Religious Imagination as the Impatience of Intelligence


Rene Magritte, “The Annunciation”, 1930

By showing how amidst a dreary landscape a magnificent configuration of super-natural life emerges, Magritte in his “The Annunciation” represents the three aspects of the religious imagination/belief (RIB). The first is its incredible psychological energy – that’s how a sinking person yearning for salvation tries to catch the blade of grass. This energy/passion aspect of RIB is represented by the balls/knots and its transmitting connectors as if striving upwards, towards the closeness to absolute value. The second aspect of RIB is shiningly white patterned embellishing surface with mask-like vignettes – RIB’s aesthetic façade. And the third aspect is the solemn columns of power RIB ascribes to and shares with the religious phenomena.

Following Magritte’s painting we experience the dull and dry landscape – it is human life right in the midst of and a part of nature without the saving intervention of the supernatural powers. Rocks, a rather prosaic sporadic bush trees and generic clouds on the universal, without particularity, sky – are not inviting optimism, are too boring to be capable of nurturing human creative ability to challenge the tough meaninglessness of everyday existence. But the intervention of the super-natural glory (the annunciation of the incredible, unnatural event – of the Immaculate Conception which makes god and humans forever genetically co-substantial) changes everything. Life without sense and reason, the natural vegetation of survival, adaptation and fight – is instantly transformed into the exceptional, an extraordinary phenomenon – into a claim that the human presence in the world is world’s significant aspect, and the short human life is unique feature of creation.

By looking at the painting we see this magnificent growth amidst an anti-existential condition of nature, this musical, melodic development among the trivial surrounding for which human life is nothing but a vulgarly biological phenomenon without the ecstatic and poetic intensity of spiritual living.

Human being can adapt to the mechanical condition of the world that is without the need to hope for upliftingly transforming experiences. Human beings can, but not the human existential intelligence (EI) which desperately needs to focus on the alternative to the world as it is, in the same sense in which EI itself is an alternative to the conformist vegetation of survival which is registered in Magritte’s painting as a condition overcame by Annunciation.

But EI deployed in the form of RIB is capable of creating an existential ideal (EID) only if it inevitably locks this ideal into the impossibility of being realized in this world. The most pious human efforts cannot neutralize the violence that is necessary in order to protect the always particular version of RIB from numerous enemies armed with other versions of RIB. Magritte registers the very moment when EI (existential intelligence), formed as RIB (religious imagination/belief) that helps people to continue to live amidst the impossible (only earthy conditions), expresses its ontological incompatibility with these conditions. This incompatibility contradicts the fact that EI is inseparable from living in this world, is very reaction on this world’s moral limitations. It is as if the EID (existential ideal) and our life are perversely irreconcilable, exactly as a miserable landscape in Magritte’s painting and the magnificence of the super-natural reality grown with a magic speed amidst it and out of it. This castle of the RIB has saved human beings from disappearance among the rocks and the poor greenery but it also forever splits reality and the spiritual ideal, the factual conditions of living and their spiritual alternative.