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Toward Wholeness Blog

Modernity, Post-Modernity, and the Limits of Knowing

The question on the table is this:  How can we step outside of our own context fully enough to objectively assess the faith? This is the question post-modernity brings to the table.  Rather than decrying post-modernity for critiquing the arrogant declarations of certainty that have come from people of faith down through the centuries, I’d suggest at the outset, that there are things to learn from the post-modern problem:

1. They’ve pointed out the elephant in the room:  we don’t KNOW (in the same way we know that we’re reading a blog right now) the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection and the Bible.  There’s evidence; good evidence, but we don’t KNOW.

2. The reality is that our belief systems ARE shaped by our culture and upbringing in many ways.  That’s why more children grow up to become Muslims  in Iran than in Kansas.  What are we to make of this?  Do we simply declare that little kids growing up in Iran are running from the truth and those in Kansas are enlightened?  This seems a little arrogant, and a little small minded as well.  The reality is that we embrace the narrative of our culture more often than not, and this is formative in our faith declarations.

The crisis of “knowing” and the questions about objectivity and culture are valuable.  To be too quickly dismissive would be to miss some things of value.  Still, the post-modern dilemma remains:

1. Though, as the post-modern declares, I can never fully remove myself from my own context in order to objectively determine truth, I still need to believe something, and that creates a problem, because the post-modern is hesitant to believe anything at all.  However (how weird is this?), the reality is that even the claim:  “I can’t believe anything” is a belief system.  So in the end, the post-modern is faced with the dilemma of an unsustainable position because he/she, wanting to hold all belief systems at arms length, makes ‘holding-all-belief-systems-at-arms-length” their belief system.  In other words:  everybody needs to believe something!

2. If I must believe something, then the question once again becomes, “How will I decide what to believe” and it is here that I think we should embrace the humility of post-modernism by changing our language regarding truth claims from “I know” to “I believe”.  After all, this is historically how we declared our faith:  “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”   Recently though, it seems that in some circles the objective has been to provide bombproof evidence regarding our truth claims so that we don’t need to say “I believe” any more.  We can say, “I know”.    To become people obsessed with providing evidence at just the moment in history when the enlightenment’s certitude is taking it’s last breath is terribly misguided.  We should instead say, “Here’s the evidence I see… and based on it, I believe.”  That’s more honest, and even in keeping with the life to which we’re called.

And what of those whose faith story is different than our own, not because of overt rejection of Christ, but because of being raised in a different environment.  I completely believe that Jesus words are true:  “I am the way the truth and the life – no man comes to the Father but through me” – how does that apply to the little kid in Iran?  I’ll save that post for another time.

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