Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Post-modern thinking

I've been reading a bit more Brian McLaren. This time The Church on the Other Side. He has many wise things to say and I am trying to avoid the danger of loving him too much because he is a man who puts my own prejudices into better words than I can.

Try this:

'I believe Christianity is true, but I do not believe that my version (or yours, for that matter) of the Faith is completely true. (In other words, I believe that all versions are incomplete in some ways, weighed down with extra baggage, and marred by impurities, biases, misconceptions, and gaps.)'

I find in that an admission, rarely seen in people of evangelical zeal, that we are being as right as we can be given our humanity and acknowledging that when we talk to others we admit our thinking may be flawed. McLaren points out that sound biblical thinking is relative to the situation in which it is done.

'Faith,' he says, 'was an embarrasment in the modern world. It is what you had to settle for when you couldn't have scientific certainty. In the postmodern world, it seems, everyone lives by faith ... part of our human predicament, postmoderns acknowledge, is the gap between our aspiration for absolute, autonomous knowledge and our ability to attain it ... there is no certainty apart from faith, and the only kind of understanding possible for us humans grows in the environment of faith. The issue, then, isn't faith versus certainty any more, but rather good faith versus bad faith.'

Uberimma fides (utmost good faith). Now there's a new thought in old words. Has quite a lot to do with house selling as well.


Andy said...

McLaren totally rocks!

I'm in the middle of composing a blog post myself about his latest book "The Secret Message of Jesus" that I picked up while at New Wine (a highlight of it, actually) - and it's totally and mindboggling changed my thinking on a lot of issues - and most importantly about what 'the gospel' is.

Great stuff.

Mind you, was having a chat with a good friend of mine on Monday evening, and he looked at me with vague horror as I described enjoying McLaren's books. Evidentally he is too 'open' for some.

gone said...

i will go get a copy, he sounds kool. is he a Calvinist?...haha....it dont matter im just messing. I agree there are absolutes like faith and love...bla...that work inside or outside the kingdom.

hey guy, if you got a minute yeah, check out what i posted on my blog, i am stuck on forgiveness and i need some other thoughts.

Simon said...

Still, it doesn't excuse inventing a truth to fit your requirements then claiming it takes "faith" to accept it.

Wishful thinking.

Andy said...


Out of interest, what do you think about some of Jesus' teachings about a revolutionary new way of life?

Inspiring or rather impractical?


St said...

I agree Simon. Indeed trying to separate the invention from the reality is what I think I'm doing when I'm doing theology.

And I think my post was saying, or trying to say, and I think this is what I think (blimey), is that we all use faith these days. It is not the unique approach of Christians.

Simon said...

How can it still be "revolutionary", Andy?

There comes a time when ideas become tired or just basic common sense. The teachings of the bible don't really add much. The concept of sin is simplistic - it doesn't work when you look at things in detail.

I have "faith" the sun will be there again tomorrow. 2000 years ago, people not only had faith, they believed they had an effect on whether the sun came back the next day - they thought they had to pray or make a sacrifice.

That's where gods come from.

Now we know, except for some major unexpected galactic disaster, the sun will definately be there tomorrow. In a way, it must have been nice to think you had to make an effort to get the sun to turn up.

When you say you're trying to separate the myth from the reality, I would suggest you are actually trying to find a new myth that sits more comfortably with a modern understanding of the world.

People still believe the universe was created in 6 days because the Bible says it was, they believe we all decended from Adam & Eve, that Noah sailed around with all the species in his boat. It's actually quite fun to argue with these guys, because they're nuts.

But they're not all that more nutty than you. They just realise your treating the Bible as a game of Jenga, trying to weed out the embarrassing stuff and hope it doesn't fall over. If you start picking and choosing, all you're left with is your own limited judgement.

I know that a guy called Jesus did not come back from the dead, as much as I know an 8 year old child who swears he just saw a dragon did not actually see one.

Trying to make out we're all living on faith is another theist trick to stop the bubble from bursting: "Those nasty people can't tell us there aren't any dragons, so we'll keep on believing in them!"

By the way, you didn't give an example of how post moderns are living on faith, these days. Why, because we don't know all the answers? I just live with unanswered questions that I know will remain unanswered for as long as I live.

Where's the faith?

Andy said...

You know what? I can't be arsed.

James Horn said...

The predominant faith that we deal with in a post-modernist culture is that of faith in our (as in man's) logic and intelligence. We desperately want to hold onto 'truths' (that we know aren't entirely true but are approximately right) so we can build our lives upon them, but are continually challenged by the illogical nature of the world.

Take particle physics for example - for years the smallest particle we could predict was an atom and all our science was based upon that premise - then after more research, we come up with the quark and our entire perception changes - at this point as before, we have faith that we know what's going on - we know best - then the higgs boson is predicted and we have to rethink how we view our world again.

God is like this - He has given us the Bible as a record and a tool to seek him, but as we keep looking at it closer, in the contexts we are in, it continues to re-veal itself in new ways. I'm not talking about fundamental doctrinal changes, rather that it now speaks to our culture in a 'revolutionary' way as we move into a new period of civilisation.

