Thursday, June 16, 2005

Speaking of Faith

During the past decade, there has been an explosion of films and television programs containing religious and spiritual themes. Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was only the tip of the iceberg. As new generations of Americans work out their spiritual and religious questions, they are increasingly turning to fantasy.

These are the opening words of an issue of Krista Tippett's radio program "Speaking of Faith." I recommend the program to anyone who enjoys reflecting on matters of spirituality and faith. Obviously some topics will be more appealing than others. I receive the broadcast from the Internet. The advantage with the streaming audio broadcast is the additional information found on the website. You can investigate it for yourself at this here.

The show I mentioned above reminds me why I started the Magic Lantern Show. The imagination is a neglected dimension of faith and spirituality in Western culture. We tend to regard it as untrue. Hence, our inability to understand Revelation. Every printing of the Bible should come with a heading before Revelation emblazened with the legend "WARNING: Keep Out of Reach of Engineers." (My apologies to those of you who are engineers. Many of my best friends are engineers.)

Forgive the pitiful humor, but we have favored reason to the point that our ability to discern truth through imagination has atrophied. Reason certainly is important, and I regret that its neglect may soon be upon us, but our spiritual senses require both if we are to be whole. These two capactities of discernment are no more exclusive of one another than sight is exclusive of hearing. So let us hone both our intellect and our imagination. In the peaceable kingdom that is to come artists, philosophers, scientists, and engineers shall dwell together in harmony.

So, let's all go to movies - but take your faith with you.


CJR said...

Being (I think :-)) one of your friends who is an engineer, I ask you to consider if it's the engineers who have run the imagination from our spirituality or the clergy? It seems that imagination - given its inherent individualism and empowerment - is the enemy of power-consolidators and the orthodoxy-keepers. True, it may also be the enemy of the legalist, but theologians and philosophers fall into that camp as readily as accountants or engineers!

Chris Benjamin said...

Indeed you are one of my engineering friends! (Unless my recent blog has changed that!!). In fact, I consider myself an apostle to engineers after my sojourn in Lake Jackson for six years. In that environment, being the clear minority voice, it was always appropriate to make engineers my foil since they held all the power. What harm were my jokes and japes afterall against the almighty Dow Chemcial!

As to your comment, I completely agree. If a "touche" is in order, then you sir have me summarily "touche-d." You are very right that the theologians/scholars/clergy have negotiated power so that only those with credentials are allowed to interpret the mysteries of God. [Just such a conversation is going on over at the Odyssey weblog]

In fact, I find it interesting that the Enlightment, which gave birth to the scientific reading of the Scriptures, was a reaction to the hegemony of the clergy. The original impulse for reading the Bible through the lens of reason and common sense was so that common ploughboy might know as much of the word as any Archbishop. It was of course Tyndale who said that and his translation of the Bible into English was another power grab from the orthodoxy.

I find it ironic however, that we know find ourselves in another place in which intelligence and mastery of the original languages and critical methods are credentials for claiming special knowlegde. And you are very right that thelogians and clergy trade on these credentials as much as anyone and "we" too have been the quenchers of imagination. I know this all too well.

Alas, you have humbled me my dear engineering friend. And lest there be any doubt, in the words of Spock to Kirk: "I have been and always shall be your friend." I am sure he would have said the same thing to Scotty - the engineer (hee hee).

CJR said...

As I look over my own spiritual and intellectual development and think about those who have spurred me on to engage my imagination in my journey, the list looks something like this (in no particular order):

// Frederick Buechner
// C. S. Lewis
// G. K. Chesterton
// J. R. R. Tolkein
// Milton
// Auden
// Walt Whitman
// R. W. Emerson

There are probably others I'm omitting, but that's the list that pops to my consciousness. Make one note: No theologians or engineers!

CJR said...

Also, I didn't mention that I've been listening to Speaking of Faith for over a year now and really enjoy it. Note that in addition to streaming the audio from the SOF website site, for a few dollars, you can download the programs from and take them with you either on a portable device or burn them to CD.