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Apologia pro Imaginatione

As I said, people seem to feel quite strongly about the 'waste of time' I have perpetrated, and am perpetrating, in preparing this website. Giving free reign the the figments of my imagination, spending countless hours on completely improductive activities (whether improductive is defined as not making money or not bringing me closer to God) - that is surely wrong, and should be corrected! *

I might answer that the knowledge gained by playing around with websites and code and stuff does make me money - since I can use a lot of that in my daily job, or that it does bring me closer to God, since it means I meet a lot of people who do the same thing better than I do, thus bringing me humility. Or I could argue that I don't waste that much time - but I won't.

My true argument is that in creating worlds, cultures and languages, in writing computer programs (as Brooks has noted (**), in drawing sketches, sculpting and writing stories and bits of poetry, in constructing music and in preparing those works for reception, I am following my nature, doing what God intended me to do.

I am created in the image of God the creator - after all, in the first bit of Genesis, it is said that 'God created this and God created that, and finally he created man in his image'. To me (and to Dorothy L. Sayers ***, to whom I am indebted for that observation) this means that one of the primary characteristics of God is that God creates. Being created in that image, means that I must create, too - even if it is, as Tolkien said, sub-creation.

It's an old idea, and according to Stephan Belsky, it goes back to Judaism:

I don't know that much about the inner workings of Christian theology/philosophy, but to take this idea of subcreation back a generation, in Judaism one of the commandments ... is what i've seen called in Latin imitatio Dei, or in Hebrew some probably conjugated form of lehidamot laBorei, "imitation of God" / "to become similar to the Creator". If i remembered the expression exactly in Hebrew, i'd quote it, but part of the probably most famous expression of what this means (i think the commandment comes from Dvarim/Deuteronomy) goes something like "...because He is merciful, you be merciful; and because He is patient, you be patient..."

Therefore, because He creates, you create.

I think therefore that sub-creating is following my created nature. Lucifer has revolted against his created nature, and lost that nature, meaning he can't follow it anymore. That's why the Devil can't create, only warp - he can't even sub-create. The grace of God lets us make; whoever refuses the grace, loses the ability to make.

As Irina Rempt has said on the Conlang mailing list, where this subject has been discussed:

But Lucifer never created anything - at least not in orthodox (note the lowercase initial) doctrine. He just took what was already there, what God had already created, and warped it to his purposes. Being a creature himself, he couldn't create anything new except with the support of God, which he didn't accept. The point - as Tolkien understood very well - is that subcreation can only be done in the image of God (whether one acknowledges that or not; you can't help being an icon of God), or you'll destroy rather than create.


... an image representing God. Lucifer's mistake was to renounce that image of God in himself, so he couldn't draw on it to (sub)create.

People tell me that my work is warping the creation, like the Lucifers work is, since I merely take what exists and rearrange that. To that I can only answer that all creative work, including the great Icons and all art is a form of sub-creation - rearranging of what already existed. And that's good - things that are completely original cannot be but boring since they are unconnected to anything the audience knows and therefore can recognise.

Making something induces a concentration and focus that makes me feel one with the Maker - when I am truly making I am nearly as close to God as I can be - I'm nearly as much in communion with God as when I commune with Him during the holy Liturgy.

By making an honest job of sub-creating, as good as I can, with a feeling of love and interest in my own creation, I think I can say that I dedicate my creative work to God.

Boudewijn Rempt

John 15:4-5 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

*I won't even speak to the people who tell me I shouldn't be making up languages when there are real languages dying - unless they also give me half a million dollars to do fieldwork with.

**In The Mythical Man-Month, Frederick P. Brooks. He has read Dorothy L. Sayers, and, what's more, writes as well as she does.

***In The Mind of the Maker, 1941. Dorothy L. Sayers might not be an Orthodox Christian, but she's an orthodox Christian all the same.


The focus on theology might be surprising to people who don't know that I try to be a sincere Christian. I belong to the Orthodox church, under the Patriarch of Constantinople. I really can't separate my beliefs from the rest of my life - there are no compartments where I don't allow God to be.


Even so, is Charya not rather un-Christian, immoral and depraved? How can a Christian create something with a content like that?

I don't think it's as immoral and depraved as that. One argument is that Charyan People are still people, like people everywhere, and I believe (in contrast to what Terry Pratchett maintains) in the essential goodness of men (not necessarily greatness, or holiness), but just, everyday, humdrum goodness. In that I follow Mencius and Pelagius.

But primarily, I think the essence of Christian morality is unconditional love - love of people for themselves, for other people, for their surroundings, and finally, and most importantly, love for God. In this, the people from Andal are not our inferiors, and by creating a culture that celebrates this love, I hope to share some of my essential Christian beliefs.


  • 12-12-1999 - Creation

text and illustrations © 1999 Boudewijn Rempt