Thus, the logical 'post-christendom' world that we live in now (for that is what it is) will continually be challenged by illogical Christians helping the poor, healing the sick, loving their enemies - in defiance of capitalism, linear science and the notion of iGod.

Apologies for the rant - sure I haven't made sense, but there you go...

Simon said...

Is that what Jesus taught you, Andy? Is that his revolutionary idea?

James, let me put it this way, nobody discovered atoms or quarks through faith.

This is outrageous:

Thus, the logical 'post-christendom' world that we live in now (for that is what it is) will continually be challenged by illogical Christians helping the poor, healing the sick, loving their enemies - in defiance of capitalism, linear science and the notion of iGod.

Oh really? Get off your high-horse and check out the non-Christians helping the poor and healing the sick. Wasn't it an atheist doctrine which defied capitalism? Aren't socialists frequently atheists? How hilarious - you really do think you're holier than the rest of us.

That's what really gets me.

So much for Jesus - all his talking seems to have gone in one ear and out the other. Here we see arrogance and sloth in their purest form.

And you wonder why I don't buy it.

Jonathan Potts said...

I like the first quote (of the original posting). I think Paul said a similar thing: "Now as through a glass darkly."

The second is one of those quotes that makes me think: where exactly is this 'post-modern world' people keep harping on about? I never see it. Maybe it's 'cos I'm a mathematician. But I've never got the whole 'everyone's post-modern, post-scientific-certainty' thing. Somehow, when I read this sort of thing, I feel I live in a modernist time-warp. I dunno. Maybe it'll change when I start a proper job...

James Horn said...

Hi Simon,

I think you're misinterpreting me (by reading between the lines rather than taking the text at face value) - Did I claim that Christians have a monopoly on good deeds? I think not. I'd be the first to defend the good works carried out by non-christian organisations and individuals. Rather, my point was that the pervading notion these days is that the self is more important than the collective. The Biblical standpoint (which can be accepted and utilised by other faiths for those in any doubt or indeed reached without consultation or nfluence of scripture or doctrine) is a counterpoint to this and does call for selflessness and a working for the greater good. Thus my original point still stands that the Christian gospel and it's associated acts are illogical in a modern social context.

On a side note, I posted in the hope that I could enter into a sensible discussion with like-minded adults - I would ask that you respond perhaps with less bullying rhetoric. You have no basis to make assumptions about my viewpoints except what I have written, so please let's stay on point rather than straying into cliche.

St said...

Jonathan you make a good point. Thought-style eras last a long time. They are easier to name when they are almost or comletely over. So modernism followed the enlightenment or renaissance era (the terms tend to be used clumsily) and as it came to an early end and people began to feel on the dawn of a new era (perhaps after WW2) the term post-modernism was born. It may not be how people in the future choose to describe this era.

But I guess I summarise the way a lot of people feel about science by saying that the further we go the more we find out we don't know.

I don't buy the idea though that faith is what you use when science runs out. That 'God of the gaps' theory was laid to rest by John Robinson in the early 1960s.

Science works and I put my faith in it. It tells me things about my world that the human authors of the Bible couldn't even have dreamed about.

Simon said...

James, I still think there is a certain arrogance in your thoughts, even if you don't see it. Perhaps I have misinterpreted. But this is where I am coming from...

Firstly, capitalism and Christianity go hand in hand. What I've discovered over the past few months is that Christianity is so popular in the US (for example) for the very reason that it holds the individual responsible for his actions. Strangely, Christians don't see a problem with following the teachings of Jesus (turn the other cheek/do good deeds) and at the same time holding an individual to account.

They absolutely (generalising) loathe socialism and see it as a way for the individual to escape his responsibilities by claiming he is a victim of circumstances.

The arrogance which I detect in Christians is their belief that by following Jesus they are somehow acting righteously and this righteousness is exclusive to Christians.

Socialism, on the other hand, shies away from holding the individual responsible for his actions, realising - as Darwin showed once and for all - that we are indeed all victims of our circumstances.

That's why, as much as you try to fudge science and faith, truth and religion are proven to be in absolute and total opposition to one another.

Christianity cannot accept we are nothing more than victims to circumstance because that unleashes the horror (in the religious mind) of a total freedom from guilt.

st, if science works and you put your faith in it, how can you explain evolution's requirement that we die? A species is more able to adapt to circumstances the faster is goes through the 'birth, reproduce, death' cycle. If you god created the process of evolution, he seems to be rewarding sex and death - contrary to Biblical law.

St said...

Sorry Simon, probably me being dense, but I don't get your last point. I don't see what biblical law you refer to which is anti-sex or anti-death. My Bible seems to rejoice in both having 'be fruitful and multiply' as its first command (Genesis 1:28) and 'all flesh is grass' (Psalm 103:15) as its central hinge-point.

To throw another Mclaren quote in, because I've been reading on, 'To be spiritual means that I believe there is something more, something beyond the reductionist 'objective data' of modernity. All of reality isn't reducible to mathematics and physics plus nothing. 'Just the facts, ma'am,' is the creed of secular/scientific modernity. 'Give me more than facts' is the plea of postmodernity - give me values, purpose, meaning, mission, passion, wisdom, faith, spirit.'