Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “modernity”

Modernity’s Debased View of Woman’s Equality

Responding to a claim that the equality of the sexes was established by a technological advance, the invention of the contraceptive pill, The Pittsford Perennialist: Modernity’s Debased View of Woman’s Equality quotes St Gregory of Nyssa (4th century):

The gracious gift of likeness to God was not given to a mere section of humanity, to one individual man; no, it is a perfection that finds its way in equal measure to every member of the human race. This is shown by the fact that all men possess ‑ mind. Everybody has the power to think and plan, as well as all the other powers that appear distinctively in creatures that mirror the divine nature. On this score there is no difference between the first man that ever was and the last that ever will be all bear the stamp of divinity. Thus the whole of humanity was named as one man, since for the Divine Power there is neither past nor future. What is still to come, no less than what is now, is governed by his universal sway.

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Privacy

In my experience many people raise privacy issues in connection with web sites such as Facebook, or in genealogical research. But very few seem to be willing to discuss the underlying principles of the issues. In a recent blog post Matt Stone raises the same issues. Thinking biblically about privacy – Glocal Christianity:

I gather many believe privacy is a good thing; that it’s erosion is a bad thing. But of what basis do we found such beliefs? Is the foundation biblical, or merely cultural? How might we go about articulating a cross cultural ethic for instance?

I think that is quite important, because many people do not seem to regard privacy as an issue at all. It is simply not up for debate. They say “That’s private,” and for them that is the end of the discussion.

But as Matt Stone points out, it is an issue. It is debatable, because many people have different ideas about what is private and what is not, and how important privacy is. He asks if this is merely cultural, and I think that for most people it is. We each have our own ideas about what is private, and what is not; about information that we are willing to share with others and information that we do not wish to share. But because we rarely discuss these with other people, there is no common standard, and no shared understanding.

In our family history research we have come across relatives who are suspicious of the whole enterprise. They prefer the past to be forgotten, and rather resent our looking into matters that they think ought to have been buried and forgotten. This sometimes extends to things that one might regard as trivial. For example, when my father-in-law, Keith Greene, died in 1983, we wrote about it in a kind of open letter to friends and family members, and included a brief obituary, as a kind of appreciation for him. Among other things we included what we regarded as an amusing incident. He worked for a shipping firm, Rennies, in Durban, and travelled to Maputo in Mocambique once a month. Relations between apartheid South Africa and newly-independent Mocambique were not cordial, and Mocambique had many shortages, so he usually took a carload of groceries and things like toothpaste for people in the Rennies office in Maputo. On one trip they had two pigeons in a cage, and since the pigeons were livestock, and would have to be smuggled in, they stopped at a lay-by just before the border, and jettisoned the cage. But when they got to the border, they found it was closed for three days. They rushed back to the lay-by to get the cage again, but it was gone, and so they not only had to find a place to keep the pigeons, but also a car-load of frozen food, until the border re-opened.

We thought it was an amusing incident that threw light on life in South Africa, and its relations with Mocambique, but my mother-in-law was furious with us for putting it in the letter. “That’s private,” she said. End of discussion. She clearly drew the line between what was private and what could be shared with others in a different place from where we did. And we found that that was true of many of that generation.

On the other hand, I did draw the line somewhere. The letters were posted in addressed envelopes, and we intended that they should be read by the intended recipients, though we would not have minded if they had shown it to some of their friends. We did not intend to publish it a newspaper where it could be read by anyone. Nor did we intend that it should be intercepted by the Security Police and read by their functionaries, though we knew that that was a possibility. Since Keith Greene had died, he would not be making any more trips to Mocambique, so it did not matter if they knew that he once smuggled a couple of pigeons across the border.

