Today on Steven Pressfield’s blog he posted an article called How Resistance Proves the Existence of God.
Let me start by saying, I saw this coming years ago.
I saw it in his now famous “War or Art” and in the interview he did with Oprah.
I saw it in the new book “Do the Work” Seth Godin asked him to write.
In brief, Pressfield believes that we are all called to produce art, and our greatest enemy in life is Resistance.
Resistance is that inner voice of doubt that tells us we’re not good enough.
The problem with the assumption, is that it means:
A) God wants ALL of us to be creative artists.
B) Whatever we produce is God’s will.
Which is bound to make us a little egocentric. It’s also likely to turn artists and writers (who believe it) into sad and frustrated and lonely artists (nobody gets me! Why isn’t my work appreciated!?)
And in my experience, those authors, artists and creatives who really believe it are also far more likely to fail.
Someone who likes to be creative but doesn’t believe in God, for example, may decide to “sell out” by making something cool that people want and making a lot of money. They may study to improve their skills. They may treat their art as a business and learn about packaging and marketing.
But the “real artists” produce whatever their “inspiration from God” tells them they should make. Marketing is beneath them. A very small minority use this passion to turn their produce into a successful endeavor. A very small minority then convince all other creatives that they should likewise listen to their inner passion, never give up, keep producing, because it is God’s Will.
It is fate.
It is destiny.
Neither Pressfield, nor the many artists like him, promise we will gain monetary reward or worldly success. But of course we listen to them and take their advice on creative matters because they have been successful.
If they were failed authors or starving artists, we may be less inclined to listen.
But money doesn’t matter! It doesn’t matter if the work is successful!
Really? Then why the Hell does God want us to make it?
I could devote my life to service. I could invent a technology that changes millions of lives. I could donate all my money to charity.
Instead of all that, God wants me to sit alone at home creating art for his Glory even if nobody sees or appreciates it?
That’s his plan for me?
I refuse to believe it.
Creating art is one of the most fun and self-gratifying things I know how to do.
It’s true I feel more passionate and purposeful with my life when I’m creating. I’m “close to godhood.”
But with this same philosophy, EVERY other job becomes a waste of time. Nobody should be earning money, cleaning toilets, teaching children, running the cashier. We should all be CREATING ART all the time, because that’s God’s plan for us.
Nobody farming or growing food. Driving buses or flying planes. (And if they do, they are obviously inferior to us “God-chosen artists.”)
Here’s Pressfield’s “Proof of God”
Resistance is a universal phenomenon of the human psyche. Everyone experiences it. (Trust me, I know from the thousands of e-mails I’ve gotten on the subject.)
Resistance’s sole object is to prevent you and me from becoming concert pianists, writing bestselling novels, founding the follow-on to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity.
In other words, Resistance’s purpose is to prevent good from entering the world.
Resistance is the devil.
If there is a devil, there must be a God.
Here’s my response
1) Resistance isn’t a given. Thousands of emails don’t a “universal human experience” make.
Resistance IS the natural outcome of making art while refusing to consider whether it’s any good, whether anybody will like it, or whether you are really wasting your time. That kind of creation is obviously prone to self-doubt. But artists who are making things they already know people want and need – they don’t have to worry about resistance. In other words, resistance is a sign that you’re doing art wrong.
Plus, by the way – even if you really believe in Pressfield’s theology – Resistance would mean a lack of faith. You must not really believe that it is somehow God’s will to play with paint in your garage while neglecting your responsibilities and family.
2) Resistance’s goal is to “prevent good from entering the world” assumes that ALL creative work is holy and God’s plan. Including blasphemous pictures of Jesus riding dinosaurs, and the Lego Bible, and my book “Jesus Potter Harry Christ” and modernist crap like Marcel Duchamp‘s toilet.
And all the hundreds of thousands of pretty terrible amateur novels getting published on Kindle these days, with all the horrifyingly awful homemade cover designs. And all the hundreds of thousands of amateur paintings that will eventually be thrown away or sold for $5 at a garage sale.
Not to mention the really terrific art and writing – the really good stuff – that still won’t be successful in an over-saturated market. Shouldn’t God help the good stuff along? If it’s His plan, couldn’t he get more people to pay attention to it?
