Posted by: gmscan | April 20, 2015

Post Modernism?

Jodie Gallo and I have been exchanging e-mails and I want to share with you his fascinating take on “post-modernism” as it may apply to theology. I think it is thought provoking and I hope you will add your thoughts.

First, I should say that Jodie and I are poles apart on politics. Yet I have deep respect for his understanding of Scripture. I find it heartening that we can share our thoughts, our questions, and our doubts without all the snark that usually accompanies social media. As he says below, we may never find “the truth” in this lifetime, but that should not prevent us from growing our understanding. Here is his post, and I will follow with my comment to him.

——–

Hi, Greg

I’m no expert on “post modernism”. What follows is the danger of having a little bit of knowledge. It would probably get me an “F” in whatever Humanities Course teaches it these days. But that never stopped my from shooting my mouth off…

What I meant was that it is impossible to read the Bible without reading it through the lens of our own experience, culture, and language. And we always project on to it something of ourselves. This is what I think the fundamental insight of Post Modern methods is all about, and I think they got it from the insights of Modern Physics: One cannot hope to read the Scriptures objectively. But one can look at them from many angles and from the sum of those angles learn more than by reading them just the one way.

The way I see it, 18th and 19th Century Theology assumed the insights of Classical (Newtonian) Physics which say that the Universe is a giant machine that operates according to immutable Laws that can be learned and articulated. We study (read) the Universe to learn these Laws, and then if we obey them we can live better, and we can make machines of our own that operate according to the same laws, from steam engines to space ships. The industrial revolution validated that insight. In Theology, the Scriptures are treated like the Newtonian Universe, and if we study them diligently they too will tell us God’s Laws and God’s Truth.

20th Century Theology, at least after say 1945, assumes the insights of Modern Physics which tell us that the Universe is made up of interacting quantum particles whose properties and behaviors sometimes literally depend on how we study them. We can’t discern the Laws of the Universe directly because our perception of the Universe is filtered by the limitations of our sensing tools, and its properties can literally change as a consequence of our attempts at observation. Thus what we see is not reality in its pristine state, but the convolution of reality with our interaction with it. Clearly any laws we might derive from our observations are therefore subject to scrutiny, and we must always look for new ways to test, correct, and enhance our knowledge.

There is even “Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle”, that says in a nutshell that we cannot know both the position and the momentum of a particle at the same time (like we can of a planet). It turns out to be a fundamental property of nature in quantum physics that nailing down certain properties denies us the ability to discern others.

In Post Modern Theology, the Scriptures are treated like the quantum Universe. We can’t really see or comprehend them for what they are. We filter them through the lenses of our own culture and language, and we project on to them our own preconceived notions of what they mean. And so we are always trying to devise creative ways to get around our own biases and lenses, to tease out of the Text its “true” meaning(s). And there are things that are permanently locked up that we can never know.

I am comfortable with that approach. There are Biblical texts that attest to it as well… ironically. In Revelation, John sees “the book”. It is sealed shut with seven seals, and it cannot be opened, its mysteries locked away, till someone worthy can be found to break them. The slain Lamb of God (Jesus Christ) is found to be worthy, and as He breaks the seals we get to see what they are: The things that prevent us from actually knowing the contents of “the book”. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, our claims for vengeance for the martyrs, and even the mysterious silence of Heaven (!). It’s really a marvelous vision, and represented often in Christian arts and crafts as a bleeding lamb holding a cross sitting on a closed book, the book having seven seals holding it shut. (Apocalyptic cults have a field day with it – usually focusing on the seals, and missing the elephant in the room: that we are still prevented from knowing the contents of “the book” ).

But there is also a Nihilistic twist in recent post-modernism that suggests that maybe there is no reality at all, or that if there is, we can never find it and so it doesn’t really matter. That “the book” is filled with empty pages. Indeed quantum physics in the last 50 years has been frustrated in its search for the ultimate law of Physics. It has reached an impasse. The deeper they look, the more emptiness they find, emptiness held together with more emptiness by mysterious math equations that are completely incomprehensible even to those who fully understand them. Truth, absolute core Truth, if it is out there, remains illusive. So the Nihilism that comes from that frustration, applied to Theology and applied to Scriptures, tells us that maybe its all a myth, a blank screen, and the only thing that really exists is our own socially constructed reality that we project on to it.

Being bi-cultural myself, I recognize how much of what we think of as reality is indeed merely a social construct, but I am not ready to go all the way. At least not to the Nihilistic conclusion that since it “all depends”, therefore none of it is real to begin with.

We just have to be patient.

Even when all we do is project on to the Heavens our own thoughts and feelings, some thing, or some one, out there, reflects them back to us, modified and enhanced, as if sung in harmony. That Mirror, that Voice, it belongs to the Who we are looking for. Or maybe better yet, looking for us. Maybe what really holds the Universe together is Life. Nobody knows what that is, but it was God’s Breath of Life, breathed into Adam’s lungs, that turned the ashes of inanimate atoms like Carbon and Hydrogen and Oxygen, and the sub atomic particles they are made of, all strung together, into a living breathing thinking feeling human being. What is “Life”? Is all of Nature perhaps actually “alive”? Maybe >that< is the missing law. Where and what is the boundary between not alive and alive? What causes it? Nobody knows, but in Christ we know we have life, and we can live life abundantly, and “death” does not get the final say.

