In this chapter Smith begins to develop a more complete anthropology, one that takes into account our imaginations, our hearts, our gut, our bodies, as well as our minds.
Whether we are aware of it or not, we all have a telos – an end or purpose we are striving for – and, in fact, it is almost always unconscious. In fact, our true telos, our true love, we are aiming for, can even be contrary to what we think or say our end is. We might know the “right answer” to such questions as “What is the chief end of man?” But what we actually believe is our chief end is what will direct our actual choices. Smith writes,
Rather than being pushed by beliefs, we are pulled by a telos that we desire. It’s not so much that we’re intellectually convinced and then muster the willpower to pursue what we ought; rather, at a precognitive level, we are attracted to a vision of the good life that has been painted for us in stories and myths, images and icons.
The sources of these stories, myths, images, and icons are various: catalogs, advertisements, tv shows, novels, dinners with friends, church services, family stories handed down, Christmas mornings, the endless succession of average school days. All these things converge to impress upon our unconscious imaginations what it is we hope life is.
It is not primarily our minds that are captivated but rather our imaginations that are captured, and when our imagination is hooked, we’re hooked (and sometimes our imaginations can be hooked by very different visions than what we’re feeding into our minds).
This is one reason why fiction is essential. I admit, I enjoy non-fiction for fun reading, and the problem with good novels is that it is hard to function in real life when in the throes of story grip. But, it is through stories more than essays that we see what the world or life might be like. We gain perspective through it, and empathy and vision. Movies and tv shows certainly count, too, as stories that grip us and show us a vision of the world.
Having a correct worldview does not act as a shield against bad visions proclaimed by secular stories or advertising campaigns. In fact, relying too much on mere intellectual assent can even weaken our shield against the false worldviews proclaimed by the much more insidious and compelling marketed to us at all sides, because we need true myths and stories filling our imaginations and claiming our hearts, not only true doctrine in our heads.
It is just like in Jane Austen, where the heroine is protected from a poor suitor (or a good one) because her affections are given to another, not because she has calmly assessed the suitor’s merits. The heart is best protected from false loves by being enamored of a true love. This is true of visions of the good life as well as for romance.
Thus we become certain kinds of people; we begin to emulate, mimic, and mirror the particular vision that we desire.
Again, just like in novels (and real life), where the woman’s choices and preferences become influenced by her love, so our everyday choices are influenced by our heart, whether we are aware of it or not.
This is just to say that to be human is to desire “the kingdom,” some version of the kingdom, which is the aim of our quest. Every one of us is on a kind of Arthurian quest for “the Holy Grail,” that hoped-for, longed-for, dreamed-of picture of the good life – the realm of human flourishing – that we pursue without ceasing.