Too Heavenly Minded for Real Classical Good – Christian Imagination, Pt. 4

One of the most pernicious enemies of a healthy Christian imagination used for the glory of God and the building of His kingdom is rationalism.

Rationalism can have many faces and angles, but it essentially amounts to compartmentalization. That is, rationalism divide reality up into compartments that are airtight and soundproof. The various compartments of reality cannot communicate with each other. They are separated from each other and do not mean anything in and of themselves. They must be justified by external criteria or risk being judged “irrelevant” to the drudgery of daily living.

Unbelievers do this in many ways. For instance, think of the stark proposed division between things “religious” and things “factual.” This usually comes out regarding the relationship of science to faith Positing a sharp division between faith and reason, they say that faith deals with “subjective beliefs” while reason deals with “objective facts.” Matters of morality and beliefs about God have nothing to do with “the real world” and “the real world” has nothing to do with them. To each his own truth and a merry old time for all!

The problem is that we Christians also often have this flawed way of thinking ourselves. One way we do this is when we send our children to public schools without constantly monitoring not just what but how they are being taught. Sitting in classrooms day after day with non-Christian teachers and a cornucopia of non-Christian students, too many Christian students unconsciously begin to treat all “subjects” as trajectories of thought and activity that just don’t have any substantial connection to what goes on in that other building and that other time on Sunday. This is how even good Christian kids come to think and act like their most non-Christian peers in all the “practical” things of daily living, all the while verbally affirming that they believe the Bible and trust in Jesus for salvation.

Another way we Christians often exhibit rationalism by positing a rigid division between the “secular” and the “sacred.” Do we not often tacitly demean everything from employment to education if it does not conform to a purpose that we have pleased ourselves to call “spiritual” (such as evangelizing the lost)? Do we not love to be jealous because So-and-So is in “full time ministry” while we have to content ourselves with the “useless” mundanities of “worldly employment”? The secular / sacred divide interprets all engagement with this world as actually occurring within a sort of vague space that is not serious in its own right, and can only be justified by citing a passel of Bible prooftexts that are all about “spiritual” things.

So when it comes to studying good literature, let alone to writing good literature, we’re not operating with a healthy, actually biblical framework. Classical Christian education should address this problem, but unfortunately it often doesn’t. And that’s because just slapping the words “classical” and “Christian” onto an education that is done in the exact same rationalistic way as secular education really doesn’t amount to anything deserving of those two hallowed descriptive words.

For more on the Christian imagination, see my short books, It’s Not A Small World, After All, and Worlds Within the World: How Tolkien Can Help Christians Write Better Fiction.