"It is one thing to use “play” and “game” terminology to construct academic theories about nature, the social order, and the self, but it is an altogether different matter to speak of religious matters, indeed, of the gods and God himself, in these terms. It may seem to some even blasphemous. Of course, it is true that some contemporary studies of religion which have adopted the game/play metaphor are far from orthodox in their viewpoint. But what may seem surprising to some is the quite blatant fact that the greatest number and the finest quality of “game” and “play” theologies have been written by very orthodox scholars who themselves stand squarely in the front doors of the religious traditions they are interpreting"
Miller also includes a discussion of the origin and history of ideas about games and play, and their connection to religious thought. He points to its continuing existence in religion through the metaphor of the child at play and says this is applied not only to conceptions of an Edenic paradise, “but also to Utopia and the Day of the Coming of God’s Kingdom. Doctrines of eschatology as well as doctrines of creation found the metaphor of play appropriate.” He then provides examples to support this in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures through Zechariah 8:3-5, and mentions that “[o]n at least two occasions the Gospels credit Jesus as comparing the Kingdom of God with children and their game and play."
Miller then moves to a discussion of a theologia ludens, or a theology of play, and he refers to an example of it developed by Jesuit scholar Hugo Rahner wherein “the interpretation of traditional religion as play – would view God as a player, man as a player, the church as the community of play, [and] salvation (both now and in the life to come) as play.”
In his continuing discussion of concepts of work and play in the West, particularly in light of the Protestant work ethic, Miller states that,
"The church of the Western tradition lives in that period after the Fall into a life of labor as its Scripture in fact indicates. But the same church has not been able to anticipate the heavenly Kingdom, to which its Scriptures also refer, a Kingdom of the Spirit which, like paradise before the Fall, is pictured as a spirited life of play, where play is not laborious, as work is, but labor is playful just as games are.”
I would like to draw the reader’s attention to two areas for further consideration from the discussion above. First, the Protestant work ethic, while important, must also be balanced against other important theological considerations, such as the significance of play. Second, in the discussion above play is mentioned theologically in connection with two primary areas of theology, both as an expression of the Kingdom of God, and as an expression of creativity by those in that Kingdom community. Both aspects of play theology are important, but for the purpose of direct connection to Burning Man and Christian reflection I will focus on play and its connection to creativity.
Rahner connects human play to the activities of God himself. He says, “we cannot truly grasp the secret of Homo ludens, unless we first, in all reverence, consider the matter of Deus ludens, God the Creator who, one might say, as part of a gigantic game called the world of atoms and spirits into being.”
Another theologian, Krondorfer, also connects human play with God as creator and human co-creativity:
"In contrast to more traditional (non-play) theologies which have interpreted Eve’s and Adam’s transgression as a paradigm of humanity’s inherent sinfulness, play theological generally favours the notion of co-creatorship which is warranted in the biblical proclamation to make humans in God’s image (Gen. 1:26). Human creativity, play theology presumes, is good because it is imitative of God’s creation."
The connection between human play and God’s creativity is significant for consideration of play as it is manifest at Burning Man. Theologians need not abandon the notion that something is dreadfully wrong with human beings as recorded in the biblical story and as evidenced by humanity’s devastating actions against themselves, nature, and Creator, but this aspect of the biblical narrative might be held in tension in contrast with the notion of co-creatorship so that a theology of play as an aspect of creativity of the imago Dei can be explored.
Of course, my thesis goes into more depth on explaining these issues, and in providing suggestions as to how the church might reflect and experiment with play as an expression of worship and human creativity, but these thoughts might be enough to get some creative juices flowing in my readers. Is it possible that a festival in the middle of the Nevada desert provides important lessons for the church?