Toward a Proper Christian Response to Postmodernity – 6
As I wrestle with the ideas of the postmodern thinkers of our day, one of the biggest issues that they bring to the table is the dismissal of “truth.” So far in this series, you can see how some postmodernists see “Reality” as simply a construction of our senses, situatedness, and conceptual languages. This leads some to believe that there is no Reality “out there” at all that we can truly know. Do you see how this is a problem to Christianity? If everyone’s perspective of Reality is merely a social construction, then no one way of describing Reality is true. If there is no one true way of describing this “phantom Reality,” then Christianity’s exclusivist claim to “the Truth” is simply one of many socially constructed ideologies. And if Christianity’s claims are not true, then those who propagate the Christian faith are actually intolerant and may be harmful. How can we Christians go around claiming we have “the Truth” and pass judgment on others as if we know that their perspectives of Reality are “false?”
Now, what I submit as a Christian response to this is something radical for both postmodernists and Christians (and therefore, those postmodernists and Christians who are firmly entrenched in their ways of thinking may not like it, but those who are open to dialogical dispute will hopefully engage it). It is this: Reality and Truth are two different things.
Reality is what is really “out there”—it really exists. There is a Reality that is not merely a conceptual creation, but is an actual creation. In fact, biblical Christians have understood Creation as not merely a “figment of the imagination” (even God’s imagination), but that it is actual, it is out there, and it (very important to note) has a voice. Let me explain.
I really exist. And if you sit in Starbucks with me, and we talk, you will hear my voice. You will hear what I have to say about myself and what I think is important. I will listen to you respond, and I will respond in kind. I am here. I am not just a reality that you have created due to your senses, situatedness, and conceptual languages. I really am here! When we communicate, we come to understand that the other is real.
Now, the Creation really exists. And if you listen to it, you will hear it speak—this, after all, is why Science works. We can learn from the material world and harness its potential in new and exciting ways. But science is not all there is to knowing anything. You cannot come to know me personally through a scientific endeavor (by putting me under a microscope and creating some data sheet on me—"Bob’s 5 foot nine inches tall, married to Linda 12 years, three kids, works for the CCO"). That is not how you get to “know” me. You must listen to my stories in order to know what makes me tick—what has formed me, how I have been changed by my experiences, why I do the things I do.
And you do not come to know the Creation merely through scientific observation. Anyone who has hiked in the mountains or been to the ocean or watched a hummingbird fly from flower to flower or looked up at the vast expanse on a dark starry night knows what I mean when I say that Creation speaks. It is real.
But this is not “Truth.” My perception of this reality is always skewed. My perspective, twisted by my senses, situatedness, and conceptual language, limits my ability to truly hear the voice. I can never say I know Reality truly.
I was a communications major at one point in my college career (don’t ask how long ago!). One thing I remember from those studies is that communication is always hindered because the message gets garbled between the speaker and the listener. And the greatest garbler is the listener’s perspective (There’s nothing new about this—this is a modern scientific observation. Postmodernism simply realizes this as well).
So, if you and I are in Starbucks, and I say something to you about myself (say, that I am a huge football fan), you most likely will misunderstand some part of what I am saying to you (and that misunderstanding is exacerbated if we have different cultural backgrounds, and thus different conceptual languages for Reality! If you were from Europe, you might believe that I love Soccer…and let me assure you that is not the case!). So, we talk back and forth, clarifying, rearticulating, seeking understanding. Why? Because I am real, and I want you to hear my Real Voice.
But in the end, do you know the Truth about me? Have we exhausted all that there is to know about me? Did you understand what I was explaining to you perfectly? No, no and no. You know in part, but you do not know in whole. You do not know the Truth.
That is the difference between Reality and Truth.
I can affirm that there is Reality out there if I hear its voice. I can get closer to understanding that Reality as I enter into dialogue with it. But I must realize that I am never going to know that Reality perfectly. Reality and Truth are two different things; and between now and Eternity, that is the way things are.
“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).
Index of this series: Toward a Proper Christian Response to Postmodernity
technorati: emerging church postmodernity