Douglas Adams made fun of quantum physics and its effect on all the other intellectual pursuits in his radio series “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. Did you ever follow it? A race of pan-dimensional beings built a super computer to find the answer to the “ultimate question about life, the universe and everything”.  It was called “Deep Thought”. The answer it found turned out to be ‘42’, which set off a quest to find the proper question that would make the answer make sense. The punch line in the end was that you cannot both know the “question” and the “answer” at the same time. Heisenberg. I happened to be studying quantum physics in college at the time, and we all found the radio series to be an immensely satisfying humorous look at the search for “Truth”.

I am comfortable with the humor, the challenges, and the ultimate mystery at the end of our rainbow search for Truth. The Psalmist pleads

Make me know Your ways, O Lord;

Teach me Your paths.

Lead me in Your truth and teach me,

For You are the God of my salvation;

For You I wait all the day. (Psalm 25:4-5 )

And Paul answers the Psalmist towards the end of Romans, practically in ecstasy:

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! (Romans 11:33)”

Post Modernism teaches us to be humble again, about what we think we know. And to enjoy living in the Mystery. We don’t get our arms around Truth. But maybe, if we are lucky, Truth gets His arms around us.

Jodie

——–

Jodie,

This is a beautiful piece of writing — and thinking. Thank you for it. I wonder if you would allow me to post it on my blog, either with or without attribution.

It has taken me a while to respond because of Springtime chores around here, mulching, tilling the garden, cutting back old growth, etc. Things that would once have taken a day or two to accomplish take a lot longer these days.

In any case, I find nothing here to object to, quite the opposite. I come at it from the very different perspective but agree with your balancing act. I know people who are pretty wrapped up in the Human Genome project. They once thought it would “unlock the door” to basic human biology, but are discovering the deeper they go the more mysteries they discover.

That seems to be true throughout science, as you say. There may be things we are incapable of knowing and that is fine with me. As a layman, I look around my world and am humbled by my own limits. My dog knows things I will never understand and it isn’t just her senses of smell and hearing. She knows when I am coming home even from miles away.

Scripture tells us things we are only now beginning to understand — the Big Bang, that time is mutable, that there is existence outside of our known universe. And I agree that we read Scripture through our own cultural lens. Most of Jesus’ parables, for example, were not telling us how to run our day to day affairs, but what the Kingdom of God is like.

I bristle when people use “science” as a cudgel. Science is wonderful in revealing to us the majesty of the natural world, but science has never had a lock on “truth.” Today’s science tells us how wrong yesterday’s science was, and tomorrow’s science will make us all look like fools. But we have an impulse to discover (at least those of us in the West — other cultures seem more content with acceptance). It is hubris to think we have arrived at understanding. Our understanding will always be partial.

But the same is true with theology. We will never understand God, and thank God for that. What a small God He would be if we COULD understand Him.

So, again, thank you for your very thoughtful insights.

Greg

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Greg,
    I think you would enjoy reading the book, “AquaChurch” by Leonard Sweet. The older version is just a penny (http://www.amazon.com/AquaChurch-Essential-Leadership-Piloting-Culture/dp/0764421514/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1429559194&sr=8-2&keywords=aquachurch) at Amazon.
    God bless,
    Dr Dan

  2. I’d like to comment on this post regarding Jodie Gallo’s comments:
    “What I meant was that it is impossible to read the Bible without reading it through the lens of our own experience, culture, and language. And we always project on to it something of ourselves.”
    “The only thing that really exists is our own socially constructed reality that we project on to it.”
    I guess a lot of people spend a lot of their time attempting to understand the “why” of everything, and I can relate because I used to be one of them. Mr. Gallo gives great examples of wonderful thinking. But how should I spend my time? Thinking and studying great thoughts? I have decided to use two words as little as possible – “I” and “why.” I don’t need to know all the answers to everything if I understand God’s purpose for me in this lifetime. “Faith” to me is not having to know “why, ” but trusting God for the planning and for the outcome.
    Why should I worry about that? All it does is take me away from being useful to God. My accounting background has led me to ‘bottom line’ the Bible as, Trust God, it’s all Divine, give ‘til it hurts.
    I’m an aficionado of Douglas Adams as well, and he said, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” What that means to me is that whatever my activities are, I need to be proactive and God centered in my thoughts and actions and leave the result to the God of my understanding. Douglas Adams defined God as, “The hyperintelligent, pandimensional Creator of life, the Universe and everything.”
    That being said, I project that since we humans can tell each other apart by our fingerprints, maybe the Master of the Universe can tell us apart by some spiritual imprint. That confirms a ‘personal’ God for me. My personal relationship with The Almighty isn’t the same as yours or his or theirs or anybody else’s, so how can my interpretation of the Bible be exactly the same as another’s at all times under all conditions? Each person in each time period will” read the Bible through the lens of our own experience, culture and language.” That is what makes the Bible timeless and applicable to everyone who wants to be a believer.
    Psalm 25: 4 – 5 is one of my favorite Bible quotes.
    BTW I am not a proponent of the Big Bang theory. Science, to me, is educated guessing which changes over time by “reading it through the lens of our own experience, culture, and language.” I agree with your {Greg’s} conclusion, what a small god we would have if we had an armchair to armchair relationship with God, as we understand God.