On the other hand, I’ve been writing an article about the mentality of the Security Police in South Africa in the apartheid era, based on my own file, and their reports refer frequently to “a sensitive source”, and it is clear that this often refers to someone in the post office reading outgoing mail to foreign countries, which was illegal without a court order, but that did not deter the Security Police. Though we took it for granted that mail was intercepted and telephones tapped, we still regarded that as crossing the line, and as an invasion of privacy. So though we drew the line in a different place from my mother-in-law, we still drew the line somewhere, and if we had evidence of it happening today in the new democratic South Africa we would complain, probably to the Human Rights Commission.

A student friend of mine went to teach in the rural village of Postmasburg in the Northern Cape, and once in my travels I turned aside to visit her. She was amazed at the lack of privacy and the propensity for gossip. Everyone in town knew everyone else’s business, and the main souces of village gossip were the operators at the (manual) telephone exchange and the doctor’s receptionist.

A few years later, when we lived in a similar small town (Melmoth in Zululand) we discovered the same thing, except that an additional vector of gossip was the golf course. Local calls were free in those days, and if people were going out to dinner, they would call the exchange and let them know, and so calls would be put through to their dinner hosts. That was the equivalent of SMS, but considerably less private. And of course the party lines that went to the farms were notorious for people listening in.

So there are different privacy standards for rural areas and cities.

I think the idea of privacy is also very much linked to the modern worldview. The Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment encouraged the notion of the individual point of view, and perspective (based on a single viewpoint), and this notion also gave rise to the idea of privacy (see also Notes from underground: The ikon in an age of neo-tribalism).

I can’t recall that anyone has defined privacy, or expounded the principles on which it is based, or said how we should decide on the limits. And the Bible records the life of premodern societies, so I very much doubt if they had very much notion of “privacy”, so I don’t think we will find a “biblical” view of it, or succeed in defining it biblically.

The marvels of science

Anyone who reads Internet discussions regularly will be aware that there are heated debates over scientific evidence for things like global warming, and that people argue about empirical data and interpret it in radically different ways.

Now someone has done some empirical research into the debates themselves.

Fixing the communications failure : Article : Nature:

Our research suggests that this form of ‘protective cognition’ is a major cause of political conflict over the credibility of scientific data on climate change and other environmental risks. People with individualistic values, who prize personal initiative, and those with hierarchical values, who respect authority, tend to dismiss evidence of environmental risks, because the widespread acceptance of such evidence would lead to restrictions on commerce and industry, activities they admire. By contrast, people who subscribe to more egalitarian and communitarian values are suspicious of commerce and industry, which they see as sources of unjust disparity. They are thus more inclined to believe that such activities pose unacceptable risks and should be restricted. Such differences, we have found, explain disagreements in environmental-risk perceptions more completely than differences in gender, race, income, education level, political ideology, personality type or any other individual characteristic

At first sight it struck me as a prize-winning statement of the obvious, and I marvelled at the way people spend money on researching things that everyone knows anyway.

On second thoughts, however, it seems that there is more to it than that. Postmodernists have been saying for years that “science”, even empirical science, is largely a matter of cultural perception. Now here are people using empirical methods to prove it.

Is this the death knell of modernity?

Modernity: from dawn to decadence

From Dawn to Decadence From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I saw this book going cheap in a bookshop that sold remainders — unsold copies of books returned to the publishers. I knew Jacques Barzun as one of the authors of The Modern Researcher, which I had helpful in writing my doctoral thesis. So I bought it, and I’m glad I did.

It’s a kind of history and tourist’s guide to modernity. It’s taken me a long time to read it, because it’s a long book. I read other stuff in the mean time, and when I was halfway through I forgot about it for a while. I was moved to pick it up again after an internet discussion on science, magic and miracles, and now at last I’ve finished it.

It covers a tremensous range of Western culture, and in this age of globalisation you could say it’s global culture as well. A generation ago, back in the 1970s, the BBC did two TV series that produced books on similar topics — Kenneth Clark on Civilisation and J. Bronowski on The ascent of man dealing with arts and science respectively. I still remember how uncomfortable I felt at seeing “civilisation” spelt thus. It needed to be spelt “civilization”, and “civilisation” just looked wrong, and somehow uncivilized, though I’ve got used to it now.

