“How could a made-up fantasy world reveal anything about the ‘truth’?”
This is a question that Fredric Heidemann was forced to confront as he read The Lord of the Rings as an atheist. In his story recounted on Word on Fire, he points out how there was a depth to the world of Middle Earth that forced him to ask questions about the real world.
In Middle Earth, there is a definitive sense of good and evil. Sauron is the ultimate force of evil while the free people scattered throughout the world continue to try to work for good even if their efforts are imperfect at times.
Brotherly love is obviously portrayed through the entire fellowship and specifically from Sam and Frodo. Self-sacrifice is beautifully shown when Aragorn decides to lead one final assault on the gates of Mordor to essentially buy time for the ring to be destroyed. Gandalf sacrificed his life to cast down the Balrog.
The funny thing about all of these things is that they are not limited to the fantasy world. These things take place in our world as well with actual people. There are forces of good and forces of evil, and, as creatures who always seem to be searching for meaning, we want to know why these things exist. In the book, the answer is obvious. They exist because the author, J.R.R. Tolkien, decided to build those elements into his narrative.
From an atheistic worldview, there certainly can be no author in our real world who has the power to orchestrate our universe. There cannot be an active force of supernatural evil who tries to destroy all that which is good. Those things simply do not fit in the box of naturalistic atheism.
To quote Heidemann again, “The richness of life, which is on full poetic display in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, made me recognize that supposedly rational atheism did not reveal the truth of things; instead, it removed their intrinsic wonder and worth.”
That is the power of imaginative apologetics. The imagination is a human faculty, and God can use that to bring us to Himself. Even though we often times make fun of the imagination by evoking images of imaginary friends and dream worlds, there is power there specifically because it is a human faculty created by God.
When we consider the imagination in that light then, as apologists who are attempting to interact with culture and communicate the truth of Christianity, we would be remiss if we left this opportunity on the table. Just like some people are philosophically minded and love to hear about cosmological and teleological arguments for the existence of God, there are others who will connect more effectively with imaginative methods. Perhaps they love poetry, literature or music. Those things, while perhaps not always philosophical in nature, can obviously convey things about beauty, truth and frankly reality that everyone needs to hear including those who are not traditionally philosophically minded. We cannot limit our cultural engagement to only one field.
There’s another rather famous series of books that do this particularly well as well. We just might have spent the last seven weeks trying to explore a little bit of how this was done. I hope you enjoyed the journey.