Why Story Matters: Reuniting Reason and Imagination
by Holly Ordway
Human beings possess the twin faculties of Reason and Imagination, both God-given, both essential for a right relationship with the world (and for a right understanding of one’s place in the world). However, something has gone badly wrong in our culture. In a slow process that began with the Enlightenment and has continued to the present day, these faculties of Reason and Imagination have been separated, to the detriment of both.
On the one hand, Reason has been given free rein, and the pursuit of knowledge using our God-given intellect has become scientism and materialism, the idea that only those things that can be empirically measured and logically figured out can be considered “true” or “real.” In the world of science, truth is held to be only that which is measurable and testable. Intangible things like emotions and spiritual truths are decidedly second-class citizens. After all, souls can’t be detected with an MRI, and love can’t be weighed and measured!
This adulation of Reason without the counterbalance of Imagination leads to an inevitable diminishment of the vision of what it means to be human. Our culture is showing many signs of this part of the Reason / Imagination divide. For instance, in a culture that embraces “scientific” ways of thinking, it becomes difficult to justify spending any extra time or money in promoting the arts, or making buildings beautiful.
In older cities like Boston or Philadelphia, the public buildings from the 18th or 19th centuries – the town hall, the courthouse, the banks – have elegant, inspiring architecture. Contrast that to your local 20th century Department of Motor Vehicles.
More seriously, the fact that the human soul cannot be weighed, measured, or detected with scientific instruments has led to a creeping tendency to define human beings by what they can do, not by their innate dignity as men and women made in the image of God. The elderly and disabled, who cannot define themselves in terms of what they can accomplish, can very easily be considered a burden on society.
Narrowing the definition of truth to what Reason alone can determine makes it possible for people to design functional buildings that depress the soul, and for people to talk about the suitability of ending one’s life simply because one is old and tired…
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