Tuesday 18 August 2015

For the modern West en route to Christ, Imagination is the middle term

It is absolutely necessary that we in The West become a Christian society again; which means nothing less and nothing more than many, many people making that personal choice.

On the one hand, nothing could stop them - it might happen now, this very moment!... But on the other hand the realistic possibility seems ever more remote - the trends of decline certainly seem to be inexorable.

It ought to be (one would suppose) an easy thing to swap meaninglessness, purposelessness and existential isolation for a transformed and deepened life, and swap despair for hope - but it doesn't happen. People feel trapped into their situation by what seems to them realism, honesty and reason.  

Modern society is characterized by secular, alienated nihilism - that is what most people are, this is solid, and it is what the public sphere is and enforces - especially the mass media but also the systems of law, education and employment. Secular - meaning we don't believe in divinity; alienated in that we are existentially alone in an indifferent universe; nihilistic in that reality seems unreal - and truth, beauty and virtue merely temporary and malleable matters of opinion.

This complex of beliefs, or dis-beliefs, work together to ensure that anything so complex as Christianity never reaches the point of being comprehended sufficiently that people are in a position to make a choice about it. Every attempt towards making an argument, or towards experiencing an insight, is shot-down, piecemeal, a little bit at a time; using secularism, alienation or nihilism in rotation.

(The length of time it takes to state the argument for Christianity is longer than the attention span which individuals will either permit, or of which they are capable.)

So, people are mostly stuck in a state of profound demotivation. Nothing good seems true; truth itself seems insecure - the only thing they are sure about is that they are unsure. The only thing they are certain about is the impossibility of certainty. Their only dogmatic rationality is that the whole subject of Christianity is irrational - aside from that, their irrationality is dogmatic and celebrated.

My point is that people cannot go from where they are directly to Christianity - there has to be a middle term.

To go from modern secular culture to Christianity is experienced as a negative step - from freedom to constraint, from possibility to narrowness, from universal and unbounded compassion to a difficult balance - from fluidity, clarity and simplicity to hardness, difficulty, complications...

So I suggest Imagination as the middle term - Christians perhaps need to be aware of this, and not be impatient to push straight on to Christianity, but to take Imagination itself seriously - have faith that from where we are now Imagination is progress.

Here =>  Imagination =>  Where we want to be (Christianity)

The thing is that imagination is as simple as is effective for that person, and a complex as they find rewarding. All we need to do is make clear that Imagination is Real.

We do not need to say how it is real, or in what specifics it is real, because typically we do not know. But we need to say that Imagination is real, and should be taken seriously.

When people engage in Imagination, they are in fact doing one of the most valuable things that they could possibly be doing. Imagination is, in fact - and especially in our society, and especially now - more important than almost anything else a person could be doing.

In fact - as a general rule, for most people most of the time - Imagination is more important than doing.

Most people ought to do a lot less, and Imagine a lot more.

The thing is, once Imagination is taken seriously and regarded as real, it is highly motivating; and the motivation it generates comes from within - a person absorbed by, seized by, Imagination is a person who has a thing that has become precious and rare - he has inside him, like a glowing coal, a sense of meaningfulness and direct contact with the world.

As Christians we know that Imagination - in this sense - is incomplete; for a start it lacks purpose; and ultimately it lacks Christ. But the necessity of Christ and an understanding of purpose is something that can only be known by a person who has gone so far as to acknowledge the reality of Imagination.

The early Christians had paganism to build upon; and the benefits of Christianity were added onto existing paganism. We have lost even paganism and are trying to build on the quicksands of secular, alienated nihilism. We cannot do it - but we can build on the foundations of a man who regards Imagination as real and true - or rather, that man can build on his own foundations.

Objective Imagination is obviously superior to mainstream modernity; and Christianity is obviously superior to Imagination once you have reached the point of acknowledging the reality of Imagination: Imagination is a middle term which renders the path to Christianity a progress of win now-win later.

In becoming a devotee of the Imagination we win, and in then moving on to understand and become Christian (that it, to understand the nature of reality and purpose) we win again. But that second step first needs a solid basis in Imagination - not to be fiddling and quibbling about Imagination, but to have faith in it.

That will happen, but it is a long way ahead, and a long way off. In the meantime, let us do what we can to sustain a realistic and serious attitude to Imagination - let us value and support Imagination in its many aspects and activities and inactivities - let us build faith in Imagination.


