Christianity: It’s all in the imagination
I remember in the wake of Bill Maher’s film Religulous a few non-Christian colleagues said something of this sort to me: “I don’t like how Maher picks on religious people. If religious people get some sort of comfort from their beliefs, then they should be left alone.”
Part of me wanted to say “thanks for the support,” but it mostly chafed a little to hear sentiments like this.
I think they implicitly suggested that faith was just a sort of magical thinking, an artifact of a timid imagination, dreamt up by people who just can’t handle the grim thought of someday being dead and buried.
As far as I can tell, my faith isn’t a fantasy conjured by my imagination to give me comfort in an indifferent universe.
I like to think I can share Marilynne Robinson’s sentiment when she writes “I felt God as a presence before I had a name for him, and long before I knew words like ‘faith’ or ‘belief.’” My sense of God’s reality has been abiding and genuine, even amid seasons of doubt.
I understand that this all may sound like runaway intuition, but I’ve come to trust myself in this matter, and, through my life, it’s grown more and more familiar and sturdy, even though as an object, God remains ultimately mysterious.
God is much more than a figment of the imagination, yet I’d say that Christianity is all about the imagination, just not in the make-believe sense of that word.
Christianity requires an imaginative vision of reality – it requires a way of seeing, of perceiving the true nature of the existential backdrop of our lives.
Christianity isn’t unique in this regard, because all of us, in one way or another, make assumptions about the underlying structure of reality.
But it’s the character of the Christian imaginative vision that makes it stick out in a culture where individualism, consumerism and scientific fundamentalism are assumed to constitute reality.
In a self-centred age, Christianity stands out sharply in declaring that the truth of the human condition is found not in the accumulation of wealth and prestige, but in the body of a tortured and crucified political dissident.
Against the idols of rationality and the intellect (which have a natural home in the university), it claims that God uses the foolish to shame the wise.
In a culture where a popular career aspiration is to be “rich and famous,” it claims that it is the meek who will inherit the earth, that it is the poor who are blessed and that the rich will be turned away empty-handed.
In an age that prizes personal autonomy and individual liberty, it declares that true freedom is found in dependence on God and ones neighbour.
These things culminate in the most imaginative portion of the Christian vision, which is resurrection.
Christians see the world through the lens of resurrection, which means that not only do they believe that Jesus Christ was once dead and now lives, but that this resurrection is a sign post of a new age.
It’s resurrection that has ushered in the real new world order, where life, abundance, and flourishing is what is hoped for, though at times unseen. That means even though the world seems fraught with death, division, hatred, inequality and discord, this isn’t the truth of the matter.
When war and violence are justified because “that’s the world we live in,” Christians declare that no, indeed the world is not that way, because things have changed.
And because they have changed, the possibility exists for humanity to live like things are, in fact, truly different.
This is how Christians see the world in view of the resurrection.
Much of this is counterintuitive, and even quite scandalous, especially to folks who excel at being self-centered, individualistic and vindictive.
The Christian imaginative vision is a ruthless adversary of all human vanity and pretension.
That’s probably why it is often reduced to mere metaphor by the very people who call themselves Christian.
It takes a great feat of the imagination to see the world as it truly is, and even greater courage, wisdom and sagacity to live in that reality.