The Mythology of an Anti-Christian BigotBy James Matthew Wilson for FRONT PORCH REPUBLIC
Though far, in its main argument, from the central concerns of the Porch, some readers may be interested in my account of mythos and the nature of culture as an essentially poetic act, in this essay in Crisis Magazine. An Excerpt:
The early expression, articulated by S.T. Coleridge, John Keble, and John Henry Newman, held that indeed culture is the poem of a poetic community. The Church is a poetic community, whose practices, prayers, doctrines, and works constitute together a great poem. This poem is a work of human imagination, because the Church is composed of human beings. This says nothing about its truth or falsehood.
The question we must answer is, rather, what is this imagination whose out-working, whose expression, is manifested in the great poem of the Church? The Church answers: it is the active recipient of the absolute and the unconditioned. The Church receives the revelation of God. The human imagination receives this revelation in faith. In response to this reception, it begins its work of discernment, of staring into the hieroglyph of what God has shown, in history and above all in his Son, the Logos, so as to discover what are the expressible truths its contains.
The Logos, the singular eternal Word, finds expression in the many temporally spoken words, the logoi, of the Church and its members. And so, the primary source, or cause, of the activity of the imagination of the Church is inspiration: this revelation in faith to the people of God, from God. But this primary source is not the sole source. Human reason of its own nature and power can rise up to the absolute, unconditioned truth. If it could not, we could not know by reason the truths of mathematics, the definitions of such things as rabbits, frogs, goodness, justice, freedom, and beauty, or of the existence of God. But we in fact do know all these things, and do so by way of reason’s own activity. Philosophy, poetry, and the physical sciences are some of its more prominent expressions. These are not human “inventions,” they are the result of reason’s discernment of realities outside and above itself. To claim otherwise would be to claim that every truth is an invention of the individual’s subjectivity.
And so, we would expect Christianity to be a work of the human imagination, wherein that imagination gives expression to the total, unified discovery of human reason and divine inspiration. The Church, indeed culture as a whole, including each and every culture the world over, is an attempt to express, in Phillip Rieff’s marvelous formulation, the Sacred Order in the Social Order. That Christianity is the true myth that transcends and completes all others is merely a consequence of its unfolding as an expression of the discernment of human reason and also of God’s revelation.