Do we admire work or just wealth?

Some tough questions are asked here:

[Perhaps] we ought to be asking is a totally different set of questions about Work and Money.

Why, for example, does the actor so eagerly live to work, while the factory-worker, though often far better paid, reluctantly works to live? How much money would men need, beyond the subsistence that enables them to continue working, if the world (that is, you and I) admired work more than wealth?

Does the fact that he is employed fully compensate a man for the fact that his work is trivial, unnecessary, or positively harmful to society: the manufacture of imbecile and ugly ornaments, for instance, or the deliberate throat cutting between rival manufacturers of the same commodity? Ought we, in fact, to consider whether work is worth doing, before we encourage it for the sake of employment? In deciding whether men should be employed at a high wage in the production of debased and debasing cinema films or at a lower wage in the building of roads and houses, ought we to think at all about the comparative worth and necessity of bad films and good houses? Has the fact that enthusiastic crowds cheer and scream around professional footballers, while offering no enthusiastic greetings to navvies, anything to do with the wages offered to footballers and navvies respectively?

-Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, Ch.11

Kindness not always good

Sayers says “Here we come up against the deep gulf fixed between love and kindness.” and then quotes Lewis:

There is kindness in Love: but Love and kindness are not coterminous, and when kindness . . . is separated from the other elements of Love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to its object, and even something like contempt of it. . . . Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering…. It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes.

-C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

I think when I was young and I read this, I didn’t get it. In fact I’m sure I didn’t. Now I see that sometimes “kindness” is much easier than love, and can even be damaging. Unconditional kindness is NOT unconditional love. The real thing take more wisdom than you can imagine.

On creature’s free will (and robots!)

Here, Sayer’s calls out our desire to create self-sufficient creatures, and what it might tell us about our relationship to God:

That no human maker can create a self-conscious being, we have already seen; and seen also that he is always urged by an inward hankering to do so, finding approximate satisfactions for this desire in procreation, in such relations as those of a playwright with his actors, and in the creation of imaginary characters. In all these relations, he is conscious of the same paradoxical need, namely, the complete independence of the creature combined with its willing co-operation in his purpose in conformity with the law of its nature. In this insistent need he sees the image of the perfect relation of Creator and creature, and the perfect reconciliation of divine predestination with free created will.

-Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, Ch.9

In addition, the thing I take away from this is an explanation as to why robots are so fabulous!

AI is a high calling. Don’t worry Terminator fans. We don’t have to worry about Skynet or the Matrix. We’ll never get there. BUT, I don’t think we’ll ever stop trying. It’s just way to deep a desire. Part of our being made in the image of God find fullfilment in software development of a certain sort. It’s true!

It’s not at all unlike author’s toiling over his characters. In literature, we form our creations and watch them (with delight) as they walk around in it. In fairy-stories, we even form new worlds for them walk around in. The branches of AI and all their difficult obstacles (images recognition, natural language interpretation, wayfinding, memory, sensory response) are all pieces of the puzzle to make our own creatures to walk around in our world. If mechanical robotics themselves feel like more of an obstacle to you than a doorway, perhaps video game AI or other sorts of virtual expressions can satisfy part of this desire to create.

there is in the human creator a parallel desire to create something that shall have as much free will as the offspring of procreation. The stories which tell of attempts to manufacture robots and Frankenstein monsters bear witness to this strange desire. It is as though humanity were conscious of a hampering limitation of its functions; in man, the image of the divine strives, as it were, to resemble its original in both its creative and procreative functions: to be at once father and God.


But true free will? No. But God? Why yes. When we say (with lots of rational proofs of course) that God couldn’t give us true free will, we’re acting like he must be just one of US.

Photo credit

The Holy Spirt: Trying to see your own eyeball

I like this description:

The eye is the instrument by which we see everything, and for that reason it is the one thing we cannot see with truth. The same thing is true of our Power of response to a book, or to anything else; incidentally, this is why books about the Holy Ghost are apt to be curiously difficult and unsatisfactory-we cannot really look at the movement of the Spirit, just because It is the Power by which we do the looking.

-Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, Ch.8

My wife commented that this is the same as Lewis’s frustration with trying to see and understand Joy. It turns out that Joy was the vehicle to see God, not the end in itself. It made it very difficult to focus on. You could only see the trail where it had been.

Nip it in the bud

On effective censorship:

We must, however, be careful to see that nobody reads it before we take steps, to eliminate it; otherwise, it may disconcert us by rising again-either as a new Idea in somebody’s mind, or even (if somebody has a good memory) in a resurrected body, substantially the same though made of new materials.

In this respect, Herod showed himself much more competent and realistic than Pilate or Caiaphas. He grasped the principle that if you are to destroy the Word, you must do so before it has time to communicate itself. Crucifixion gets there too late.

-Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, Ch.8

Feeling powerless?

This is a longer passage from near the end of The Mind of the Maker. A lot of the real substance of her conclusions and application is wrapped up in here through:

The artist’s knowledge of his own creative nature is often unconscious; he pursues his mysterious way of life in a strange innocence. If he were consciously to pluck out the heart of his mystery, he might say something like this:

I find in myself a certain pattern which I acknowledge as the law of my true nature, and which corresponds to experience in such a manner that, while my behaviour conforms to the pattern, I can interpret experience in power. I find, further, that the same pattern inheres in my work as in myself; and I also find that theologians attribute to God Himself precisely that pattern of being which I find in my work and in me.

I am inclined to believe, therefore, that this pattern directly corresponds to the actual structure of the living universe, and that it exists in other men as well as in myself; and I conclude that, if other men feel themselves to be powerless in the universe and at odds with it, it is because the pattern of their lives and works has become distorted and no longer corresponds to the universal pattern-because they are, in short, running counter to the law of their nature.

I am confirmed in this belief by the fact that, so far as I conform to the pattern of human society, I feel myself also to be powerless and at odds with the universe; while so far as I conform to the pattern of my true nature, I am at odds with human society, and it with me. If I am right in thinking that human society is out of harmony with the law of its proper nature [Sin!], then my experience again corroborates that of the theologians, who have also perceived this fundamental dislocation in man.

If you ask me what is this pattern which I recognise as the true law of my nature, I can only suggest that it is the pattern of the creative mind-an eternal Idea, manifested in material form by an unresting Energy, with an outpouring of Power that at once inspires, judges, and communicates the work; all these three being one and the same in the mind and one and the same in the work. And this, I observe, is the pattern laid down by the theologians as the pattern of the being of God.

If all this is true, then the mind of the maker and the Mind of the Maker are formed on the same pattern, and all their works are made in their own image.

-Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, Ch.11

My comments on this are still being formed, but I have the feeling these conclusions are really important.

Wars, hate, people oppressed, waste, envy. They are all around us. And we often feel powerless to do anything about them. Here, we are the most at odds for what we were created for.

The image of the creator in us is no more pushed down in the dark. Just like (sinful) human society is at odds with the nature of the universe, so are we when when try with all our might to “fix it”. Instead, when we turn in the face of this and continue to create, to make beautiful things with our craft, we are again found in the likeness of the image of God and in line with his will and nature – not just in general, but likely his specific will too.

Good stuff from the Apocrypha

I’ve never had much use for the Apocrypha. I have a copy of it that I’ve glanced through before. For rather obvious reasons (Protestant’s don’t include it in the canon of scripture), I’ve only ever heard it referenced in historical studies, not theological works or sermons.

Here though, near the end of The Mind of the Maker, Sayer’s quotes a pertinent passages from Ecclesiasticus:

The wisdom of a learned man cometh by opportunity of leisure and he that hath little business shall become wise.

How can he get wisdom that holdeth the plough, and that glorieth in the goad, that driveth oxen, and is occupied intheir labours, and whose talk is of bullocks?

He giveth his mind to make furrows; and is diligent to give the kine fodder.