The stuff that’s successful is not necessarily holy.
Nor is the stuff that’s successful necessarily made by believers.
Neither “success” nor “belief” is any indicator of quality.
Ergo: God doesn’t care who makes what, who appreciates it, whether or not the quality is terrible, and appears to “inspire” non-believers and believers equally.
3) Resistance wants to stop Good from coming into the world, so it’s The Devil? How does that work out? Why is it the Devil’s job to keep Good from coming into the world? In fact it would be a very simple and easy argument to make (and I make it at length in my next book) that all progress, both moral, social and technological, can only be a product of “The Devil” – since it always came through conflict with traditional religious authorities who refused to acknowledge things like human rights.
The “God” of the Bible keeps men low – when they tried to build a tower to heaven, he cut it down.
There’s also those damn 10 commandments:
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”
For the first 800 years of Christianity, it was a SIN to draw or paint anything. Churches were kept completely bare of representational art. Religious icons or portraits of the saints or of Jesus were considered Pagan Superstition and Idolatry. They were often collected and burned. (For the first 2 centuries of Christianity, the Christians went around breaking up all the beautiful marble statues of the Romans and Greeks for this reason – much like Mao’s zealous culture reform destroyed China’s own artistic history.)
Likewise almost ALL literature, mythology and story telling was outlawed – except the Bible – for nearly 1000 years.
4) If there’s a Devil, there must be a God – I don’t disagree with this last point.
If there’s a flying teapot or flying spaghetti monster, why not a God?
If there’s a Bogeyman, why not a Savior? If the laws of physics don’t apply, Magic is Real, our senses and science can’t be trusted (nor reason, nor evidence) then anything goes.
Of course, EVEN if the Devil and God did exist, as the traditional characters we expect them to be, I would continue to doubt God’s benevolence and, like Satan, Ahab or any other revolutionary hero in the face of tremendous but ultimately tyrannical power – resist and rebel.
Creative art is NOT from God. Every great new form of literary or artistic productive was resisted BY the Church and by Religion. Every great artist and author was demonized and vilified by close-minded orthodoxy. Every new invention was a battle raging into the unknown against voices of reason. “God” declared the earth was flat, that blacks were meant by nature to be slaves, that witches were meant to be burnt, that disease was punishment for sin, that wives who were raped should be stoned to death.
More recently “God” declared immunizations are unnecessary.
If you believe radical Muslims, “God” is responsible for 9-11.
Artists are free-thinking, anti-orthodox, perennial liberals. Funnily enough, the exact same self-motivating creative rhetoric being used by Pressfield today (that art is the only worthwhile way to spend our lives) was invented by the Modernists a little over 100 years ago, and most of them were damned by the Church who saw them as dangerous enemies.
And they likewise rejected traditional religion and sought a personal, instant, completely open and natural morality – a freedom from restraints and boundaries, a rich and bold and noble energy. For these reasons they favored the devil as their symbol and call to arms; Lucifer the light bringer is repeatedly invoked by poets, artists and writers throughout the Modernist period. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was based directly on Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost, and that literary example become the standard liberal symbol for creative passion for almost 2 centuries!
Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote of “my favorite hero, Milton’s Satan,” and talked of his “dauntless magnanimity; the intrepid, unyielding independence; the desperate daring, and noble defiance of hardship, in that great Personage, Satan.”
The eccentric, iconoclastic poet William Blake noted famously in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that “the reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when he wrote of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.”
In 1821, Shelly embraced the positive depiction of Satan even further:
Nothing can exceed the energy and magnificence of the character of Satan as expressed in Paradise Lost. It is a mistake to suppose that he could ever have been intended for the popular personification of evil. Milton’s Devil as a moral being is as far superior to his God, as one who perseveres in some purpose which he has conceived to be excellent in spite of adversity and torture is to one who in the cold security of undoubted triumph inflicts the most horrible revenge upon his enemy, not from any mistaken notion of inducing him to repent of a perseverance in enmity, but with the alleged design of exasperating him to deserve new torments.
