3 ways imagination is corrupted and what to do about it.
A synthesis and summary of article by Vigen Guroian in Touchstone Magazine.
Most people don’t think very deeply about the most powerful endowment God has given to his image-bearers, the Imagination!
Our imaginations can take us to some very good and joyful places, they can take us into very dark places as well. Our imaginations are more culturally relevant that we realize.
Below is a synthesis of a portion of an article by Vigen Guroian in Touchstone Magazine entitled, “Of Weed & Fairy Tales – The Idylls, Idols & Devils That Corrupt the Moral Imagination” (2020). I quote the article at length.
I hope it helps you understand the gift of the imagination, how to guard it from corruption, and how to cultivate it as God intends. I highly recommend reading Guroian’s article in its entirety.
The Purpose of Imagination
“The human imagination “reaches out and seizes likenesses and analogies” that establish relation and unity in a world of meaning. In other words, imagination is the self’s process of finding direction and purpose in life by making metaphors from remembered experiences to understand present experience. It is not an instinct but an attribute and an expression of our freedom, passion, and reason…
Wherever there are human beings, imagination exists and is exercised, much as wherever there are spiders, webs are spun. The important question is what kinds of imagination our contemporary culture encourages.” (Guroian)
The Human Power to “conceive of men and women as moral beings, i.e., as persons, not things or animals whose value is their utility. It is the process by which the self makes metaphors out of images stored in memory, which then are employed to find and suppose moral correspondences in experience.” (Guroian)
Left unprotected or uncultivated, the moral imagination decays into corruption and perversity.
It is escapist and utopian. “The self gripped by the idyllic imagination is escapist, not in the sense that it flees its physical surroundings so much as it shirks its civic, social, and moral responsibilities…
This is accompanied and reinforced by rejection and rebellion against old dogmas, manners, and mores. The idyllic imagination is in search of emancipation from conventional constraints. In our democratic and individualistic environment, persons justify this “liberation” in the name of self-fulfillment and self-realization, which they believe existing norms and structures inhibit or obstruct…
Quite often there is a turning to hedonistic imaginings, flagrant sensuality, and explorations of the “flesh.” These are paths that promise happiness but more often than not lead instead to boredom and ennui or, worse, physical and spiritual dissipation.” (Guroian)
The Idyllic Imagination rejects morality in pursuit of self-fulfillment. It is marked by hedonism, preoccupation with self, and sensuality. It seeks liberation from morals and results in boredom, dissatisfaction, or worse, physical and spiritual corruption and a wasted life.
The Idolatrous Imagination cultivates the “absolutization of the relative” (Will Herberg)…
“Idolatry, in biblical terms, is the giving of one’s highest loyalties and devotions to objects and things other than God… What idolatry does is to convert its object into an absolute, thereby destroying the partial good within it and transforming it into a total evil…
Corrupted imaginations may be tracked everywhere in our culture. The media fixes on false gods whose stories replace the lives of saints and real heroes. One need only look at the popular magazines, MTV, television talk shows, and celebrity channels, to understand how pervasive is the idolatrous imagination… Even our schools and public libraries are heavily under its influence…
“What is more, the people, when they grow dissatisfied with their idols, often mercilessly turn on them and consume them with an ungodly wrath.” (Guroian)
The Idolatrous Imagination absolutizes the relative, lacking consciousness of sin, good things are given priority and devotion over God (Idolatry). A good object is converted into an absolute, making it totally evil. When the absolutized idol fails to satisfy its worshipers, they turn on it and destroy it.
“The coordinates that track the fall of the Western self into the diabolic imagination are the loss of the concept of sin and the rise of popular therapeutic justifications and excuses for things that were once thought perverse. Moral norms are redescribed as values relative to self or culture. Human nature is viewed as infinitely malleable and changing. Some go so far as to say it is merely a social construct or fiction. Good and evil are considered matters of perspective (opinion / sentiments)…
The Diabolic Imagination is latent within each of us, the image of the demonic imprinted by Original Sin on the human soul.” (Guroian)
The Diabolical Imagination transforms morals into relative values geared toward self. Objective good and evil do not exist outside one’s personal perspective or orientation. Sex and Violence are central. Greed and selfishness rule – revealing the sin nature within every human heart.
The Enriched Imagination
“After a child has read Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen or Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, her moral imagination is sure to have been stimulated and sharpened. The powerful images of good and evil in these stories show a child how to love through the examples of the characters she herself has come to love and admire. Such memories become the analogues that the moral imagination uses to make real-life decisions, and these memories become constitutive elements of her self-identity and character…
A well-fortified and story-enriched moral imagination helps children and adults move about in the world with moral intent and ultimately with faith, hope, and charity. As Flannery O’Connor once said, “Our response to life is different if we have been taught only a definition of faith than if we have trembled with Abraham as he held a knife over Isaac.” (Guroian)
Like a neglected vegetable garden is susceptible to weeds and pests, the human imagination left unattended, unguarded, and uncultivated will incrementally decay and succumb to evil. Therefore, we must steward and shape our imaginations well.
Recovering the Enriched Imagination
There is a reason C.S. Lewis stories of Narnia and Tolkien’s tales of hobbits and rings have captured and shaped the imaginations and lives of generations. They are not simply far-fetched fantasies. Those tales are in fact, true. Not that the characters or worlds existed in human history but their underlying frameworks are constructed on objective moral truths. These beautiful and good true stories point beyond themselves to the ultimate source of goodness, truth, and beauty – God.
“Stories not only reflect life, they shape it. It is of no small account what stories we tell and what stories we live by…”(Guroian)
Keep in mind biblical Christianity has the ultimate story on which all other stories rest – creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. It is The Story that we should tell and allow to shape our lives.
I leave you with one of my favorite G.K. Chesterton Quotes:
“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
Please share your insights by commenting below this post.
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