Sunday, January 3, 2016


The word imagination has been coming up for me a lot lately. It started when I was reading about Blaise Pascal. He talked about some of the limitations of reason. It was a lot of ideas that have crossed my mind before. The notion that arguments can be rejected by people even if the reasoning is sound because they just don't have the mindset to go there. I used the word tradition to describe what keeps people from thinking in certain ways even when presented with a good argument. I could see that people from the reformed tradition, including myself, had trouble processing Catholic arguments. We could not refute them, we just didn't find them convincing. 

Pascal describes a similar thing but he uses the word imagination. That the human mind needs to be able to imagine something before they will be able to go there. Imagination can distort reason so logical arguments don't work. It seems like a similar idea except with a different word. A different word impacts people's imagination differently. People who would baulk at the idea that some tradition or other unavoidably shapes their thinking might react very differently to the idea that they need to change their imagination. Some traditions are very negative on the word "tradition." 

The other difference, again a difference that impacts more the imagination than the logical content, is using this to talk about secular thinkers as well as those formed by a particular religious group. That makes a lot of sense. Secular people think they love logic but often simply dismiss very well-reasoned objections. 

I like the idea of imagination better for evangelism. It is much easier to envision changing someone's imagination than changing their tradition. I think Pascal is right that this does not have to be deeply ingrained. People's minds can be changed quite quickly if you find a way to move their imagination. A good story can do that. So can a loving relationship. 

The other way the word imagination was used is in the context of grief. A friend talked about how he could not imagine a joyful and fruitful life after the loss he had suffered. That thought seemed to resonate with others who were suffering grief. It explains why logic has limited value when dealing with a grieving person. They simply cannot accept your conclusion because it is unimaginable.

In this case it seemed that just understanding the problem helped a lot. Just seeing that your mind needs time to grasp that certain things are possible. That gives people the courage to just keep going expecting that a new day will dawn eventually. 

It is easier when you are dealing with something that is irretrievably and undeniably lost like a loved one who has died. In the case of evangelism often the old mindset is something you can go back to. AA people talk about hitting rock bottom so you cannot imagine going back to you old lifestyle. That gives people the strength to re-imagine a whole new way of doing life. I guess a fear of hell can do that for people. Convince them that they have to change no matter how hard it is.

Still it would be nice for people to change their imagination without hitting rock bottom. At least for protestants we can't really use the fear of hell because we can't say definitively they will go to hell if they don't convert. We can come closer for atheists but even then we can't completely exclude the possibility they might be saved already. 

I think just knowing you have to enable their imagination before you can move them with sound reasoning makes a big difference. It means that you should not expect people to be rational. That can allow me to be more charitable when they dismiss my arguments. 

It also causes me to think about my own imagination. I need to make sure that I allow Jesus to reshape it through His church. Through the teachings but also through the sacraments and through the stories. 

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