Religious Imagination

Religious Imagination

Religious Imagination

Religious Imagination

Excerpt

The theme is an inquiry into the possibility of a cognitive role for imagination in the specific area of the God-question. This theme is clearly fundamental to much of the use and theory of religious language and it is properly philosophical. On the one hand, the question as to whether God can be known, known to exist, or even known not to exist, has been canvassed in all periods of our philosophical tradition, but this has been done normally without reference to the role of imagination in knowing the world around us. On the other hand, in several areas of religious and cognate disciplines in recent times, imagination or one or other of its assumed specialities has been invoked, but normally without any reference to a properly philosophical and fundamental analysis of the nature and function of imagination.

To give some examples: Works on religion and literature frequently bring theological presuppositions to literature which hide from view the religious possibilities innate in the best of creative writing. It was once common for literary critics to complain that Graham Greene's novels failed to reach the summit of his art because divine grace was one of his dramatis personae, as artificially intrusive as the proverbial deus ex machina. Criticism of this kind clearly conceals the assumption that divine presence is not empirical; it takes over quite uncritically those dichotomous distinctions between nature and grace, reason and revelation, science and religion, which by collusion of philosophers and theologians alike have but recently achieved dominance in Western culture, and which threaten to bedevil the theme of this book as badly as they have bedevilled so many others. Literary folk who perpetuate the conflict between the priest and the artist and who cannot see beyond it hold out the same kind of hope, and as much of it, as popular politicians who try to restrict our already miserable prospects to a simple choice between communism and freedom, thereby misrepresenting everything.

There is another quite contrary kind of example. Theologians have recently taken to symbol and metaphor, poetry and story, with an enthusiasm which contrasts very strikingly with their all-but-recent avoidance of such matters. This enthusiasm spills over quite easily into claims that only symbol is adequate to religion, or that symbol by its very nature goes deeper (or higher) than concept. Prodigal imagin- . . .

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