Friday, August 17, 2007

Imagination Matters: Reflection

Imagination has not gotten a good wrap in recent years among Christians. This is owing, of course, to a number of major factors, of which I will explore in more detail later. In my last post in this series I focused in on the accusation that the imaginative is "escapist." The reality, however, is that imagination brings reality into perspective.

There are a number of examples of this from history, but I'll let literary critic and Presbyterian Evangelical Leland Ryken speak to us on the issue first. Ryken writes:

The Bible is filled with poetry and metaphor and with imaginary pictures of reality. If we doubt that the imagination can be a vehicle for the truth, we need only read the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament book of Revelation. When we turn from the Bible to the Christian world today, we cannot help but be struck by the contrast. We rarely trust the power of metaphor or fiction or paint on canvas or musical sound to express the truth. And when Christians do respect the voice of the imagination, they have a tendency to reduce art to realism. The more realistic a painting or story is, the better it is, runs this line of argument. In the process, we settle for some decidedly mediocre and inferior art. After all, works that never violate external reality frequently say little that is significant about the issues of life, while art that is highly imaginary can touch upon life powerfully at many points. Nor should we forget that the Christian world view extends reality far beyond the external world.

It is the imaginative that can offer the most significant commentary on life. When we watch a movie, read a fantasy book, or see a moving piece of art we can be informed about our world in a unique, even shocking, way. Realism offers us the same things that we encounter everyday and can often feel like the same things we are used to, therefore they are easy to ignore. But when a rat teaches us about creativity (as in Ratatouille)we can sense our responsibility to be creative. See Alexander Pope, Ben Johnson, and The Simpsons for other evidence. The simple fact is that fantasy offers us a chance for genuine reflection on culture precisely because it is outside of our familiar context.

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