Sunday, 26 December 2010

Poetic Imagination v Revelation?

I received a very special and unexpected Christmas present, a copy of "the History of the World in a 100 Objects". It is the text that has accompanied a BBC series in which 100 items from the British Museum have been selected to tell the story of human history. It is beautifully produced with great art plates of some amazing artefacts. I am one of those odd people who read the Prefaces and Introductions to books and this book has both; they explain the philosophy behind the book in some detail.

Some years ago I while working in the City of London I attended a lunch-time lecture at the British Museum on the Philosophy of History. There is an old adage that there is 'no such thing as uninterpreted history'. That means that all history is edited and interpreted, almost always by the victors who put their own spin on events. This lecture declared that we can pass no judgments of any kind on history without reinterpreting it and advocated a kind of history without conscience in which we pass no moral comment but simple 'give the facts'. It is impossible of course for any human being to be really objective in 'giving the facts'. Only the man or woman who knows they are subjective and takes that into account has any chance of 'giving the facts'. Those who have dabbled in the mystery may recognise the 'post modern' approach of my lunch time lecturer.

The preface and introduction of my Christmas present give a different slant. They declare, particularly with pre-text artefacts, that it is essential to use 'poetic imagination' in the interpreting of history. I read of a man chipping away at a flint hand axe whose mental processes of flint-knapping stimulated those parts of the brain that would create language. It created, I read, the kind of language which had the vocabulary of a seven year old child. (notice, not a 6 or 8 year old child) It then takes this 'fact' into the next chapter and uses it as the foundation for the next layer in human evolution in which carved animals and human figures show the evolution of religion. For 'poetic imagination' read 'sheer speculation'.

Are we then at the mercy of the imagination of our poets for our understanding of the world in which we live or is there an alternative? Short of the discovery of time travel the only alternatives can be imagination or revelation. There are aspects of life of which we can discover absolutely nothing by our own investigations, but we need not be ignorant of all these. God has given us, not a poetic speculation, but a unique and reliable revelation in the Scriptures. We know where 'religion' came from; it came because men had rejected 'revelation'.
although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Rom 1:21–25 NKJV
Idolatry then, whether in physical images or in contemporary philosophies, is always the consequence of turning our back on revelation.

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