    • Gary,

      Thank you for the response. You have added immeasurably to the train, especially the idea that God will determine the outcomes. Most of the missionaries I know tell me they don’t get discouraged because they know that whether someone is receptive or not is not up to them, but to the Spirit. And I can vouch for that. When I was hiding from God people would sometimes tell me things that didn’t mean much until decades later when God decided it was time for me to listen.

  3. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principal and wave particle duality have helped me to appreciate the mystery of predestination. Some people say 100% man 100% God. How can this be – science has encouraged me that it is true…

    • Steve, yes I find it amazing that Greek philosophy and Greek/Christian theology could fathom such an unnatural concept that took almost 2000 years to be associated with a useful natural metaphor. The wave/particle theory of light is a perfect analogy of the Trinity. But I don’t get the connection to predestination. Curious how that helps you.

      • In the double slit experiment, the same particle appears to travel through both slits at the same time. We’re both free to choose, and predestined! Calvinists have always tried to explain this without much success.

    • Interesting,

      Personally I think Calvin went down the wrong path in his musings on predestination. If we use the Old Testament context to interpret the New Testament meaning of the term, we find that in the Old Testament it was used to explain the birth right, the inheritance of the Levites. The sons of Levi we pre-destined to be priests and not given any land. Long before they were born or conceived. If you were born a Levite, your destiny was pre-ordained.

      So it is with those who are in Christ. We are pre-destined to become sons of God, conformed to the image of Christ. The key word and theme in all those passages is “inheritance”. What we receive from God is as if it were a birthright.

      But the wave particle duality of light is very much like the doctrine of the Trinity and that Jesus Christ is fully human and fully God. There is no metaphor in the palpable Universe to explain this doctrine. How did those early theologians come up with it? But in God’s supreme irony, the Jesus Christ who is the Light of the World has a dual nature just like light itself. Who would have thought the metaphor was standing there, literally right before our eyes, all those centuries? What a playful God we worship.

      • I’m just starting to read Calvin’s Institutes, so this is a conversation I would like to have, but not quite yet. My own simplistic understanding of the predestination vs free will conflict is two fold:
        1. We are predestined for salvation (or not) but we are still free to choose our daily routines. We do not choose whether to come to Jesus, we are called by God and equipped by God to come to that decision.
        2. While I am free to choose what I will have for lunch, God already knows what my choice will be. He is not directing my choice even if he knows what I will choose.

        And, yes, God has a wonderful sense of humor.

    • The more I think of Steve’s solution to the freewill vs predestination conundrum, the more I like it. Maybe a dual nature argument is the one to make in order to hold it together.

      Approaching Theology with a scientific methodology has often gotten me at odds with conservative preachers and pastors, so be forewarned. In Science, the fundamental belief is that the experts are all wrong. What matters is their methodology. In Religion there is still this hope that the experts are right, and their methods don’t matter. That’s what the battle for “orthodoxy” is all about. All the “wrong” doctrines are named “heresies” and to protect the “right” doctrines we call them “orthodox”.

      In science we pride ourselves in heresy and in trying to prove the orthodox wrong. It’s called “progress”. And it is.

      I’ve always taken that same liberty with the Scriptures. I am interested in the methods of commentators over the centuries, all the way back to the ones recorded in the New Testament. I am not too worried about their conclusions because I assume they can be adjusted. It has given me a degree of freedom that the older I get the more I realize is a rare gift. (Not as in claiming I am “gifted”, but as in saying I was given a Christmas present of great value: Somehow, I am free!)

      I guess in the classical sense of the word I am actually a true liberal.

      What keeps me fettered to God and to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is prayer. It is the method He used Himself. In some ways, it is the most conservative method of them all. No matter how lost you get, you can always find your way back in prayer. If the place you find your way back to is your destination, and it was always there, then maybe that is your true pre-destination. 😉

      • Greg and Jodie,
        Awesome exchange. Greg, would you introduce me to Jodie. I would like to read more. Also, we are long overdue for a meal together. I will come to visit with you soon.
        Dennis Kelly, faithful fan of your life work and the words of your witness.

        I just read further and would like to add to the choosen and called discussion. Paul writes in Ephesians to those who have been called and have responded in faith and behavior. Which can mean there are those who have been called and said no. Then there are those who have been called that don’t know it yet, so have not responded. Recently another group has been identified to me. Those of us that have accepted the invitation of Jesus to choose to follow him and his ways, believe his words and accept his assignments. This offer was predestined before time. To this I am certian. Thank you for the winsome exchange.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: