Dear Rachael, Bekah, Hannah, Omi, Tommy and Esther.
I’m afraid that the last letter took the ‘Christian Thing’ off the table for many people.
Did you spot the repulsive bit?
See it there….where I admitted that being part of Christ’s body includes us in the programs of Hitler, Stalin, Genghis Khan and the Borg. People are averse to being part of these sorts of things, you know.
Didn’t see where I admitted to such a thing?
Well, you’re right. I’d like to think I didn’t, but some will argue that I did right there– where I warned you that different dogmas create different worlds. I also warned you that these worlds are at war with each other. If one is true then the other is not. I encouraged you to protect the vision of ‘You, the World and Everything’ that comes from looking at reality through the lens of the crucified and risen Jesus.
So there it is- I assumed our worldview to be true, and I (with eyes wide open) recognized that it will dissolve the worlds of those who don’t share in it. In the minds of many I’ve advocated violence. I’ve sought to lift myself and mine up on the necks of everyone else.
You don’t see it? Well, I’d like to say that I don’t either, but…. I’m afraid there is a sense in which I do, at least potentially.
Now I think the people who immediately saw ‘Bluto’ when I wrote ‘Truth’ are wrong, but understandably so. Apart from a ‘Jesus Shaped’ view of the world, history has shown them to be right, but from a ‘Jesus Shaped’ view of the reality, they are living in a dream world- a nightmare, really.
It’s tempting to write about how Postmodernists (that’s what these suspicious folks are called) get it wrong, but the most important thing for you to see is how they get it right.
They get very nervous when people talk about truth- not the ‘that’s good for you, but not for me’ sorta truth. They’re alright with that. They get suspicious of what someone called ‘true truth’- the sort that applies to everyone, whether they like it or not.
Though many in the church simply mock at the charges, it seems to me that Postmodern opposition is a very serious intellectual challenge to our faith. Just between y’all and me, I think they have us by the ‘you know whats,’ but…
…this is the case only because what we present as the ‘Christian Thing’ is really something horribly more familiar. It an Anti-Christian thing.
These critics help us see where we have lost our way, traded in our story for one of the world’s stories, allowed out dogma to become the world’s doctrine… and all without every knowing it.
It seems that we constantly end up with idolatrous visions of ‘You, the World and Everything Else,’ clothed in Christian apparel. It’s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers come true. Be very afraid!
We owe our postmodern friends a big ‘Thank you!’ They simply ask that we put our money where our mouth is and be who our story claims that we are, and when we don’t, they aren’t willing to let us off the hook. They know too much of bloody history to do that.
Let me explain. There was a time when ‘reason’ wasn’t on the pedestal that we offer it today. It’s a letter for another day (You’re welcome, Omi), but the long and short of it is that men and women began to look to reason as the one neutral tool with which we could dig behind the ‘appearances’ of the world.
Want to know the truth? Then your ability to reason (they said) is the way to find it. One of the most famous of these dudes wondered whether he really existed, until he reasoned out a formula to prove that it was so: I think, therefore I am. Whew. Close call!
Skip ahead a few centuries and you’ll find that instead of freeing us from the tyranny of self-serving people who used tradition and faith to elevate themselves at the expense of others, reason has enslaved millions to statist programs, truncated the lives of millions more to the shallow demands of consumption, killed wonder and launched events that could result literally in the destruction of every man, women and child.
Sure, committing ourselves exclusively to reason produced Ice Cream, pain killers and air conditioning, too. All of these are wonderful things, but the rationalism of the Enlightenment experiment gave us goods at the expense of Good. We could no longer ask what a thing was; we were left only with the much shallower question of what a thing was made of.
Modern people were puzzled. Those in the church were not, or oughtn’t have been; the church has never been ‘modern.’ But those in the world thought hard about the dilemma.
It finally occurred to someone that ‘reason’ isn’t the neutral tool we (on blind faith) had affirmed it to be. It is influenced by the sort of day we are having, the desirability of the results of this or that conclusion, our own stubbornness, dislike of our discussion partner and whether or not we have had breakfast before our ‘figuring’ began.
While Enlightenment dogma asserted that reason was the servant of truth, a little reflection shows that my reason is a servant to me and your reason is a servant to you.
Archbishop Cramner got it right when he taught that what the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind (reason) justifies.
Since it’s the case that we each make sense of our own worlds through a series of stories and faith commitments, questioning someone’s commitments is never simply a search for truth, it is an assault on the others world.
