Monday, June 28, 2010

Post-modernism and Revelation in regards to Knowledge (a lecture from an orthodox rebel)

Post-modernism is (at bottom) an epistemological negation: it says that we cannot know or know that we know. The reason that we cannot "know," the reason that we cannot have true and objective knowledge, is because as individual subjects we are bound within our own subjectivity. That subjectivity has been shaped by many forces and contexts: family and friends, society and culture, tragedies and triumphs. Consequently, our subjectivity serves as a pair of lenses (more cynical souls would say blinders) that filters everything that we encounter.

That it filters everything must be stressed. We are predisposed towards certain bents whether we are reading a certain text or seeing a certain terrain. We are always bringing something to the table that shapes and/or skews the way we view things. To put it in religious terminology: we make everything in our own image. To put it in secular terminology: everyone comes with a bias. This is why (to use post-modern terminology) we can only produce stories rather than a Story: our predispositions prevent us from ever knowing and/or successfully communicating any over-arching objectivity.

Christianity, of course, disagrees. It holds that true and objective knowledge is possible and communicable. Post-modernism does not, holding instead to a complete subjectivism, i.e., we are bound within our subjectivity, within the maze of our own mind. Any real communication with the "outside" (if there even is an outside) is impossible as all such communication would be lost in translation. Exactly how Christianity disagrees with this can be stated in three propositions.

(1) God is there. The first is to affirm the existence of God, i.e., that there is an "outside" that contains an "outsider" who stands "outside" of our subjectivity and thus can view it objectively. This assertion is very basic, but it is also very vital to countering the fundamental assertion of post-modernity that there is no "outside" at all.

(2) God is not silent. The second is to affirm the reality of revelation, i.e., that this "outsider" has communicated with us in a comprehensible way. Even if there is an "outside," the post-modernist could retort (quite correctly) that we can never know if this is so unless the "outside" communicates with us. Thus, the Christian must put forward the reality of revelation, viz., that God has communicated with us by way of revelation (both general and special), revelation that is comprehensible because it has come to us in native (rather than alien) forms: nature, conscience, text, and flesh (see Romans 1:18-20; 2:14-15; Hebrews 1:1-2). Note: The form of "conscience" is important because it demonstrates that the communication is not separate from and outside of us. It is a part of us; as beings made in the image of God, we are still capable of sensing the objective viewpoint.

(3) The Holy Spirit is our helper. This third one is often overlooked, and yet it is on this point that the conversation between orthodox Christianity and post-modernism goes awry today. Even if there is an "outside" with an "outsider," and even if that "outsider" has communicated to us in comprehensible way, the post-modernist could retort that we can never truly comprehend this communication because it is we who have to read it, i.e., we filter it through our subjective lenses and skew the meaning our own way. Everything becomes personal "interpretation," and thus everything (once again) gets lost in translation; the original authorial intent is impossible (or at least mind-bendingly difficult) to discern.

There are two answers to this, and both support each other. The first is simply to assert the doctrine of the imago dei and thereby vehemently deny the assertion that nothing is communicable to us. However imperfectly, we still know what is true and false, right and wrong, beautiful and ugly. Any statements to the contrary are trapped in an intellectual vacuum that neither has been nor can be applied to the real, practical world where actual people live and breath.

The second answer is where the final proposition comes into play. It is perhaps by today's standards (both within and without the church) highly controversial, but it is nonetheless doctrinal and scriptural. We must assert that not only is God there, and not only has He communicated to us in a comprehensible/native way, but He has also provided for us a translator for His communication: the Holy Spirit, which (as the third member of the Trinity) is God of very God, and thus also exists "outside" as an "outsider". Therefore, it is He who correctly translates the communication for us, being immediately and intimately with us (I Cor. 6:19) so as to teach us the "deep things of God" (I Cor. 2:6-16). Therein is the answer: (1) God exists, (2) God has communicated to us, and (3) God has given us a translator for His communication. The Holy Spirit is there as translator and teacher to help us discern the original authorial intent and properly apply it to our lives.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

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