Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Salvation of Mystery

The other day, I finally realized what post-modernism signifies. Post-modernism introduces an ambiguity, an uncertainty, a series of paradoxes into the understanding of everyday language and experience. I have witnessed a profound distaste for this probing and inquisitiveness, and I have directly shared this hesitation.

For a long time, I have viewed forms of post-modernism as empty, meaningless, and unnecessarily skeptical. To ask things like, 'what is the meaning of truth', 'who is the Other', and 'who are the People in "We the People"'? What's the point?

This rogue questioning seems to be a silly exercise - it ignores finding a solution to problems such as violence and poverty in favor of analyzing how we discuss problems such as violence and poverty.

Besides, isn't focusing on the problems themselves enough? The human race does, after all, have a great expertise for solving problems. Humanity has exercised a tremendous capacity for knowledge and discovery. Should I reject or cast doubt upon the workings of science and technology which have brought such monumental greatness and convenience into my life?

I am disturbed by the urgings of post-modernism, but I have realized something: I need this disturbance in my life -- and I have not yet begun to be disturbed enough.

"I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword." - Jesus, Matthew 10:34

Today, societies have unprecedented access to knowledge of the external world around us. From the smallest imaginable wonders reached through nanotechnology to the eerily beautiful images shown from the largest echoes of space by the Hubble Telescope, humanity has a more significant grasp on reality than ever before.

Or so we think...and so we tell ourselves.

I have started to embrace post-modernism because it demands that we re-ask these questions of ourselves. So let me ask you again, not what kind of grasp you have on reality, but what kind of grasp reality has on you?

Said another way: Do you have an internal knowledge of yourself which equals your knowledge of the external world?

"What is truth?" - Pontius Pilate, John 18:38

Many post-modernists have expressed skepticism about the existence of a universal and absolute truth. Many religious people have expressed strong dismay about post-modernism because of this skepticism. Religious figures have reasoned that any skepticism about a universal truth would naturally extend to skepticism about the truth of religion, which is often claimed to be absolute and universal in nature.

I believe this skepticism of skepticism is unwarranted. (Skepticism of skepticism? Isn't that just the kind of unnecessarily complicated phrase a true post-modernist would use? What is it about post-modernism which erodes the use of language? What better evidence that what questions does in fact erode!)

The skepticism (from religious people) of the skepticism (of post-modernists) is not warranted because both religion and post-modernism share some of their most important values and perspectives on the world.

Mystery Enters the World

I'm not a Christian. But I am willing to accept that a fellow named Jesus very likely existed at some point, and could have done many of the things described in the Bible.

In the Gospels, Jesus vigorously questions the religious authorities of his day. The Pharisees constantly attempt to pin Jesus down on legalities to destroy his credibility.

Jesus denied that the prominent religious figures of his day had a monopoly on universal and absolute truth. He did not come to ease their understanding - he did not come to reassure their prejudices - he did not come to bring peace, but to bring a sword, and he did not come to bring simplicity, but to bring mystery.

Both religion and post-modernism introduce a mystery and an uncertainty into our mundane, everyday world which forces individuals to confront the structure and meaning of their inner-most, firmly-held beliefs and attitudes.

Both religion and post-modernism can lead the pilgrim into a voyage of re-examination, from which emerges a new life full of vitality and hope.

Mystery's Final Ascension

Where is the hope from mystery? Where is the light in this darkness?

The answer is the power of human imagination. Both religion and post-modernism imagine new meanings and new interpretations of life - both envision new alternatives to choose, and actively confront humanity with those choices.

Both religion and post-modernism resurrect what they divide: beneath the multiplicity and diversity of meanings lies a common connection. As words and concepts used to segment and oppose human beings are undermined, a new possibility of existence is realized.

No more Jew and Gentile, no more man and woman...

No more I and Other, no more black and white...

Both post-modernism and religion can free individuals from oppression and encourage them to see beyond the superficial differences which all too often consume humanity, to see new conditions of human life, where all individuals are free to pursue their creative potential as human beings.

Both Jesus Christ and Friedrich Nietzsche can tell you that underneath truth, there is life.

1 comment:

James said...

I agree with a lot of this, and actually when it comes right down to it, I enjoy a lot of the questions and ambiguity that the Bible raises, too. I think the difference is that there is some ultimate truth at the bottom of Jesus's words. Yes, he wants to overturn the old system, but he has something that he is putting in place. Pontius Pilate asks, "What is truth?" In a way this statement refers you back to a part EARLIER in the Gospel of John when Jesus says, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life."

Pilate's questioning is incomplete then. He's right to question the current system, but ultimately, he doesn't take the leap of faith in the ultimate authority of truth that Christianity calls followers to. Instead, he stays with the questioning of postmodernism.

Of course, the biggest critique that Christianity shares with postmodernism is its critique of the Enlightenment and of reason in general. I'm not saying that Christianity is necessarily antithetical to reason (otherwise why would I have spent 3 years in political theory), but it does not accept reason alone as the ultimate authority on the larger questions of human existence and morality. Postmodernism, on the other hand, throws out the system and seems to support more questioning or a sort of free-for-all.

Anyway, thanks for another really good, thought-provoking post. I wish you luck with your blog!