Friday, July 21, 2006

Imagination, Faith, and Harry Potter

My kids have an amazing imagination. At the moment, their entire central imagination processor is taken up with one project: the world of Harry Potter. And while it is exciting to see my seven-year old daughter ploughing through volume after volume in this series, and enchanting (?) to see her and her five-year old sister role playing new developments in the HP plot that even J.K. Rowland had never thought of, it’s just a little scary to see how addicted they are to the whole thing. So far they have only seen movies one and two—the nice ones that Chris Columbas directed. How do we protect them from the next two, which they are currently much to young to see?

All is not that bleak. We have read the Hobbit together (after which I had to explain that LOTR was just a little bit too adult for going on with straight away), and have listened to an audio book of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (but again, not seen the movie—it is a little confronting for littlies), as well as the usual Hans Christian Anderson stories and what not. So they are building up a bit of an imaginative canon.

And the fixation with one character has happened before. They were mad keen on the story of Joseph for years, gobbling up picture books, role playing (taking it in turns to be Potiphar and Pharaoh) and learning Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s lyrics off by heart.

What am I getting at? The importance of imagination for religious faith. Ron Rolheiser has a very interesting take on this in his recent column “Faith, Doubt and Imagination”. There he suggests that our limited imagination can be a hindrance for faith. I think he is right (I love his suggestion that we do not believe with either our heads or our hearts, but with our bums!), but I also believe that the antidote can sometimes be a better developed imagination, rather than discounting imagination altogether as an element in faith.

What I mean is this: If someone said to me that they were unable to believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus because they were unable to imagine it, I would suggest that they had lost something essential to the “childlike faith” that Jesus commends in the Gospels. I sometimes think that the “childlike” are able to believe so effortlessly precisely because they are able to imagine without effort.

None of this is to discount the necessary balance with the other function of “the head” in faith, namely, to reason. Some people imagine the most ridiculous things but fail to bring the necessary objectivity of rational thought to bear in relation to these imaginings.

Yes, perhaps Rolheiser is right in the end. It’s the objectivity of Truth that matters for faith in the end, like the seat my bum is sitting on right now. And seats generally don’t present too much challenge to either reason or the imagination.

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