Posted On 2018-02-04
[Part 4 of 4]
This is the term C.S. Lewis used to describe the notion that meaning is relative and personal. We might add also that understanding that truth is primarily revealed by logic and reason might have been seen as one of the common tools used to steal life away from living, breathing truth. Logic and reason have a place, no doubt, and are in dispensable tools in the search for meaning just as fiber is an indispensable part of a healthy diet. A diet of fiber only, though, will cause some serious problems! Likewise, reason and logic without the accompanying balance of anecdote, story, creativity and imagination can cause serious deficiencies. When reason and logic become the sole tool of meaning AND this meaning is deemed true only for the individual who reasoned so then that is the death of the soul.
In the human body every cell carries with it the DNA of the physical body of which it is a part. This DNA is the “indisputable truth” of the physical existence of the person. Even in today’s rapidly advancing scientific world where the potential for DNA alterations may exist, it remains true that the DNA of a person must be found identical in each cell all throughout the body. Should every cell contain a different combination of the amino acids that combine to form DNA, the body will die. The individual cell does not decide what is true about the body as a whole. It cannot. On the universal level, then, we might say that we, as individual cells of a much larger body, cannot determine on our own what is ultimately true and meaningful.
So, meaning is not only beyond ourselves but the way in which we understand, communicate and express this truth must also go far beyond the bounds of mere logic and reason. This is where the power of Lewis’s fiction comes into play. His works of fiction—most notably the Chronicles of Narnia and the Space Trilogy—are full of truth and meaning that flow from a fountain of imagination and creative expression. In these books we clearly seen the power of story and imagination.
Some have concluded that Lewis, in writing the Narnia books, intended to write a clear and direct allegory of the Christian story; to teach or preach the Christian message through story. This is not exactly true. One of Lewis’ primary objective was to “rehabilitate the modern imagination.” We live in an age of rapid change, Lewis observed (and if he throught it true more than half a century ago, we can only imagine what he would say about the current rate of change in our version of the modern world), and “media’ed experience.” Even in an age before computers, tablets and cell phones Lewis observed that people mostly live in a world created by humanity rather than the natural world. Great numbers of people have little interaction on any kind of regular basis with the natural world. This change of environment from past generation and eras has brought with it massive changes in the default settings of thinking, relationship and the delivery of information.
In a world where everything is written down in words, where important truths are remembered in catchy phrases and soundbites, and where the patient work of thinking through an issues thoroughly is a skill unpracticed and forgotten by many, the power of imagination has been altered and reduced to mere creativity and the exaltation of the imaginary. Our modern society experiences no lack of creativity and the imaginary—movies, books, internet, and more all provide floods of images. We inundated with images of what was, is and could be. Or, better said, what advertisers tell us could be, even if the image they project far beyond the realm of likelihood or even possibility.
But Lewis’s use of the word “imagination” is different. His intention with his fiction works is not to simply be creative (though the stories are very much so) or to create an imaginary world (which he does so masterfully) but to spark the imagination, the pre-cognitive part of us that creates in us thoughts, images, impressions and reactions long before we have time to use our tools of reason and logic. The pre-cognitive, or “pre-thinking,” part of our being operates on the default settings of our intellect—opening up doors of understanding in the subconscious.
Rapid change messes with default settings. Therefore, Lewis’ reasons for venturing into the world or fiction were to (1) resensitize people to what was true; (2) restore a sense of wonder of the ordinary; (3) restore the power of myth and ancient stories that held great meaning; (4) liberate the imagination from superficial excitement that is easily multiplied by technology; (5) liberate the imagination from entrapment to the immediate gratification where the higher and highest is easily lost, stuck in the mundane.
Lewis wanted to grab the readers imagination. He was uneasy talking about the purpose behind his fiction and steadfastly denied that his intention was to illustrate Christian ideas. Rather, as he created worlds and the characters he wanted to open the readers imagination to what was possible, not in a meta-physical sense, but to the meanings and deep truths that were our world but so hard to see in the fast-changing media saturated world. In doing so he was able to share our-world truth through the lens of another world.
Lewis did not start with a pre-determined end in mind but rather let the moral truth of the story come through naturally as he was in the writing process. In a sense the moral truths within Lewis shaped the story while at the same the time writing process refined the moral truths that came through the story. Lewis desired to create a simple story but with such texture and deep meanings that multiple re-readings of the story would continue to reveal new ideas and wonderment.
Where reason and logic work in generalities, stories point to particulars and specific examples of truth played out in the world, whether that world is real or imaginative. Stories give us experiences we ourselves have never had. The point of fiction, then, is not to present a book report on life but rather to add a new experiences to life.
For example, in the Narnia series Aslan is not a fictitious representation of the doctrine of God or an abstract picture of God. Aslan is Aslan. Nothing more, nothing less. Yet, in the character of Aslan shines forth something that reminds us of God—a God who is good, but not safe. It would be going too far to logically align every word and action of Aslan to the Biblical understanding of God. That’s not the point. But through Aslan the imagination is able to circumvent a dry and worn-out familiarity with known doctrinal statements about God and recover the sense of amazement, joy, and wonder that comes with a new, unsuspected realization of a truth about God revealed through an imaginative creature, like Aslan.
In the human characters, such as Edmond and Lucy, we see people very much like us; people with quirks and imperfections that remind us of the same things that trip us up. One of the most powerfully exciting features of Lewis’ Narnia stories is that the main characters are primarily children. These children find themselves in the midst of amazing adventures of discovery, new experiences and danger. Children love discovery, newness and danger! Where adults hesitate, wait, evaluate, and contemplate while children will run full steam ahead without fear in full confidence that their parents are watching out for them and will be there when needed.
Jesus said, “Unless you become like little children you can have no part in the kingdom of God.” Maybe this was not an admonition to be simple or immature but rather full of the wonder and excitement that comes with being a child. Maybe Jesus was telling his disciples to go! Discover! Experience! And stand with wide-eyed wonder at the world even in the midst of the unsafe situations of our world. For again, Aslan was not safe…but very good.
Perhaps what we need in our hyper-media’ed world of hyper-speed change are not more logically reasoned statements of faith and books of doctrine that attempt to address every possible situation is a constantly changing world, but rather a commitment to the two laws that Jesus gave—Love God and love your neighbor—and lots of wonderful stories that speak to our imaginations, showing what that kind of love looks like.
See other posts in this series:
- Where is Meaning Found? (11 Jan, 18)
- Meaning and Understanding (19 Jan, 18)
- Imagination and Reason (27 Jan, 18)
- Soul Killing (Feb 4, 18)