Matthew Fox tells the story in his book Creativity, about a group of fundamentalists who became the majority on a New Hampshire county school board. Their first decree was to not allow the use of the word "imagination" in the classroom. When Mr. Fox inquired what they were afraid of they said, "Satan. Satan lives in the imagination."
I assume much of this spiritual sentiment comes from poor interpretation of verses like Ephesians 6:12, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."
Ephesians 6:12 aside, what a strange ethereal battle to fight within a school: invisible forces and the thoughts of others. It’s difficult enough fighting battles against enemies we can see, how much more against ones we cannot. Who is to gauge whether we’re winning or not? When is the battle over?
Ephesians 6:12 places this ongoing battle in the heavenly places, epouraniois. A curious word Paul creates out of his imagination just for the purpose of this letter. It’s a place above the sky, a place where Christ sits, but also a place with enemies. Satan is in epouraniois.
The late painter Thomas Kinkade called himself the Painter of Light and preferred to portray the world without the fall, without evil or the possibility of Satan. In speaking of a mural he painted for the Billy Graham Library, he said painting it was "a moment of divine inspiration" and that the painting offers viewers "a glimpse of a heavenly realm."
Should we be creating canvasses full of light without a hint of darkness? Can violence and evil have a purpose in our art, in our imaginations?
As Gregory Wolfe comments about Kinkade's art: “If faith teaches us anything, it should be that our nostalgia is for an ideal we can only find after accepting, and passing through, the brokenness of a fallen world. Any other approach, in art or in life, is a form of denial."
If evil is here to stay, in our high places, in our low places, in our heavenly places, and if imagination is to play a vital role in schools and in our lives, then our fight isn’t against the power of these places — whether heavenly or imaginative — our fight is for unqualified truth. In that truth we begin to see the invisible. Only then do we know what we’re up against.