The Theology of Calvin and Hobbes, Part 3, Chapter 8: Monsters Under the Bed

As we discussed in the last chapter, Charles Taylor describes our modern "secular age" as one existing in an Immanent Frame. That is, over the last 500 years we have moved from an "enchanted" age, with its gods, demons, spirits, and magic, to our modern, scientific "disenchanted" age. A two-dimensinal plane of existence with a horizontal human dimension and a transcendent vertical dimension has now been reduced to the flat, horizontal line. The only minds, meanings, concerns, goals, purposes, and values are human ones. Beyond us, there is nothing.

One of the recurring strips in Calvin and Hobbes is Calvin's fears about monsters under the bed.

As we saw in the last chapter, Watterson loves to play with subjectivity and objectivity. Are there really monsters under the bed? Or is this just Calvin's imagination? Regardless, we all identify with Calvin. Those spaces--under the bed and the dark closet--represent epistemic limits. We can't see into those spaces. So we fill them with creatures not of this world.

What is faith like in the Immanent Frame? What is it like to believe or contemplate belief in an age of disenchantment? How can we make appeals to "God" when the transcendent world is no longer as self-evidently obvious as are trees and rocks?

Taylor suggests that faith and unfaith in the secular age is like standing at the intersection of two strong crosswinds. One wind, the disenchanting wind, tries to flatten us into the immanent, the plane of purely humans endeavors. It is a wind of disbelief. But there is also an uplifting wind, one that lifts us skyward into the transcendent. This wind is an urge for something Bigger, for Faith, for a Meaning beyond human plans and strivings. It is, as Christians sing, a wind that makes us soar like eagles.

Two winds. One forcing us down. The other lifting us up. In the secular age faith and unfaith are like leaves caught in these cross breezes.

Are there monsters? Or not? We can only see so far. Peering into spaces where human eyesight fails. Is this world enchanted? Or is it disenchanted, all just in our heads?

We make commitments in the secular age to either belief or disbelief. Faith or unfaith. But due to the crosswinds both believer and non-believer will be uncomfortable.

For the unbeliever they will feel a loss, a sense of nostalgia perhaps, for overcoming childhood superstition. There is price for "growing up" and turing one's back on God. The universe seems colder, emptier. But what can we do? Facts are facts, right? We just have to tough it out. Make the best life we can without God.

Yet a sense lingers that life with God was more fun, exciting, and adventurous. Who doesn't want Santa Claus to be real? Or to live with the thrill of a world where monsters lurk? The world seems less.

The believer has a different collection of worries. On the upside, the world is abuzz in meaning, portent, and Ultimate Things. There is God (or gods), angels, demons, a Devil. Life re-enchants. And it's awfully exciting. Particularly given the 9 to 5 workaday monotony most of us face each week.

But faith in the secular age is fragile. Relative to earlier eras it becomes very obvious that we are, in fact, believing. We are betting. Sticking our necks out. Guessing. Hoping.

So doubt always nags. And we live with non-believers, people who seem so adult-like in their ability to live without God and a belief in an afterlife. How can they do that? Are they stronger, more courageous than I?

What if, at the end of the day, there are no monsters? What if it was all just in my head?

Calvin wants to know if there are monsters under the bed. I want to know if there is a God. We both peer into darkness. We think the world is enchanted. Something is there.

But might it just be in our heads? That is what people keep telling us.

Monsters. God.

Faith in the Immanent Frame.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

3 thoughts on “The Theology of Calvin and Hobbes, Part 3, Chapter 8: Monsters Under the Bed”

  1. "Is this world enchanted? Or is it disenchanted, all just in our heads?"

    I was about to post a take, but it became to long-winded. So instead I'll ask a question to push this discussion further.

    Is there measurable evidence to correlate the EFFECTIVENESS of a person with the "Enchanted" perspective vs. that of the "Disenchanted" perspective concerning matters of everyday earthly life (working effectively in a tough job, personal money management, planning wisely for the future, dealing harmoniously and genuinely with people, absorbing injustice and hardship)?

    Kind of reminding me of that saying "you're so heavenly minded, you're no earthly good".

    Gary Y

  2. Hi Gary,
    Two responses come to mind. First, I guess it depends on the enchanted worldview. Some religious persons are very destructive and dysfunction (think Christian cults or the 9/11 hijackers). So we would need specify the kind of faith system under consideration.

    Second, a variety of thinkers have tried to argue for the "functionality" or "adaptiveness" of faith. Two who spring quickly to mind are William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience and David Sloan Wilson in Darwin's Cathedral. I also think Rodney Stark's work makes similar arguments.

Leave a Reply