Among other things, Modernity can be condemned for a lack of imagination. The scope of Modernity’s influence is vast which means that almost everywhere imagination is starved. When I speak of “imagination” I’m not speaking of someone’s “fancy.” Someone might “fancy” having a new sports car in the garage but they most likely possess poor imaginative qualities. The imagination that I am speaking of is an imagination spurred by a righteous telos. Telos is the goal or “end purpose” toward which a person or a culture is aimed.
When an individual or community has a vision, or telos, of a righteous and glorious nature this telos, or goal, acts as a powerful source for the imagination.The imagination, empowered by a righteous telos, can bring about action and change like no political campaign ever could. The problem, as T.S. Eliot saw so well, is that most Modern people have “sluggish imaginations.”
“There is one class of persons to which one speaks with difficulty, and another to which one speaks in vain. The second, more numerous and obstinate than may at first appear, because it represents a state of mind into which we are all prone through natural sloth and relapse, consists of those people who cannot believe that things will ever be very different from what they are at the moment. From time to time, under the influence perhaps of some persuasive writer or speaker, they may have an instant of disquiet or hope; but an invincible sluggishness of imagination makes them go on behaving as if nothing would ever change. Those to whom one speaks with difficulty, but no perhaps in vain, are the persons who believe that great changes must come, but are not sure either of what is inevitable, or of what is probable, or of what is desirable. (pg. 10-11) (emphasis mine)
Walker Percy used to write about the malaise that had washed over the Modern world. This malaise served as the catalyst for endemic numbing. Rather than face the emptiness, pointlessness, and malaise of Modernity in the face, Modern man would rather numb and distract themselves. Percy looked to the usual suspects of popular entertainment and consumerism as the main culprits in the race to escape the malaise.
In the quotation above, Eliot points out how it is a vain endeavor to speak to such people about the possibility of a different world. These people’s imaginations have been so numbed that they are incapable of believing that things could ever change.
The task of our day, much like C.S. Lewis proposed in The Abolition of Man, is a recovery of the imagination. Modern culture has indoctrinated us from our earliest years that the world is a powerful and pointless machine that cannot be stopped. All too often we do not have the imaginative powers to overcome this lie. But the first step to overcoming all evils is to see the evil for what it is. Perhaps Christians will begin to heed the warnings of the likes of Eliot, Percy, and Lewis and question whether they have succumb to the numbness of Modernity and their imaginations too are sluggish.
Food for thought.