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Imagining Your Way to Freedom, Again and Again

by Carl S. ~

In a letter to New Scientist magazine published Oct. 25th, Mr. Trevor Jones responds to an article in their Sept. 20 issue, “Daydream believers,” about “our endless capacity for imaginative thought.”

Mr. Jones quotes Friedrich Nietzsche: “We have art in order not to die from the truth.” He then follows with Maurice Bloch's notion of civilization and culture being made up of “arbitrary products of our creative thought.” Following this with examples of discovery, invention, and creativity, Mr. Jones concludes with:
“It is reassuring and life-affirming to realize that anything that isn't memory is imagination. It means forming new ideas, images or concepts is open to anybody, anytime, anywhere.”
In the article referred to, by Catherine Brahic, she quotes Alison Gopnik , psychologist and philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley, who sees imagination as our ability to consider possibilities that we know aren't true in the here and now - a definition that includes unicorns and future events but excludes memories and visualizations of things that really happened.

If I were to have to give an example of imagination in action, the game of chess would come immediately to mind. Strategy in chess is dependent on imagining ahead to the possibilities of one's move, even series of moves, applying the same possibilities to one's opponent. One imaginatively anticipates what the opponent might do and why, and the consequences of moves, even to preventing or encouraging several future moves. And one must keep imagining in order to make choices. Thus, the game, like all games, depends on considering possibilities which may become true in the future, thus visualizations of solutions. And all the while, imagining the possibilities of win some, lose some, of the possibility of losing, period.

When it comes to imagination and results, the God we are told exists, fails. If the God we are told exists and cares about his creation, this God would consider the possibilities of his decisions for them, anticipating human nature with all our caring, our minds, our potentiality, for progress. He would bestow on us the encouragement and approval we would appreciate and need in order to achieve our better natures, even by merely showing the simple appreciation and approval we give our children. He would consider alternative decisions in order to make the best ones, and would take responsibility for the good or evil consequences of his decisions. Judging by the “moves” this god is said to make, he's not even as good as a no-talent chess player. He doesn't have a clue about or respect for the serious game of simply living. The neighborhood nerd could imagine a better god. This so-claimed god we are told, is an all-knowing God of the past and future and thereby lacks what Alison Gopnik described as “imagination- our ability to consider possibilities that we know aren't true in the here and now.”

Human imagination explains religion. Religions created ancient imaginary interpretations of reality and dogmatically infect minds for the purpose of imagining according to what they decide “reality” is. They create an entrapped propaganda environment just as confining as any censoring, dictatorial country in which all outside information is filtered, ignored, and with-held. Within these confines, imagination is allowed to run full rein, even encouraged, just so long as it doesn’t question, but supports, the dogmas. This is the foundation and beginning of where the danger lies, for the individual and societies, because it doesn't jibe with the real world outside. Members of all faiths are told by their leaders not to doubt the religion's interpretation of reality. But remember: Doubt is a tool which tells you something doesn't make sense, and so compels you to imagine alternative interpretations. (And to seek them out.)

Religions, when taken too seriously, are capable of becoming delusions; that is, beliefs firmly held, despite objective and obvious contradictory proof or evidence. The majority of believers don't really take their creeds seriously, and the clergy are content if their congregations pretend to believe what they are told. But there is always the danger that any believers with vivid imaginations, who truly believe doctrines are facts, will harm themselves emotionally, psychologically, and even physically.

Imagine no religion if you will, but likewise, imagine religion itself as “arbitrary products of our creative thought.” These religious fantasies are not necessarily good nor bad, as long as believers don't believe in them too seriously. (The ancient Greeks seemed to be good at doing this.) Gods and unicorns and dragons fit in there, as do creation myths, angels, genies, and let us not forget, those imaginary sacred friends. Oh yes, imaginary friends.

Child psychologist Marjorie Taylor tells us “imaginary friends are pretty multi-purpose individuals. They are the most unbelievably diverse group that you could think of.” In regards to multi-purpose individuals: This reminds me of a response from a letter to the editor I wrote. I pointed out that St. Paul exhorted his flock to be of the “mind of Christ Jesus,” although he never knew him personally, ergo he couldn't know what was in his mind; so he personally created what he considered to be the “mind” of Jesus. He then imagined and then went on to create his own special version of “Christ Jesus.” The responder commented, “So what? Every Christian interprets Jesus individually.” (!)

Another example: Just last Sunday, my wife brought home a weekly periodical from her church. In an article, “There is a God”, under “Personal experience can prove God exists,” this author proclaims, “Another response to the “God is dead” claim is found in the words of an old gospel song: 'If God is dead, who's this living in my heart?' This of course is subjective, and it's only good for one person at a time – the one who experiences God. Nevertheless, those who have this experience also know how real the proof is. It's difficult to have a personal relationship with someone who doesn't exist.” (Right away, I noted his use of the word “difficult” as meaning “but not impossible.” Even then, I would avoid the use of this word, “difficult.” After all, he is speaking to believers who find it quite easy to do so.) Of course, it's not hard to imagine any of the multitude of religions past and present making the very same claim about their deity’s existences. To this, the author would likely scoff and tell us, “But their gods are imaginary.” (Tons of books about St. Paul's imaginary Jesus figure are written, spilling out his imagined thoughts, purposes, and wishes. None have proven he actually existed.)

Shouldn't we resign ourselves to the possibility that religion will always be with us as long as humans have imaginations? But why should we respect any religions? Considering not only the well-known ones with their thousands of sects, but Scientology, Satanism, Mormonism, Pastafarianism, Jehovah's Witnesses ,etc., etc., we need to ask: What do we mean when we say “religion?” Seriously.

Since all religions are based on imaginary super-naturalism, they are equally “valid.” In that case, to be honest, even one person's imaginary worlds are just as “valid” as any others, being unrelated to reality. (Perhaps this is why we find it easy to accommodate so many different religions, so long as their delusions remain harmless.) Without evidence, consider them as existing purely for both fantasy and entertainment value, not things to be respected.

Imagine different interpretations from those you've been told and learn from evidence, and follow through. Doubting by using your imagination is freedom. Question everything; it is your birthright. Everything human-made, including music and gods, begins in imagination. Those who laugh, last. There is plenty of laugh-out-loud material in religions! Imagination is “open to anyone, anyplace, anytime.”
“Science adjusts its views based on what's observed. Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved.” -Tim Minchin.