Barzun’s book deals with the last 500 years of both, and deals with culture, religion, politics and science, and how they have influenced the modern worldview. In doing so, he also draws attention to things one tends to forget or overlook. In thinking of modernity, I tend to think of the Reneaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment as the shaping forces. Perhaps that’s because, as a missiologist, I see those as the things that formed the worldview of Western missionaries who came to Africa, and that can lead to an over-simplification. I tend to overlook Romanticism, as a reaction against the Enlightenment. I don’t forget it altogether, of course. I enjoy Beethoven’s music, and J.M.W. Turner’s paintings. But most of the 19th-century Western missionaries who came to Africa were anything but romantic in their outlook. Or if they were, they managed to hide it pretty well.

It’s a long book, and that’s why it took me a long time to read it, but it’s also divided into short sections that make it easy to refer to a little at a time. So having read it through, I think I’ll keep it at my bedside to refer to again and again.

Here are a few of my favourite bits, and there are many in a book this long:

The 18C, that is, Diderot on Painting, Lessing on the Laokoon, and finally Winckelmann on Greece, made detailed art criticism an institution. Its role is part scholarship, part advocacy. Winckelmann’s lifelong work was to glorify Greek art and discredit the Roman and thus to revivify Plato’s belief that Beauty is divine and to be loved and worshipped. It may be a symbolic coincidence that Winckelmann was the victim of a homosexual murderer.

Every age has a different ancient Greece. Winckelmann’s is the one that moved the 19C. By way of Goethe, Byron, Keats and lord Elgin, it inspired the universal urge to put a picture of the Parthenon in every schoolroom. It also aroused the Occident to support the Greeks’ war of independence against the Turks.

And, of course, that helped to shape modern Greece as well. It was the Occidental supporters of Greek independence (like Byron), with their Romantic notions of the glories of ancient Greeks, that led modern Greeks to think of themselves as Hellenes rather than Romans, and to produce such abominable slogans as “Hellenism is Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy is Hellenism”, and led to the inclusion of Byron in a Greek books of “Saints’ names”.

View all my reviews >>

Current reading: a tourist’s guide to modernity

From Dawn to Decadence From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I haven’t finsihed reading this book, and will add to these comments when I do. I recently picked it up again after putting it aside , and then putting other books on top of it, after I’d got about halfway through.

It’s a kind of history and tourist’s guide to modernity. I was moved to pick it up again after an internet discussion on science, magic and miracles.

View all my reviews >>

I first came across Jacques Barzun when I was working on my masters dissertation and read The modern researcher, which he wrote with Henry Graff, and found it enormously helpful, and have recommended it to postgraduate students ever since. So when I saw this new book of his in a bookshop I had no hesitation in buying it, and i have bot een disappointed.

Communication without community

In a recent post Bishop Alan’s Blog: Why ordination? Why today? Bishop Alan quotes an author, Eugene H. Peterson as saying:

The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shop-keepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shop-keepers’ concerns — how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.

Some of them are very good shopkeepers. They attract a lot of customers, pull in great sums of money, develop splendid reputations. Yet it is still shop-keeping; religious shop-keeping, to be sure, but shop-keeping all the same… “A walloping great congregation is fine, and fun,” says Martin Thornton, “but what most communities really need is a couple of saints. The tragedy is that they may well be there in embryo, waiting to be discovered, waiting for sound training, waiting to be emancipated from the cult of the mediocre.”

The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them.

And one of Bishop Alan’s blogging friends, Simple Massing Priest, responded to this thus:

I’ve said before that statistics only tell you what they tell you and that’s all they tell you. Thus statistics about average Sunday attendance or giving by members do tell you something about the vitality of a congregation. But what they’re telling isn’t always clear. And even when it’s clear, it may not be important.

If only we could find some discrete statistical way to quantify the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a community and in the lives of individuals.

He goes on, however, in another post Simple Massing Priest: The Great Heresy(ies) to say:

Historically, Catholic Christianity has always seen the collective expression of the Body of Christ – that is to say the Church – as important. While never denying the importance of individual faith, individual devotion and individual piety, a Christian is properly a Christian because they are part of Christ’s Body, the Church. To treat Christian faith as being an entirely individual undertaking – as seems altogether too common in some circles – is manifestly heretical. The Ethiopian eunuch came to believe as an individual, but it was baptism by Philip which grafted him into the Church. The lot fell on Matthias as an individual, but his Apostolic authority came from being ‘added to the eleven Apostles.’

Now, I agree that there is, as always, a polar opposite heresy – the heresy that would emphasize the collective to the exclusion, diminution and discarding of the individual. That heresy might take many forms, but it would certainly be a heresy.

Individualism and collectivism are both Western heresies, or perhaps I should say heresies of Western modernity. And they are both related to (and are perhaps the root of) the obsession with counting, and the idea that if things are not numerically quantifiable, they aren’t worth bothering with. Things must be “measurable”, and this is often used as a kind of label of approval. “Measurable” is an epithet tagged on to things to make us think that they must be good.

The Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras has a different take on it

In everyday speech we tend to distort the meaning of the word ‘person’. What we call ‘person’ or ‘personal’ designates rather more the individual. We have grown accustomed to regarding the terms ‘person’ and ‘individual’ as virtually synonymous, and we use the two indifferently to express the same thing. From one point of view, however, ‘person’ and ‘individual’ are opposite in meaning. The individual is the
denial or neglect of the distinctiveness of the person, the attempt to define human existence using the objective properties of man’s common nature, and quantitative
comparisons and analogies. Chiefly in the field of sociology and politics the human being is frequently identified with the idea of numerical individuality. Sometimes this rationalistic process of leveling out is considered progress, since it helps
to make the organization of society more efficient.

One manifestation of this, especially in America, is the failure to understand objections to attempts to expunge the inclusive use of the word “man” from our vocabulary. Some people insist that “man” must refer exclusively to males, and ought not, indeed cannot, include females.

They would demand that the word “man” be removed from a phrase like “reconciliation between God and man, and man and man” and replaced with some impersonal abstract collective term like “humanity”, and fail to see that this changes the meaning, and the reason they fail to see this is because they cannot see the distinction between individuals and persons.

In part this is because a a deficiency in the English language. Other languages have different terms for a person of either sex and a male person. Greek has anthropos and aner, Latin has homo and vir, Zulu has umuntu and indoda, but English has to make do with “man” and “man”. Zulu even has a saying umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu — “a person is a person because of people”. But because Western modernity prefers to see things that are quantifiable and countable, the idea that persons need communities in order to be persons at all seems quite alien. The Orthodox anthropology that Yannaras describes is communitarian rather than aligned with Western individualism or collectivism — and I’ve discussed the economic ramifications of that in another post.

However, another blogging friend, Dion’s random ramblings, writes about using social media:

Build a wide range of relationships. This is where twitter and facebook come in. The intention of these relationships is the create opportunities to interact around common interests and concerns, and particularly to drive traffic to my content! I cannot emphasize this last point strongly enough!

As should be apparent from my previous post, I have grave reservations about simply “driving traffic” without being concerned with the quality of the traffic. For example, on Blog Catalog I have 8 friends. They are people I have interacted with, either face-to-face or online. There are many more who have said that they want to be my “friend”, but they haven’t bothered to read any of my blogs. What kind of idea of friendship is this?

As one writer put it, we live in an age of communication without community. People say that they want to be our “friends”, but they don’t want to talk to us, or exchange ideas. A person is a person because of people, but in individual is an individual in isolation from other people. Occasionally feral children have been found, children that were lost and brought up by animals, and they find it very difficult to interact with other people. They may be individuals, but they find it very difficult to become persons till they have faces, and some people don’t seem to want to have faces. Faces have been replaced by “avatars” and “personas”.

Hope Transfigured: Crusading Koreans?

Hope Transfigured: Crusading Koreans?:

With Korea now sending more cross-cultural missionaries than any other country outside the US (so Julie claimed) their missiology and methodology must be significant. I was struck by how many times Julie spoke of the Korean mindset as ‘crusading’ – ouch!! – but she’s right in many respects. Another colleague later talked of Korean missionaries as being ‘modern’ (rational, linear, success oriented, goal setting) and therefore finding it difficult to address pre- and post-modern mission contexts.

When I read this paragraph in Mark Oxbrow’s blog (I met Mark at the conference of the International Association of Mission Studies – IAMS – at Hammanskraal in 2000) I briefly wondered what might have caused Korean missionaries to become “modern”, and then I remembered the Haggai Institute.

I attended a mission training course at the Haggai Institute in Singapore in May 1985. It lasted a month, and there were people there from nineteen different countries, including four South Africans. The aim was to train third-world leaders in mission methods in such a way that they could return to their own countries and train others. And one of the things that characterised the traning was that it was modern — rational, linear, success-oriented, goal setting. I found the training quite useful, though some parts were more useful than others.

The teaching was done by various people, from different backgrounds. Some of was informational — for example on religions like Islam and Hinduism. Some was academic — a sociology lecturer from the University of Singapore taught several classes. Some were practical “how to” lessons — one taught about writing, preparing manuscripts for publication, using audiovisual media (especially where there was no mains electricity) and so on. Some were more theological — on the Biblical basis and theology of missions. And some were a bit like motivational speakers, and the modernity was especially apparent in what they said.

I wouldn’t knock that either, however. I found it useful, not so much for setting goals myself (I tend not to work like that) but for questioning the goals of activities proposed by others and even me. Step-by-step goal-setting and working everything out on paper beforehand just isn’t my style, but it can be useful when someone comes up with an idea that sounds impressive until one tries to determine the goal behind it, and then suddenly it become clear that there are many better ways of reaching that goal, and that the activity proposed might actually be counterproductive in reaching the stated goal. And if people persist in pursuing the proposed couse of action, one then needs to look for an UNstated goal. An example (with which most people are no doubt familiar) is the US invasion of Iraq. What was it intended to achieve? What did the initiators SAY it was intended to achieve? Was it the best way of achieving what they SAID they wanted to achieve? And with hindsight, what did it actually achieve.

That may seem remote from a mission goal, but remember that at one point George Bush said “mission accomplished” — so what was the mission, and was it accomplished?

But that is an illustration. The questions about it are rhetorical, so please don’t try to answer them in comments!

The point here is that goal-setting is part of the modern approach that characterises Korean missionaries. And a bit strange, that, too, talking of “Korean missionaries”. Because they are all, I am fairly sure, SOUTH Korean missionaries. I have my doubts that NORTH Korean missionaries, if any, take that approach.

When I was at the Haggai Institute there was one person there from South Korea, Byung Jae Jeong. We were the 85th and 86th session, so if there was an average of one South Korean for every two sessions, by that stage the Haggai Institute would have trained about 43 from South Korea. Each of them was supposed to train 100 others, so that would be about 4300 South Koreans trained in modern methods.

I don’t think that the Haggai Institute was alone in training people from Asian, African and South American countries in the use of modern methods, but it can illustrate the way in which others may have offered similar training.

In this, perhaps one can see Christianity as acting as a kind of agent of modernity in South Korea, and perhaps other Asian countries, and possibly in Africa and Latin America as well.

And using the training in goal setting I received from the Haggai Institute, I ask: what are the intended and unintended consequences of this?

Reality isn’t what it used to be

In considering the general topic of “Religion and science” the first question that occurs to me is “What religion? What science?”

Both “religion” and “science” are cultural constructs based on Western modernity. By “modernity” I mean the Western worldview (or “paradigm”) shaped by the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment.

Concerning religion, Peter Harrison says in his book “Religion” and the religions in the English enlightenment:

One of the effects of the Reformation was the exchange of an institutionally based understanding of exclusive salvation to a propositionally based understanding. Formerly it had been “no salvation outside the Church”, now it had become “No salvation without profession of the ‘true religion'” – but
which religion was the true religion? The proliferation of Protestant sects made the question exceedingly complex, and led to the production of innumerable abstracts, summaries and the like of the Christian religion, with confessions and statements of faith, in attempts to arrive at a solution. Thus there was a concern for ‘fundamentals’, which could therefore bring Christianity into a closer relation with other faiths, if the ‘fundamentals’ were broad enough to include them. Religions, in the new conception, were sets of beliefs rather
than integrated ways of life. The legacy of this view of “the religions” is the modern problem of conflicting truth claims (Harrison 1990:63-64).

The very term “interfaith” is thus a product of this conception, which is in turn a product of Western history — the idea of religions as “faiths”, that is sets of beliefs.

Harrison (1990:5-6) also points out that, in the West, there were three different understandings of ‘nature’, which led to three different understandings of ‘religion’ and ‘the religions’.

  1. The natural order is opposed to the supernatural. ‘Natural’ religion is the result of human sin and stands in opposition to ‘revealed’ religion. This dichotomy was largely shaped by the Protestant reformers.
  2. An instinct, or the light of conscience (also Bacon, and Kant’s ‘practical reason’). This view is derived from Renaissance thought and ultimately from Stoic philosophy. In this view the natural is not opposed to the supernatural but complements it.
  3. The light of nature is that which springs from reason, sense, induction and argument (Bacon), which Kant later called ‘pure reason’. It was this view that developed as the Enlightenment progressed, and led to ‘religion’ being investigated in the same way as phenomena of the physical universe.

There were such radical changes in religious orientation in post-Reformation England that there was in effect a diachronic religious pluralism, which led to secularization, and “the comparison of the various forms of Christianity with one another, and shaped to a significant extent the way in which the English were to see other ‘religions’. The whole comparative approach to religion was directly related to confessional disputes within Christianity”(Harrison 1990:3).

In other words, the frame of reference for the understanding of “religion” has been shaped by the history of Christianity in Western Europe since 1500. To this extent “religion” is a modern Western social and cultural construct.

For more on the differences between premodern and modern Western Christianity, see my post on The ikon in an age of neo-tribalism.

Like religion, “science” is also a social construct.

In English, more than in other languages, “science” has come to refer primarily to the “hard sciences”:, those that use empirical methods of verification, though even in English there is a wider meaning. In premodern times, for example, theology was called “the queen of the sciences”. In that sense, “sciences” meant “branches of knowledge”. And even today non-English speakers sometimes refer to people writing “scientific articles” and reading “scientific papers” on theology, whereas native English speakers would probably say the articles and papers were “academic” or “scholarly”, and reserve “scientific” for the “hard” sciences, like physics, chemistry, botany and zoology. Even social scientists would be thought of as reading academic papers rather than scientific ones.

I am particularly conscious of the language difficulty from the time that I worked in the editorial department at the University of South Africa, which was bilingual in Afrikaans and English. It was a distance-education university, and all study material was prepared in both languages. Some subjects, however, were uniquely bound up with Afrikaans culture, and with white Afrikaner nationalism. One such was Fundamental Pedagogics, which claimed to be the science of education. It was not, its proponents claimed, a philosophy of education, because there can be many different philosophies. It was scientific, and there can only be one science, and so from its lofty scientific pedestal it could sit in judgement on all mere philosophies of education.

In the original Afrikaans the word was “wetenskap” and “wetenskaplike”, which are usually translated as “science” and “scientific” respectively. It is the equivalent of the German Wissenschaft or the Russian nauka. Though “wetenskap” can also mean knowledge, Afrikaans also has another word, “kennis”, which corresponds more closely to the English term “knowledge”. To English-speaking people, however, or at least to English editors, Fundamental Pedagogics did not seems so much like a science as an ideology, and the fundamental pedagogicians, in their claims for their discipline, seemed to be including it among the natural sciences. One could never be sure whether this was a linguistic or cultural misunderstanding, or whether the fundamental pedagogicians were simply snake oil salesmen.

In English, more than in many other languages, “science” has come to be used primarily of the natural sciences. This in itself shows that the term “science” has a meaning that varies from culture to culture. Thomas Kuhn, with his concept of paradigm shifts, emphasised this even more.

Both “religion” and “science”, therefore, are cultural constructs, and need to be seen in the context of the culture in which they originated.

Can one say more?

Can one bring religion and science together, and see how religion sees science or how science sees religion?

Harrison (1990:2) says of this

It is evident from the philosophy of science that objects of study are shaped to a large degree by the techniques which are used to investigate them. If we apply this principle to the history of ‘religion’, it can be said that the very methods of the embryonic science of religion determined to a large extent what ‘religion’ was to be. It would be expected that ‘religion’ and the strategies for its elucidation would
develop in tandem. For this reason ‘religion’ was constructed essentially along rationalist lines, for it was created in the image of the prevailing rationalist methods of investigation: ‘religion’ was cut to fit the new and much-vaunted scientific method. In this manner, ‘religion’ entered the realm of the intelligible.

That brings us back to the question I asked at the beginning. Which religion? Which science?

One way in which I saw them brought together was a science fiction story. It introduced me to the concept of scientific paradigm shifts some years before Thomas Kuhn’s book on the subject was published. I’ve sometimes wondered if Kuhn read the story, and whether it perhaps gave him the germ of an idea. Or perhaps both his thesis and the story grew out of the same Zeitgeist.

The story was The new reality by Charles L. Harness, first published in 1950 (ie 12 years before Kuhn’s The structure of scientific revolutions).

The story concerns a group of scientist who are investigating a theory that paradigm shifts were not just changes in human consciousness, but that the world itself actually changed each time there was a paradigm shift. When the paradigm was that the sun revolved around the earth, the sun really had revolved around the earth, and when the paradigm changed, the earth began to orbit the sun.

To test this thesis, they want to break down the current paradigm, the Einsteinian one, which is based on the speed of light. They construct an apparatus (remember the Large Hadron Collider?) that will let through exactly one photon of light and direct it at a prism set at exactly 45 degrees. When a rat in a laboratory maze is faced with a fork in the path, so that it doesn’t know whether to go left or right, it hesitates. So the photon, on encountering the prism, would hesitate for a split second before deciding whether to reflect or refract. That would slow down the speed of light on which the Einsteinian paradigm is based.

The apparatus was constructed, and the machine was switched on. One of the male laboratory staff suddenly found himself naked in a garden. The laboratory and everything in it had vanished. A female colleague, likewise naked, approached him through the trees, offering him an apple.

______

Bibliography

Anderson, Walter Truett. 1990. Reality isn’t what it used to be. San Francisco: Harper.
Harness, Charles L. 1998. An ornament to his profession. NESFA Press.
Harrison, Peter. 1990. “Religion” and the religions in the English Enlightenment. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Kuhn, Thomas. 1962. The structure of scientific revolutions.
_____

This post is part of an interfaith synchroblog on “Religion and science”.

Here are links to other synchronised blog posts on this general topic:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The emerging menace in South Africa

There have been a few blog posts recently expressing concern about the emerging menace in South Africa.

Contact Online Weblog: Why Postmodernism and the Emerging Church threaten Missions and World Evangelism:

I am told that there are Anglican churches here in South Africa embracing this new deviation of the Christian faith. which, as I understand it so far, seems to be a kind of neo-liberalism. There is more on the site linked below on the Emerging Church which may be of interest to readers

Another blogger says The Emerging Threat of the ‘Emerging Church’ in South Africa: Quotes from the ‘Emerging Church Conversation’ in South Africa

Many older pastors simply don’t know the heretical ideas and viewpoints being discussed within the South African ‘Emerging Church’ movement – and thus fail to take action to speak up against and correct false teachings being spread by the movement. Should you have any other heretical quotes you wish to contribute to this blog, please post them as a comment below, with internet links please to authenticate. The quotes below should help everyone to see the dangerous consequences of using the ideology of postmodernism to interpret scripture.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I find this emerging church thing confusing. Since I first heard about it three years ago, I’ve been trying to find out what it’s all about, and I’m still not sure. But it seems to me that those who are warning against it are introducing more confusion rather than trying to make sense of it. There are a few terms that help to accomplish this: “neoliberalism”, “heresy” and “postmodernist ideology”.

