First of all, breathe a sigh of relief because this open letter, while to you, is not really “about you,” except as food for thought. This is not about your spiritual, exegetical, theological or humanitarian malfeasance. But it is about something that I think you probably think about often enough that I hope this can be of some use to you.
Now, about 5 years ago, Sir Ken Robinson delivered 20 minutes at the TED talks. For those of you who have no idea what that means, it was at the TED talks that the touchscreen technology that drives the iPhone and iPad was unveiled, and amongst the technological hoo-ha that goes on there, what is also delivered is a myriad or other ideas which, I think, are rightly labeled as one brand of secular humanism – a pretty gaudy and self-important kind of humanism, but humanism nontheless. This is how they describe themselves:
TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design -- three broad subject areas that are, collectively, shaping our future. And in fact, the event is broader still, showcasing ideas that matter in any discipline. The format is fast paced: 50+ talks over the course of four days (to say nothing of the morning and evening events). This immersive environment allows attendees and speakers from vastly different fields to cross-fertilize and draw inspiration from unlikely places. This is the magic of TED.Now, get this: here’s an event where all the people are classed as “extraordinary”, and literally millions of people cannot come (though they can look in, via video) because they are by definition “not extraordinary”. So the average or common person is allowed to look in through the display windows, but they can’t be part of the actual magic (and I don’t use that word accidentally).
Attendance at TED is by invitation only, and the attendees -- CEOs, scientists, designers, intellectuals -- are as extraordinary as the speakers, who in 2007 included former US President Bill Clinton, author Isabel Allende, legendary biologist EO Wilson, designer Phillipe Starck, and Virgin CEO Richard Branson; in 2008, speakers included brain expert Jill Bolte Taylor, physicist Stephen Hawking and undersea explorer Robert Ballard. Indeed, TED's success is based on the extraordinary effect of bringing together 1,000 of the world's most remarkable people. The result? Unexpected connections. Extraordinary insights. Powerful inspiration.
So there at TED, in 2006, Ken Robinson delivered this talk:
And you should pay close attention to this bit near the beginning:
Sir Ken Robinson [about 2:00]: I have a big interest in education, and I think we all do. We have a huge vested interest in it partly because it’s education that’s meant to take us into this future that we can’t grasp. If you think of it, children starting school this year will be retiring in 2065. Nobody has a clue, despite all the expertise that’s been on parade for the last four days, what the world will look like in 5 years time. And yet: we’re meant to be educating them for it. So the unpredictability I think is extraordinary.
And the third part of this is that we’ve all agreed, nonetheless, on the really extraordinary capacities that children have. Their capacities for innovation. I mean, Serena [Huang, 11-yr-old classical violinist] last night was a marvel. Just seeing what she could do? And she’s exceptional, but I think she’s not exceptional in the whole of childhood. What you have there is a person of extraordinary dedication who found a talent. And my contention is that all kids have these talents and we squander them – pretty ruthlessly.
So I want to talk about education, and I want to talk about creativity. My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status (applause). [end – about 3:20]
- The future is coming.
- We have no idea what it looks like.
- We are pinning our hopes for the future on education.
- This activity is so that we do not squander the talents of our children.
- To that end, we should be educating for the sake of growing creativity rather than growing results-oriented adults.
- Creativity is at least as important as literacy.
First of all, it’s almost uncalled-for that Sir Ken would confess that we have no idea what the future looks like. I mean: the whole point of atheism is to say that we do know what the future looks like in broad terms, and it will always be better than right now because (if we obey humanist dogma) science will make our lives better. Better medicine, better technology, better quality of life, etc. The future is better. And maybe that’s implicit in Sir Ken’s view of things: we have no idea how good the future will be. But I think there’s something a little more menacing under his statement that we don’t know what the future will hold. The subtext of his statement is that the future will be far more complicated than it is right now, and in that we will need people who are up to the task of manning it. The subtext is simply that if we don’t prepare our kids, they are going to wind up “ruthlessly squandered”. So his confession here is a brutal confession for the kind of humanism TED is advocating: it’s a confession that the future is not necessarily a warm and safe place.