So every carpenter and workmaster, that laboureth night and day; and they that cut and grave seals, and are diligent to make great variety, and give themselves to counterfeit imagery, and watch to finish a work:

The smith also sitting by the anvil, and considering the iron work, the vapour of the fire wasteth his flesh, and he fighteth with the heat of the furnace: the noise of the hammer and the anvil is ever in his ears, and his eyes look still upon the pattern of the thing that he maketh; he setteth his mind to finish his work, and watcheth to polish it perfectly:

So doth the potter sitting at his work, and turning the wheel about with his feet, who is alway carefully set at his work, and maketh all his work by number;

He fashioneth the clay with his arm and boweth down its strength before his feet; he applieth himself to lead it over; and he is diligent to make clean the furnace:

All these trust to their hands: and every one is wise in his work.

Without these cannot a city be inhabited: and they shall not dwell where they will, nor go up and down:

They shall not be sought for in public counsel, nor sit high in the congregation: they shall not sit on the judges’ seat, nor understand the sentence of judgment; they cannot declare justice and judgment; and they shall not be found where parables are spoken.

But they will maintain the state of the world, and all their desire is in the work of their craft.

-Ecclesiasticus 38:24-34

This both confirms and reinforces Sayer’s thesis about the importance of the creativity of man. The last of it could also pass for commentary on communism.

We are made of the same stuff as our creations

We are limited in our creativity and god-likeness because we are made out of the same material as our creations. We can’t receive worship because we can’t make anything that is truly self-consciously separate from ourselves. But when God wrote us into his novel, we ARE more than that. We can worship him, and we can only because free will exists. We depend on him for every breath, but we are separate from him in a way our own creations can never be separate from us. So once again, be careful with the author analogy!

A perfect identity of the creature with its creator’s will is possible only when the creature is unself-conscious: that is, when it is an externalisation of something that is wholly controlled by the maker’s mind. But even this limited perfection is not attainable by the human artist, since he is himself a part of his own material. So far as his particular piece of work is concerned, he is Godlike-immanent and transcendent; but his work and himself both form part of the universe, and he cannot transcend the universe. All his efforts and desires reach out to that ideal creative archetype in whose unapproachable image he feels himself to be made, which can make a universe filled with free, conscious and co-operative wills; a part of his own personality and yet existing independently within the mind of the maker.

-Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, Ch.9

The only secret: Hard work

Here, once again we have the unknowning public looking for some sort of magic explanation as to how the artist does his craft. By magic explanation, I mean an answer other than “hard work”. I bought into this as a child as well.

Too much attention should not be paid to those -writers who say (holding one the while with a fixed and hypnotic gaze): “I don’t really invent the plot, you know-I just let the characters come into my mind and let them take charge of it.” The theory that the mind can remain passive and empty, acting only as a kind of automatic “spirit-hand” for the characters…Writers who work in this way do not, as a matter of brutal fact, usually produce very good books. The lay public (most of them confirmed mystagogues) rather like to believe in this inspirational fancy; but as a rule the element of pure craftsmanship is more important than most of us are willing to admit.

-Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, Ch.5

“Oh, isn’t so-and-so talented on that violin? I wish I could play like that.”

Well, if you had been practicing every day since you were two years old and still practiced 2 hours every day instead of watching TV, it’s very likely you COULD play just like that. Maybe even better. Who knows. Same thing with writing books or playing basketball or programming computers or (fill in the blank).

A friend of mine recently sent me a quote along these lines by composer Philip Glass (whom I’m still a fan of):

Actually I have one secret. It’s a very easy secret. You get up early
in the morning and you work all day. That’s the only secret. Is there
another one?

-Philip Glass

The Shakespearian Heresy and theology

Our speculations about Shakespeare are almost as multifarious and foolish as our speculations about the maker of the universe, and, like those, are frequently concerned to establish that his works were not made by him but by another person of the same name.

-Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, Ch.4

Aw, shame on you Doug! 🙂