I want to focus a bit more on what Bill Maher calls my “imaginary friend” Jesus. And let me emphasize, I love Bill Maher and think he is doing part of the prophetic function for our culture that the Christian church does not have the courage to do for itself.
Imagination is the human faculty that is often lacking in our experience of religion for it involves involvement of the body, connection with the body, which my experience in the Christian tradition discouraged. This is very much related to the Christian tradition of self-abnegation which usually focused more on denying the body’s appetites while allowing the appetites of the ego to run amok.
There is more to this relationship between imagination and cognition than I fully understand. Imagination involves “free play” between subject and object so that “life” can be given to cognitive images that our culture has given us. This “life” can be invigorating to these images and free them from the bondage of the “letter of the law” and make possibly a meaningful interpretation of dogma, not merely a sterile recitation of dead facts. For example, the sound “Jesus” can cease referring to a mere concept and can become a symbol and therefore capable of evoking an internal, subjective experience which is the “Christ child” within us all. But for this evocation to even be possible, there must be a heart that is subject to evocation. Shakespeare described this heart as one which is made of “penetrable stuff” and not one that is still “bronzed o’er” with the sterile dogma with which one has been enculturated. But a heart made of this “penetrable stuff” is scary and it is much easier to just mindlessly carry on with one’s routine life, comfortably ensconced in the Christian version of “well-worn words and ready phrases that build comfortable walls against the silence.” (Conrad Aiken) For, it is in the silence that the primordial word is found which is what Thomas Keating had in mind with this pithy observation, “God’s primary language is silence, everything else is a poor translation.”
ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running. Please check the other two out sometime. The three are: