Christian Imagination and Apologetics
(My notes from lecture by Dr. G. Veith. March 2014. Video to be posted to internet, hopefully.)
It is currently being said that people believe in nothing whatsoever. Not only this, they are also skeptical about reason. -- This is, among other things, a failure of the imagination. People are unable to imagine a spiritual reality.
In enjoying a piece, as we did from Hildegard von Bingen, we note a yearning for goodness, a yearning for the virtuous, the beauty of the virtues. There is such a thing as moral beauty. There is repugnance of evil. -- Now we often portray the opposite.
This is a problem for apologetics. We are to imagine "eternal life", and unseen realm, eternity, God, but we can't imagine such a being. These are mysteries.
A mystery is not something to be solved by getting back to the intellect. It is not something for us to "figure out." A mystery opens up the imagination and sends it reeling.
The opposite is boredom--a lifeless, mechanistic universe, where nothing satisfies.
It is the task of art to "re-enchant" the world, so that we see that there is mystery in it.
The church needs re-enchanting. It is the place where supernatural gifts are given. The apologetic task is to change the bleak and negative outlook. Reason, also, needs to be re-enchanted. It is something glorious. There is a rational basis for Christianity. There is also an emotional basis, as emotional experiences reach people.
Again, the "imagination" is often neglected. It has a lot of potential. The imagination is an important way to reach people with the Gospel.
In the 20th century, rationalism's appealed to reason was the focus. But you can give all the answers and it seems that none of them have impact on people. For example, he lent out C.S. Lewis' books to a young woman and all she could say was "But he uses sexist language." -- In post-modern times even reason is minimized.
Emotionalism can be used by promising happiness through pop-psychology or prosperity gospel. But what about suffering and sickness? When it strikes there is disillusionment and a fall from faith. Obviously, there is no God after all.
The Will can be used to replace the intellect. It becomes important whether or not a choice was involved. You chose what to believe. You have a private reality. What happens, though, is that the private reality conflicts with the actual reality. You can end with despair.
T.S.Eliot, was THE modernist artist. There is a "dissociation of sensibility", of thinking and feeling. Thinking, feeling and imagination are going in all different directions. Thinking and feeling are seen as opposites. But John Donne feels his thoughts and thinks his feelings.
But in the Christian faith there is a Wholeness. When T.S.Eliot embraced the orthodox Christian faith, it pushed his style further and further, centered on the Image, evocative images, orchestrated together, cultivating the imagination. (e.g. "April is the cruelest month.")
C.S. Lewis also appeals to imagination. When he speaks about the choice between Lord, liar, lunatic, he gives a logical alternative but with lots of imagination. He is very descriptive. ("Poached egg...") He appeals to the will, and the fact that it needs to make a choice, but he connects to us by means of the imagination.
In a variety of writers we can find a baptized imagination. There is dazzling fantasy. Lewis himself began finding what he yearned for in imaginative Christian writers. He also had been speaking with Tolkien, who explained to him that in Christianity the myths had become fact. We do have to come back to the facts.
Today, we can engage and bring people along. Their imagination can be baptized.
Again, defamiliarizing can make us pay attention. All of a sudden, we are paying attention. Some of the art defamiliarizes the message of Christianity; it does not seem the same old thing and we miss how mind-blowing the stories really are. We get beyond the associations so that the matter is now seen in its full potency. The Chronicles of Narnia defamiliarize the gospel. We bypass reverence and piety. Things can be seen in a fresh way, awakening the imagination to the transcendent, breaking open the mind to realities beyond, to mystery, to the things we cannot understand, to supernatural grace.
It has been labeled "escapism".
Eliot works in modernist idiom. Hemingway, Joyce go into the human psyche... but not making something up.
Tolkien wrote an essay on Fairy tales, to help get a glimpse of something beyond those prison walls. The idea is to make Christianity "strange."
Our world deadens desire and people don't know what they are missing. Presenting the faith convincingly is aimed at opening this desire, a yearning for something more.
Reason needs rescuing, too. Christianity gives us the range and the wholeness.
Some people hate religion. They have a deeply flawed picture, which is a function of the imagination. For example, they say "What kind of God can will and allow all this suffering. And what kind of God, kills his son; this is child-abuse..." We have here a situation where God is imagined as above the suffering, beyond it. This would be a deist picture, or Muslim. But imagine the God who enters this world. We have the incarnation. The central image is the cross. He took evil into himself. He become sin for us. This is the central aspect of atonement. Isaiah: "He has borne our griefs and sorrows."
Atheism has an imagination problem. Atheist imagination has been tried. Someone died and the body rotted in the grave, all the molecules go on... -- It is not very successful.
Instead of man with the beard we might talk about God being infinite, in the infinite spaces of the cosmos. He does not know why Christians do not do more Pascal [?]. People could imagine different things in terns of the incarnation and the infinite.