Robert Southey’s criticism, in A Vision of Judgment (1821) of the group of writers headed by Byron and Shelley as “characterized by a Satanic spirit of pride and audacious impiety” was well received: although meant as moral condemnation, Byron took delight in the description of him as the author of “monstrous combinations of horrors and mockery, lewdness and impiety.”
As early as 1846, the avant-garde salon poets of Paris were sharing paeans lauding Satan as a heroic leader of justified rebellion. One anonymous bard of that year wrote: “To thee, Satan, fair fallen angel, To whom fell the perilous honor Of struggling against an unjust rule, I offer myself wholly and forever, My mind, my senses, my heart, my love, And my dark verses in their corrupted beauty (qtd. in Maigron 187)
Baudelaire was put in the dock in 1857 for his volume of poems, Les Fleurs du mal (which included The Litanies Of Satan). According to Peter Gay, “With an indignant show of wounded propriety, the imperial government charged him with blasphemy and obscenity” (35).
In 1858, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon became perhaps the first true social revolutionary to employ Satan as a heroic personified symbol of rebellion and liberty:
Come, Satan, come, slandered by priests and kings! Let me embrace you, let me clutch you to my breast! I have known you for a long time, and long have you known me. Your works, oh blessed one of my heart, are not always beautiful or good; but you alone give sense to the universe and prevent it from being absurd.
In the late 1860’s, Giosue Carducci’s poem “Hymn to Satan” celebrated the Prince of Darkness as the symbolic champion of human reason and rebellion – “Hail, O Satan, O rebellion, O you avenging force of human reason!” – and was likely an anthem for republican forces of Italy overthrowing the secular influence of the Pope by force of arms (Merciless, R. 2000).
This literary and philosophical tradition of linking the mythical character of Satan, the rebel angel, with the human struggle for freedom, liberty and self-determination likewise featured in George Bernard Shaw’s 1897 play “The Devil’s Disciple” in which the main character, Dick Dudgeon, a fearless and brutally just American Revolutionary war hero explicitly proclaims himself a Satanist:
They call me the Devil’s Disciple…Because it’s true. I was brought up in the other service; but I knew from the start that the devil was my natural master and captain and friend. I saw that he was in the right, and that the world cringed to his conqueror only through fear. I prayed secretly to him; and he comforted me, and saved me from having my spirit broken in this house of children’s tears. I promised him my soul, and swore an oath that I would stand up for him in this world and stand by him in the next. That promise and that oath made a man of me. From this day this house is his home; no child shall cry in it; this hearth is his altar; and no soul shall cower over it in the dark evening and be afraid.
The portrayal of Dick, a self-proclaimed apostate who follows neither the laws of religion or society but rather a moral code of his own, as a hero, had become publicly acceptable: the production was so popular when it was staged in New York City that it became the first Shaw play to successfully earn a profit. It ran for 64 performances at the Fifth Avenue Theater, grossing $50,000 (Wilson, C.)
Milton’s Satan epitomized courageous refusal and heroic virtue – the image of him “Hurling defiance toward the vault of Heav’n” became a catchphrase of the era and was repeated by Captain Ahab of Moby Dick (1851) and the Futurist Manifesto of 1909.
I now know thee, thou clear spirit, and I now know that thy right worship is defiance. Of thy fire thou madest me, and like a true child of fire, I breathe it back to thee. (Melville 545)
“We fling our defiance at the stars… we hurl our defiance at the stars.” (F. T. Marinetti 16).
(If you want more on the history of Satan as a Literary Hero, check out this page.)
Artists are destroyers, rebels, and therefore dangerous.
As psychologist Rollo May writes in The Courage to Create,
“This is why authentic creativity takes so much courage: an active battle with the gods is occurring.”
“We cannot escape our anxiety over the fact that the artists together with creative persons of all sorts, are the possible destroyers of our nicely ordered systems.”
As far as ideologies go, I much prefer this to the more common belief that God or The Universe is inspiring you to create one specific thing and all you need to do is let go and let the muse create through you (which leads to a crazy, narcissistic egotism).
Is it an empowering belief? Does it make you personally more happy, more productive, more creative? Undoubtedly – hence the popular of this encouraging philosophy. But is it TRUE – and does it lead to better art, a better life, or a better human race? I’m highly skeptical.