Thursday, December 19, 2013

Modernity and Christianity - The Postmodern Critique (Part 4)



Part 1, Part 2, Part 3


In an earlier post I mentioned that I came to ancient Christianity through postmodernism. Even though I have postmodern leanings when it comes to language, and I will refer and quote postmodern thinkers, I do not necessarily endorse postmodernism.

When I entered the desert I was on a "quest" to find Truth. Being in ministry, I wanted to better understand why be believe what we believe and why society is the way it is. Of course, as it is with many twentysomethings disenchanted with the contemporary American church I looked to the emergent thinkers. I didn't stop there. I wanted to read the philosophers and theologians that influenced them. And then taking it a step further, I started reading the philosophers that the postmoderns critiqued, e.g Descartes, Kant, et al.

At the same time, I was reading church history. The early church fascinated me--I'm not referring to just the NT church as many do when they speak of the "early church" as a romanticized bygone era. I embraced an understanding of tradition (what did the early church teach and believe, the Creed, etc), unbeknownst to where this appeal to ecclesiastical authority and tradition would lead me.

The role postmodernism played, viz. deconstructionism, allowed me to compare the modern to the ancient. I came to the conclusion that much of modern Christianity was idolatrous. The only thing that seemed genuine and stable was ancient Christianity, which I later learned was still alive in Eastern Orthodoxy. Many of the postmodern critiques, I believe, are more than justified. Not all. Just many. However, their conclusions can be dangerous. Luckily (thank God!), I had a steady foundation--the Church!

I have already laid out some of the problems Christianity inherited from the Enlightenment. I firmly believe that Western Christianity is spiritually bankrupt. Now this statement may elicit unfavorable and vitriolic reactions, but I stand by my claim and will defend it on this blog. I believe through minute changes over centuries, that what started with St. Augustine came to its inevitable end with Nietzsche, and now what we see in postmodernity are simply after shocks. I hope to give you a better analysis of this, but for now I want to just give you a quick overview of the postmodern criticism of modernism.

Postmodern thinkers criticize modernism for:

1) Over-confidence in reason (which is central for the other criticisms)

2) Metaphysics (especially when it comes to theology)

3)  Adequacy of language

4) Foundationalism

5) Universal and absolute truth (and metanarrative)

6) Individualism

There are a few other things that can be included in this list but for now I'll leave it as is. I hope to tackle all of these criticisms in more detail in the future.  As I'm writing this, my chrismation is in ten days and with Christmas just around the corner, I probably won't post anything for a while, so I want to leave you with some thoughts.

We are created in the image and likeness of God, which means we are endowed with intelligence. With this ability to create (sub-create) and reason man has primacy over all other creatures. Man was meant to be a priest, to take from God and bless and give back to Him, this is the meaning of eucharist; man comes into communion and receives grace from God in and through the sacrament of creation. But man is corrupted by sin and is returning to non-existence through corruption. Is man's reason pure? Or is it tainted and marred by this corruption? Can man truly know anything apart from God? Through philosophical contemplation has man defined his existence and ordered the universe apart from reference to the Creator? Is there truly more than meets the eye, or is there nothing more than the empirical...and maybe even pragmatic?

Metaphysics means "beyond the physical" . Aristotle starts off his Metaphysics with the statement: "All men desire to know." I think this speaks volumes. Man has always desired to know, to seek answers, to look beyond mere appearances. Is there something that gives meaning to the world of appearances? Are there principles that transcend time, that are always true?  What does it mean when we speak of existence? Or being?

Man has always looked for answers in the stars, to ascend the heavens, to construct babels to become like God (this is of paramount importance when studying societies and cultures and where they intersect with theology). Feuerbach's claim that God is just a projection of ourselves has some merit. Have we created God in our own image? This is where I find postmodernism useful.  Have we, as Christians, imported foreign philosophical concepts into our theology, and consequentially into practice and ritual? Now, before preceding, I'm no Tertullian. I believe philosophy has a role but it should never domesticate the Gospel, it should never neuter the Church rendering it an impotent, ineffectual product of the reigning culture. I believe that modern Christianity has done this, both its conservative and liberal expressions. And it starts with metaphysics.

Nietzsche declared the death of God. Modern Christianity reduced, or simplified God, trapping Him in a system. Nietzsche was distrusting of systemizers and simplifiers, that it's a will to power, that it is idolatrous. Christians should heed his warning here. Have we dethroned the Holy Trinity and in His place put a philosophic concept? We are already familiar with Pascal's view. So, one of the postmodern criticisms is the use of ontological categories when discussing God.

Are we relying too much on language to adequately convey meaning and express the Inexpressible? Is univocity idolatrous? Is there universal truth? Is our quest for the universal and absolute just a will to power?  Are we just extrapolating from crude, ancient texts, and then abstracting to claim universality? If we possess the absolute truth is it really absolute? And if so, do we try to enslave others to our ideology? Is our possession of the "Truth" our legitimization of authority, or does that lie elsewhere in some divine mandate or fatwa?

Is there such thing as Truth, or do we stand before the incarnate Word and skeptically ask, what is truth? Do we let the mob crucify the Word because His answer does not meet our preconceived notions? Is He foolishness to us? Do we audaciously stand on our Babel of philosophical constructs condescendingly interrogating I AM-WHO-I AM because we claim to be I AM?

Kyrie eleison

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