John Fitzgerald said...

I think that's why the Inklings, for instance, are so important as apostles of the contemporary imagination. The films of Andrei Tarkovsky, especially, in my opinion, 'Stalker' (1979), are also playing a significant role in guiding people out of the flatlands of secularism, nihilism and alienation. Imagination (which is the opposite of self-promoting, delusory fantasy) creates a space - an 'upper room', if you like - where Christ can start to make His presence felt in one's life. The re-enchantment of this disenchanted, desacralised world should, as you say, become our prime task. From there, things can start to happen. The 'God of Surprises' can get to work. Owen Barfield, who was way ahead of the curve in so many ways, certainly knew this.

Lovely post,

Adam G. said...

The heart has to long.

Nathaniel said...

Describing the alternative negative route, this explains why the hijacking and attack of imagination was so important to the forces of evil. Denigrating all good imagination as false, and promoting the media and advertising world's imagination-less false world.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what to say here, but, belief in absolute truth is important. People today believe in absolute truths, but only in a limited way, and all other absolute truths are denied.

You can't know absolute truth absolutely, so imagination is a way of approaching it. Things imagined may not be absolutely true, but they can show or reflect truth.

We are encouraged to imagine some things- witness the song "Imagine" by John Lennon- but strongly discouraged in imagining other things.

Our society has a big philosophical problem with the issue of the truth. If there is no truth, other than what should be true, there is no point in imagining anything.

I have a big imagination thing going myself, but I don't know if it would be helpful to others.

Bruce Charlton said...

@dl - I am using the term Imagination in away which is selective with respect to the many ways the word is used or abused. Just because somebody says Imagine, does not mean they are doing it. Imagination in my sense (the Coleridge/ Steiner/ Barfield sense) is psychologically as solid as things can be.

Nicholas Fulford said...

But doesn't imagination require a creative disposition? To imagine, to write, to paint, to compose; all of these require a creative disposition. It is possible to open many to their creative possibilities through immersion in environments that stimulate strong emotional resonances. If I listen to certain composers and performances that play me, and that is the start to becoming aware of sensitivities that result in rich emotions and thoughts. That in itself is a creative act, and the next step - being aware that I am not simply passive - allows memory to interact with experience to create new or augmented forms. I think that nature is very potent stimulus to this. When I go backcountry hiking I am driving my body - which results in endorphin releases at various points that often coincides with my rounding a high point to witness a glorious piece of landscape. There is a profoundly powerful set of states and emotions that accompany this, and many a composer or poet has produced a brilliantly creative and imaginative work on the basis of these experiences. But first there needs to be exposure to those things which are fertilizer to our creative / imaginative dispositions.

The sad thing is that a person may not have an inkling of these latent talents unless and until they depart from their lifeless routines to begin to experience the beauty and wonder of what life is. It requires being willing to be taken on a journey to places strange and beautiful, and in the process to begin to realise that the seed of beauty already exists within - though often starved - until the first rain cracks through the parched soil which has held it in stasis. The irony is that while people have innate dispositions with respect to imagination and creativity; almost everyone has some capacity in this regard, and it may be substantially greater than what we think because almost all seeds - in developed countries - are buried in the parched soil of the desert of modernity's alienation. To awaken to the possibility often requires a great shock, and then nurture. Few know where to find or how to create a nurturing group that supports and encourages the manifestation and maturation of the creative impulse. People have to find enough freedom from the artificial to discover and experience the real. (This happens to me every time I go on an intense and challenging backcountry hike for a week or more. That which was taken as real is discovered to be unreal, while that which is ordinarily ignored in our urban routinized lives is intensely real, and can manifest in ways both wondrous and dangerous if I am not fully engaged with it.)

I think you are onto something about the necessity of imagination and creativity, because in our daily lives we are bound in a box that is carefully circumscribed, and we are led about as sheep until something which cannot be ignored intrudes to awaken us from our lethargy. Beauty, awe and wonder are the states which once invoked make it very difficult to return to the old prison for any length of time. And memory of them draws us out of the cage to re-engage with what is most magnificent and authentic.

Oh how I long for my yearly sojourn. It is only a month away!

Mr Ecks said...

Are you familiar with the writings of this bloke?



His approach is not explicitly Christian but you may find it of interest.