Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Writing and Empiricism

Eye Colour - M.C. Escher

For a long time Christian writers didn't have to deal with empiricism, the Christian worldview was something that permeated every aspect of western civilization. Then came Empiricism and ruined everything. Though the story is a little more complex then that... the purpose of this blog post is not meant to be a history lesson, instead it's meant talk about how empiricism works, and how Christians ought to avoid it. 

Ernest Hemingway once described Empiricism in his book A farewell to arms, "Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers and the numbers of regiments and dates,". In other words, things that can be seen, heard, touched or in are in any other way discernible to the senses are in fact... more real then abstract concepts such as good and evil. This is Empiricism boiled down. Lets note here, the Empiricism isn't Atheism (though most atheists tend to be hard line empiricists), it isn't even necessarily agnostic, it's simply skeptical of anything information that isn't obtained through the senses. 

And in the modern day world... Empiricism is everywhere.

This includes writing, even what one would call, Christian Writing, has been affected drastically by Empiricism. Though most Christians reject Empiricism, a lot of it has permeated out philosophy.

For one, Christian writing often depends upon the five senses to verify the Supernatural. It is more rarer today, to see the Supernatural presence as  something given through symbolism such as in Pilgrim's Progress or something indiscernible to those who are foolish such as Uncle Andrew in The Magician's Nephew Now this is not always the case, but sometimes when Christian writers describe the Supernatural, they tend to describe something that works much the same as the material world with perhaps a few more superpowers. Angels become less creatures of awe inspiring wonder and more like humans with telekinetic powers. God is often reduced to one (or three) physical person/s (as in The Shack for example) who function more as mentor characters then anything else.

Instead of trying to raise Humanity to God's level, and help them understand His Glory, through use of symbolism, modern christian writing has decided to pull God down to our level by making him merely physical. I will note, the problem is not emphasizing God's physicality (as the Word did indeed take on flesh), but instead reducing it to mere physicality. Where everything that is important about God is something that can be felt in some way by the senses. The sights, visions, feels, rather then the deeper things underlying them. It's not that those things cannot be used to communicate God, but rather that those things are limited and should instead point to the Thing in Itself.

(Art by 


  1. Uncle Andrew was a character in The Magician's Nephew, not The Horse and his Boy.

  2. I think that a lot of times people are turned off by the idea of symbolism by the way that it has been misused by Freud and their English teachers.

  3. While I think that you are correct that empiricism casts a long shadow in our culture today, I really think that the various forms of postmodernism are more prevalent in people's actual thought. I don't think people today are as closed to the idea of spiritual realities as they were, say, 30 years ago.