Critical Essay

Christian nationalism vandalizes the imagination

When churches whitewashed their walls, they left themselves vulnerable.

The insurrection at the US Capitol a year ago felt like an inevitable culmination of the violent rhetoric surrounding the 2020 election. But it also left many of us with questions. Why were Trump supporters so convinced by his claims about the election? And why were there so many Christian symbols and phrases mixed in with the Trump banners, MAGA hats, and Confederate flags?

A wealth of articles and books on Christian nationalism followed, all trying to make sense of these difficult questions. But just as brain surgery cannot fix a blocked artery, intellectual inquiry can’t solve a crisis of the imagination. Christian nationalism has a pernicious imaginative power. To address it, we need to recover the Christian tradition of cultivating the imagi­nation as a spiritual practice.

Phantasma, the Greek word for imagination, is related to the word for light, and like light, the imagination filters or shades how we see reality. It shapes our perception of the world around us. Though the imaginative eye certainly has some connections to our physical eyes, it might be better to compare it to the gut. The imaginative eye needs to be fed, and what we feed it vastly affects our overall well-being. If we offer it a nutritious, well-rounded diet, we can see more clearly; if we feed it a limited or unhealthy diet, we may be more susceptible to disease.