sunday school; I was ceremoniously dunked in a freezing creek and pronounced baptized, and took pride in the fact I was named after a book of the Bible. My summers were punctuated with a weeklong pilgrimage into the mountains where we’d play dodgeball and sing pop songs about our lord and savior, Jesus Christ.

That same brand of evangelical Christianity — the God that has made its way into our anthem and onto our money — now provides the justification for five individuals to eviscerate the rights to bodily autonomy for tens of millions of American women.

Understandably, my belief had faded long before reproductive rights became a theocratic decision. As my faith and I separated sometime in late high school, diluted by the irreverent secular neoliberalism of my classmates, I started to distrust the doctrine I could practically recite.

Yet, the tenets of the faith are still so deeply entangled in my conscience and my worldview that trying to deny their presence would be self-delusion.

Whether you grew up praying to Jesus, the Buddha, Allah or Mount Olympus, chances are you are acquainted with a nonscientific genesis story. These tend to feature a powerful, often omnipotent force weaving the fabric of the universe from clay or dust or nothingness itself. There aren’t any second drafts in most modern theologies unless you consider Adam a clunky template for Eve.

And yes, before you ask, I am well-versed in the science of evolutionary adaptation. I’ve seen the beaks of Darwin’s canaries just like any other high schooler. But there was something about the story of creation, even if I didn’t believe in its scientific accuracy or its surrounding religion, that I couldn’t quite let go of.

God doesn’t stutter when he speaks heaven and Earth into being. There are no late starts or hangovers when you’re the Creator of the universe. You just awaken — or, I guess, remain awake — fresh-faced, bursting with inspiration, ready for another day of deciding where the contours of reality lie. 

That’s an intimidating and unachievable model for the creative process, one that emphasizes instant perfection and no rewrites. I don’t think we’d be chanting the same hymns for thousands of years if God had said, “Let there be, I guess — wait, are we doing birds next?”

That’s one of the reasons I had such trouble identifying as a creative in my early life. I was always frustrated by the tedium of the process. Who was I to compare my out-of-focus stop-motion animation videos to the Creator who made everything, including me, from only a collection of sentences?

Like it or not, my deepest artistic roots stem from the church. The first painting I ever saw was of a parable, the first song that ever moved me was from a choir, and the first stories that made me cry were delivered from a pulpit. And the deeper moral mythology about good and evil, heaven and hell, and creation as a concept — that isn’t something I can easily forgo.

There’s a certain comfort in an intelligent design story, in seeing myself as a piece of artistic work, a finished project that someone or something put their name on and were proud of. Like if I just looked hard enough, I might find a signature on my ankle.

One of the pillars of my own brand of faith, optimistic spiritual agnosticism, a term which, I agree, doesn’t make all that much sense — is to give creative processes the authority they are due. I intentionally call my doodles, drawings; my scribbles, writings; and my crafts, creations. That simple act of self-validation affirms the legitimacy and the legacy of those practices.

I am not here to advocate for purely religious understandings of the world. Hell, I don’t know if that’s even possible today. But I am here to say that if those stories live within you, whether or not you chose them, they impact the way we think about ourselves and our habits.

The stories we tell ourselves about how the world began and how creativity manifests, those images are ours to conjure, but only if they’re useful. If this version of the creation story doesn’t quite fit, if it bunches around the wrists or itches at the neck, dare to imagine something better. Find something that encourages and invites, instead of something that rules and punishes.

My higher power is the collection of the traits I respect most in my friends. For now, my creator is an artist hunched over a sawdusty workbench. Not unlike a student, their hair is speckled with sweat and they smell strongly of coffee. When they created the universe, they woke up late, misplaced their notecards and improvised — with purpose, not perfection.

Their workshop is awash with half-finished sculptures and overflowing wastebaskets. If I ever got the chance to see it, they’d greet me as an old friend. “It’s not ready yet,” they’d say, showing off the mound of half-shaped marble on the desk in front of them, smiling and turning back again. “But then again, neither were you.”

Luke Stiles writes the Thursday column on unqualified advice and unpopular opinions. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter

JULY 21, 2022