That’s why people can get so passionate about certain discussions. Its not detached ‘views that they are defending. It is their way of making sense of the world.
No one likes feeling insecure or vulnerable. Most of our lives are spent in a search of securities of different kinds- for food, safety, shelter etc, but question someone’s dogma and you’ve by-passed all of these threats and gone straight for the foundation. You’re shaking the pillars that hold up the heavens above them and the earth beneath. We ought to do such a thing carefully.
Anyway, there was a brilliant fellow named Foucault (If he comes up in a conversation, its pronounced something like Foo-c’oh. Bekah will let us know, how to tweak that) who gave this some thought and pointed out that since we can’t know anything exhaustively (The church would say that our knowledge is always limited. We aren’t God and don’t know as God knows), any attempt to speak of absolute and universal truth is really about power and security, not truth.
He called systems that claimed to speak of everything for everyone ‘Regimes of Truth.’ Sounds menacing, huh.
This is what he meant. Every group exists on the basis of some dogma. Every dogma is at war with other dogmas. An attack on my dogma is an attack on my world. Shutting down dissenting opinions is necessary if a community is to survive. Therefore since claims of universal‘ truth can’t be made with certainty, they are really about staying alive and on top.
This is where all the modern talk of tolerance comes in. It’s not that everyone has decided to be kind, but rather given the circumstances, there is nothing else to do, if we are to avoid violence and exploitation. In the face of the reality of man’s selfishness and given that talk of real truth (truth that is true of me you and everyone else) is really attempts to exploit others (at best) and destroy them (at worst), then … the most loving thing we can do is to leave each others dogmas and the worlds they create, alone.
People thought, ‘we’ve tried the modern rationalist thing, and it left us staring into the abyss. Time to try something else.’
Its about at this point that your Dad comes along writing a letter about maintaining the truth of ‘our’ world- a truth that encompasses you, the world and everything.
Time to go to Red Alert. Shields up. Regime of Truth off the port bow!
The thing is, Foucault was largely right. Reason is not truths servant; it is mine. There is no view from nowhere. There is only a view of truth from right here. Men and women are often selfish bastards.
But none of this is news to a community that sees truth in the authoritative word and life of a person- not primarily in a proposition, affirms the finitude of all creatures and the innate sinfulness of every child who has been born. Like I said, the church is many things, but she has never been modern.
So, is Foucault right? Is our story’s attempt to speak of a real truth that applies to everything and everyone just another power play?
I don’t think so. We believe we know truth not from our own limited and prejudiced efforts, but because he has stepped into our lives. He reveals to us a God who took on the form of a servant and became obedient unto death. It subverts all other concepts of humanity, deity, power and glory so that they are truly understood only when seen in the cross of Christ. Our story calls men and women to die for our enemies and to be used up carrying the pain and guilt of the world.
A strange Regime of Truth, that.
But too often the church adopts another community’s story as its own. She doesn’t learn what it means to be godlike or truly human by looking to Christ. Instead she envisions god as a greater Zeus, Mars, Aphrodite or Mammon. She sees the human image bearers of that god to be about the same thing on a lesser scale. While Rome worked its purpose with conventional weapons of war, we go about the same agenda using holy things as our weapons. Pharaoh used chariots to stand on the necks of others. We use ‘Christian standards’ or church attendance to lift ourselves in judgmental pride above the unclean.
Maybe you’ve seen what I mean.
Our story not only informs the shape of how we believe things will one day be, but it determines how we get there. The end is love; the means are love. The cross isn’t an embarrassing step to greater things. All of our realities- you, the world and everything must be viewed through a lens that is cross-shaped.
Whenever those in a church run over each other in a quest for ‘purity’ or some other laudable goal, Foucault has our number. People ought to be afraid of us.
Whenever the church acts as if the church is here for the church, Foucault has our number. The world needs to be made safe from us.
Whenever we agree with the stories of the world that power, glory, deity or humanity are most clearly seen in anything other than a cross, Foucault has our number. People should hide their children and belongings.
Foucault is just telling us what we know; we are lost beyond our own means of recovery and we are perpetual manufacturers of idols. Thank you, Mr. Foucault.
It gives us opportunity to repent again and to believe anew the absurd thing we call the gospel: God is the crucified and risen Christ; true humanity involves taking up a cross for others, and the way to save our lives is to give them away.
The next letter will be shorter.