C. S. Lewis and Iain McGilchrist both see metaphor as how we make sense of life. It’s primary. They also agree the Enlightenment overthrew metaphor. These are two of the four ways they parallel one another. Here’s two more ways Lewis and McGilchrist are on the right side of history.
The Western World is imprisoned, trapped
Lewis is popular for his fantasy literature, including The Chronicles of Narnia. He majored in metaphor, believing images “steal past” religious associations that destroy our ability to make sense of our lives. Lewis held that “great stories take us out of the prison of our own selves and our presuppositions about reality.”
McGilchrist writes how a bias for words over images leaves Westerners “trapped in a hall of mirrors,” imprisoned in a world of words without a shared frame. “The Western world “has blocked off the available exits,” he warns, “the ways out of the hall of mirrors, into a reality which the right hemisphere could enable us to understand.”
Lighting the way forward
McGilchrist notes how the Enlightenment shaped the Reformation. “As Schleiermacher put it, the Reformation and the Enlightenment have this in common, that ‘everything mysterious and marvellous is proscribed. Imagination is not to be filled with [what are now thought of as] airy images.’” Both movements “attempted to do away with the visual image, the vehicle par excellence of the right hemisphere, particularly in its mythical and metaphoric function, in favour of the word, the stronghold of the left hemisphere, in pursuit of unambiguous certainty.” In this sense, McGilchrist lights the way for Christians seeking to foster a world of meaning: return to metaphor.
C. S. Lewis lights the same path. “In the post-Christian world,” notes Michael Ward, “our challenge is not so much to prove that Christianity is true as to show that it has meaning, that it is not gibberish.”1 Ward sees Lewis as lighting the way. The path to reasonable faith begins with imagination. Ward sees the Enlightenment as assuming we can reason our way to truth without the aid of imagination.
Biographer Colin Duriez notes how Lewis believed “the imaginative man in him was more basic than any other aspect.”2 Recent findings from neuroimaging underscore this. So did Albert Einstein, who described our forgetful society: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant, but has forgotten the gift.” Emissary has overthrown master. At the end of the day, when it comes to making sense of life, I believe Lewis and McGilchrist will be proven to be on the right side of history.
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1 Michael Ward, “How Lewis Lit the Way to Better Apologetics,” Christianity Today, November 2013.
2 “C. S. Lewis, the Sneaky Pagan,” interview of Colin Duriez by Rob Moll, Christianity Today, June 28, 2004.