Second of all, Sir Ken’s belief in creativity to overcome the kind of adversity there will be in the future is a dead giveaway that he’s concerned that the future is not all bright lights and long European-style meals with charming and pretty people. You know: if he was advocating that industry will win the day (that is: hard work), he would be advocating for principles which guide us to right ends. So in the future, if we apply ourselves, we can accomplish the tasks at hand because hard work pays off. You can plant a crop if you work hard; you can tend it if you work hard; you can harvest it if you work hard; you can use it to feed yourself and others if you plan and execute that plan with some basic discipline.
But for Sir Ken, it is not a question of principles: it is a question of innovation. That is: old solutions will not work anymore – which speaks to the radical nature of the condition of the future. In some sense, the rules for the future are not even invented yet.
Now, to be fair to Sir Ken, he has other messages in this 20 minutes as well, and I think they are worth considering. But at the core, he has made it utterly plain: the principles which we work with today are, in the best case, for today and likely not applicable to tomorrow. It is imagination and creativity which ought to drive human value systems and our social systems.
So what’s in it for you, then?
Here’s what I think: Sir Ken and the TED network of extraordinary people have a kind of gospel they are proposing which says that humanity can and will save itself. The method of salvation is education. The means of salvation is innovation. Yet they confess that they have no idea what will actually be needed or what will actually be the state toward which we are innovating – we just have to believe that we can and will make the right choices when we are creative enough. Let me say frankly: that’s a path which has been trod down a hundred times historically, and it always ends up in disappointment.
This is where you come in, my dear local pastor.
What you have, instead, is a different Gospel -- which speaks to a future that the TED-ites cannot possibly imagine. The first thing is that it's not for the extraordinary -- its for the everyone. That may in some sense make it rather mundane rather than a glittering gem which whoever it is that is doing Paris Hilton's job now would want to be seen in public with. But at least it is not inherently a beauty pageant. It's actually the opposite of a beauty pageant because it is meant for the scum of the earth.
But get this: you know something about people which our friends at TED do not: people are not essentially creative – unless we call the ways in which we invent our gods “creative”. We do what is right in our own eyes. We know that what mankind does, in particular, every day, is that we set up created things as what are extraordinary instead of the maker of all created things. And when we do that, frankly, we cheat ourselves of the truth and live in the dark cover of what we believe rather than what is really out there.
You reformed guys are out there waving the Romans 1 & 2 banners now, I know, but stick with me for a second. While this is a theological way of looking at the matter, it’s not some high-brow thing which you have to be really, really smart to get: this is an extremely pragmatic approach to preparing ourselves for the fall out of the failure of TED-driven utopian thought.
Here is the pragmatism of the Gospel: If Christ really died for our sins, in accordance with Scripture, and was buried and raised on the third day in accordance with Scripture, then the world is not whatever we can imagine it to be. It is in fact something we must somehow know and comply with. So for example, we may all have iPads with wireless 9G connections which are completely free that also has an App Store where we can download anything we want including all manner of religious documents because after Steve Jobs is finally put in deep storage, the next guy will be creative enough to make money on obvious things. But when that happens, what kind of people shall we be? Will that actually make us more creative? Or more loving? Or more compassionate? Or more fit? Or better dancers? Will many children be liberated from the shackles of post-classical education where both literacy and creativity are equal values?
Or will it be with the iPad as it has been with every other device we have invented for ourselves: won't it rather make less of us by making us busy in yet another unreal way?
See: if history actually happened, and Christ's death and resurrection happened in it, in this world, then Sir Ken has really missed the boat. The problem is not that we surpress our creativity: it is that we forget that we are created beings, and that we have a place in this world under the rule of King Jesus. And for his sake, we should repent and ask forgiveness that we think of ourselves as extraordinary when in fact we are only extraordinary in our pride and our self-interest.
This is a world where people congratulate themselves for being creative literally to cover up their pronounced limp. They somehow both fear and laud the future which holds nothing for them -- except that they might outsmart it (they're not afraid to fail, after all), but Christ is coming to judge them. And in his judgment, there are no bonus points for making up your own way. There is only one way, and it's our job to see to it that this is declared without any doubt.
See to it, my friend. Start as soon as possible, and do not look back. Unexpected connections, extraordinary insights, and powerful inspiration is all your home court. See to it.