The Christian Imagination

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Dorothy Sayers:

This is the dogma we find so dull—this terrifying drama of which God is the victim and hero. If this is dull, then what, in Heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore; on the contrary, they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left to later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him “meek and mild,” and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. (Sayers, 6)

It would not perhaps be altogether surprising if…there were a number of people who knew all about Christian doctrine and disliked it. It is more startling to discover how many people there are who heartily dislike and despise Christianity without having the faintest notion what it is. If you tell them, they cannot believe you. I do not mean that they cannot believe the doctrine: that would be understandable enough, since it takes some believing. I mean that they simply cannot believe that anything so interesting, so exciting, and so dramatic can be the orthodox Creed of the Church. (Sayers, 20)

These words from Sayers are part of a collection called Creed or Chaos published in 1949. She outlined the drama before the first quote above. I want to highlight her main point though, that “The Dogma is the Drama.” The doctrine, or teaching, centers around the story of Christ, which as Sayers says, is anything but boring.

Now, there is a bit of a straw man here. Doctrine can be boring. Dogma can be boring. However, if we’re actually teaching our creed without taming it first, it isn’t boring. It’s kindof like primary and secondary school history textbooks, in a way. When we tame history to the point where it isn’t offensive to anyone, it’s boring. History isn’t boring.

Further, the Christian creed contains a historical claim of a supernatural event involving a God. If we try to make it too rational so it’s believable, we rob it of the drama. Now, one can make a rational case for the existence of Jesus and the resurrection, but the proof is insufficient. I personally believe in the resurrection as a historical event while also recognizing there is an element of faith to it. But not faith purely. I believe in the supernatural based on experience and stories I’ve heard from others.

And this is part of it: we are a community of people who are part of a story which is absurd based on our current understanding of what is rationally possible. We need to embrace that and embody that. We can’t expect everyone to believe a supernatural story is true. We can’t expect people to believe in a moral code based on the supposed inspirations of a superior being. But we can present the supernatural drama as the story we are part of, and we can be changed by it. Besides, based on the movies people watch, we seem to like the unbelievable, don’t we?

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