Postmodernism and Theology

Something happened over 300 years ago in Western culture. It had a huge impact on how we view the world, it's called the The Enlightenment, which was preceded by the age of reason. I think this had a huge impact on how people practice Christianity.
I'm a big fan of the scientific method, it obviously works, and is probably the best tool we have for discovering realities in the natural world. Many in the religious community reject much this tool points out, and yet embrace the practice when thinking about their relationship with God. The Bible is approached as something that can be studied, taken apart, and truth can be extracted in much the same way a Chemist would create medicine. When you reduce it to an interpretation, you miss the point. I think Christianity is starting to recover from the adoption of enlightenment thinking and is maybe moving towards the more mystical side of things.
I listened to a speaker this last week who got me thinking along these lines, his name was Peter Rollins. He gave me great hope for a direction of belief, which is that belief does not necessarily matter. What you believe might not be nearly as important as I was led to think. I'm still processing what that means, but I think it is leading me in a good direction. A painting would be a good analogy of this for me. Science can tell us how it was painted, when it was painted, what kind of paint was used, but the meaning of the painting is in the eye of the beholder. It might not matter what I think the painting means, but it's more important that I keep wrestling with that meaning. I liked a story Peter gave which two rabbis are arguing over a verse in the Torah, an argument that has gone on for over twenty years. In the parable God gets so annoyed by the endless discussion that he comes down and he tells them that he will reveal what it really means. However, right at this moment they respond by saying, "What right do you have to tell us what it means? You gave us the words, now leave us in peace to wrestle with them."
That story, and more of what was talked about are in this interview.
Well, that's what I've been thinking about this last week. I might decide it's all bunk, but maybe not.


  1. I would would think that what you believe is of supreme importance, although I would agree that wrestling with that meaning is an important process.

    Our beliefs propel us into action. If you believe that a meteorite the size of the moon is heading to earth, you will act differently. If you believe that souls go to either heaven or hell, your will act differently towards other. A lot of acts that would easily be characterized as either insane or evil make sense once you understand what the believer actually believes.

    Now, if we all 'wrestled' with our beliefs, we would probably all be a bit more cautious and understanding. This would, in itself, be an effect from our belief, confounding the conclusion that beliefs don't matter. Indeed, beliefs are the _only_ thing that matters.

    The difficulty with Christianity is that the enlightenment essentially meant "ignore the parts of the Bible you don't wish to believe". Since the Bible is tied to Christianity as it is (other than some minor translating edits to make it more palatable), it's difficult for Christianity to get beyond the "you believe in talking snakes" attack without some fancy interpretational footwork.

    A Christianity truly freed by the enlightenment would engage with its document, and update it where necessary. Imagine if the 10 commandments didn't begin with 4 useless commands to respect God, but included something useful (like, "No raping" and "Slavery is Bad".

    I'm waiting for Bible 2.0 (heck, 1.1 would be nice).

    Nice post, got me thinking Scott.


  2. I like the chemist analogy, but i would take it one step further, like a chemist isolating an active ingredient from a traditional source, like how we got painkillers (salicylic acid) from willow bark. Then we take it out of context and we can manufacture the whole thing without the willow bark when you know what is you want in the end.

    From what I can tell, you are proposing that maybe we should figure out why the willow bark has painkilling properties, why this story is there, rather than summing it up in a neat little easy-to-swallow package.

    Pete definitely has some interesting ideas, a lot of them are above my head; I have a hard time asking "why" and not giving myself a moral of the story. I like neat little packages.

  3. As much as I probably disagree with Pete on a lot of things, from what I gather in your post, he did make one good point. Belief doesn't necessarily matter. What matters is whether what you believe is true or not. If it is not true, then all your belief doesn't amount to a hill of beans, but if it is true, your belief is well founded.

  4. P.S. you missed this week! (Feb 17) Just wanted to let you know it was noticed :)