When a culture loses truth, our collective imagination becomes less anchored in reality. Imagination doesn’t have to be a bad word, and neither does ‘creativity.’ A renaissance in education necessitates a greater cultivation of creativity and imagination. There are real objective categories, not only in truth and goodness, but also in beauty. I will make a comment about Christian liberal arts education in the conclusion.
One of the strengths of Dante’s Paradise are his examples of the imagination. Its good to read an old dead guy like Dante. Dante is being guided through purgatory by Virgil when he comes upon a siren, an old witch. Dante is at first stunned by her beauty and stands there with his mouth agape. Immediately, Virgil walks up to her and rips her open at which point Dante realizes how ugly she is.
In any society there is a conflict of imagination: one man thinks or states that something is beautiful which is really just dead man’s bones inside. In our society this could be anything from homosexuality to pornography or the party culture. But when Christian imagination transforms a society these things are revealed to be what they are: ugly. That’s because imagination is transformed by the truth of God’s Word. In fact, pornography and homosexuality represent a destruction of the imagination, a society that has become unthankful towards God. Porn and homosexuality make us un-men, as CS Lewis so famously describes in his book Perelandra. Doestevsky writes: “The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.”
Merriam-Webster defines imagination in three ways: 1. “the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality” 2. “Creative ability” 3. “A creation of the mind; especially: an idealized or poetic creation”. As with the Renaissance and Reformation of the 16th century, we need a powerful re-awakening of the imagination. The books we read, the movies we watch, the music we listen to are all examples of how we shape our imagination. But it extends beyond this as well: architecture, roads, company structures, landscaping, drilling for oil are further examples of images that are pressed upon the imagination of north America. The stories we tell about ourselves and our world not only tell us how we are shaping the imagination of North America, but how it’s imagination is shaping us.
The Christian liberal arts ought to help shape our minds and therefore our lives in a way that we can recognize the difference of an imagination without God so that we can create beauty in this world. A beauty that recognizes evangelical truth. A Christian education should engage our creative powers through truth, beauty and goodness. Of course, these categories must be in submission to the Lordship of Christ. While such a degree doesn’t guarantee one an automatic high pay check (but then, nothing will guarantee you a high pay check except for hard work and God’s grace), it ought to goad the student on to new avenues of Christian creative ability in a world that dances with darkness.
I believe that you will find New Saint Andrew’s College to be an interesting model of this kind of education in North America. It is an education structured around the classics and touching on the different educational disciplines, designed to cultivate Christian leadership in North American culture and academia. They try to give the tools and some of the necessary information and the students are given the task of using them creatively and with Godly integrity. I definitely enjoyed my four years there.