Now I’m probably more sensitive about terminology than most people, because I worked for several years as an editor of academic texts, and so I’m concerned about terms that could possibly confuse readers.

So let’s look at these terms:

  • neoliberalism normally refers to the kind of free-market fundamentalism that has impoverished and underdeveloped many countries in Africa at the behest of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In all my discussions with “emerging church” people in the last three years, I can’t say I’ve noticed any who have been advocating that.
  • heresy is a term that is pretty meaningless unless you know where the speaker is coming from. Most of the people who are most free with their use of words like “heresy” and “heretics” actually hold views that seem pretty heretical to me, but I don’t say so. As an Orthodox Christian, I don’t regard anyone outside the Orthodox Church as a heretic, or their teachings as heresy. A heretic is a member of the Orthodox Church who reaches something that is contrary to the faith of the Orthodox Church. It is possible that Vassula Ryden, who is offering her New Age teachings in Johannesburg tomorrow, is a heretic, to the extent that she represents herself as a member of the Orthodox Church and her teachings as the teaching of the Orthodox Church. But though I disagree with many of the doctrinal presuppositions of emerging church people, I wouldn’t call them heretical. OK, that’s where I’m coming from — but where is the blogger who wrote the bit I quoted above coming from?
  • postmodernist ideology is perhaps the most confusing of all. Postmodernism is even harder to put a finger on than “emerging church”, so it would be interesting to know what the writer thinks this postmodernist ideology is. I’ve not noticed any emerging church people talking much about postmodernism. What they do talk about is how to do mission and evangelism in a postmodern world, where many people don’t accept the modernist ideology, or accept it only with qualifications. The implication of that citicism is that the modernist ideology is good, and the postmodernist one is bad — but why? And why should one interpret the Bible in terms of a modernist ideology rather than in terms of a postmodernist one? The Bible was written by premodern people, and I suspect their own understanding of what they wrote was neither modern nor postmodern.

I’m not saying that the “emerging church” movement is above criticism, but to be of any use, criticism needs to be based on something better than this.

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Update

I’ve suggested ways in which South African emerging church people could respond to critics here.

Why I am not a Marxist: Class war and the Anglican schism

You’ve got to wonder what they’ve been smoking to dream up stuff like this!

Class war and the Anglican schism | Links:

Dramatic events within the worldwide Anglican Communion (the international association of national Anglican churches) have revealed a “cold split” with the potential for a complete collapse of the Episcopal formation. Superficially, the debates have centred on the right of women and homosexuals to be priests and bishops, and on gay marriage. However, while theological arguments dating back centuries are being mouthed, behind them are class-war elements of more recent vintage, including some connected with the era of US President Ronald Reagan’s backing of Central American death squads in the 1980s.

African bishops have led the charge against modernity, but they are funded and organised by right-wing US think tanks and the Sydney Anglicans’ arch-reactionary Archbishop Peter Jensen. Another player is the Vatican, which has been reported as throwing its resources behind Anglican Primate Owen Williams.

They are so keen to interpret everything in terms of class war that they end up being thoroughly racist. The assumption behind this is that Africans are too thick to make up their own minds, and they need white Australians to tell them what to think.

That is very little different from the National Party regime in South Africa, which was firmly convinced that any opposition to its policies among black people must have been stirred up by white agitators (communist, of course).

I have no doubt that there are elements of class struggle in the current turmoil in the Anglican Communion, but this kind of simplistic and racist analysis does nothing to help people understand them.

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