Friday, October 28, 2005

feeling safe, again

the other day, some friends and i were having a conversation that included big ideas like epistemology, truth, hermeneutics, meaning, objectivity, empiricism, subjectivity, etc... we eventually ended up in the usual critique of modernity until someone said, "but i need absolute truth, something in me doesn't like to live without it."
why is this? why do we cling so tightly to absolutes? what does it do for us? we sat with that for a while. as we talked, we came around to the idea that perhaps a flight to absolutes removes us from the subjective nature of the "here and now." but think about what that means for relationship! how will my "absolute truth" that "homosexuality is wrong" affect my encounter with my gay co-worker? how will my "absolute truth" that "dishonesty at border crossings is wrong" affect my encounter with the mexican land-scapper? and many examples could follow...
essentially, absolute truth can become a shield behind which we hide to protect ourselves from uncomfortable encounters. the "here and now" is messy and offers no protection. it may very well show me that my gay co-worker has a far better lived-understanding of what the gospel is all about (true story)!
well, just a thought... what do you think?

*the purpose of this post is not to address whether or not absolute truth exists or if it does, how we arrive at it- but to think about what need we attempt to meet in it.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

In his book, "Exclusion and Embrace," Miroslav Volf says something to the effect that: the truth matters more than my self, but the self of the other matters more than my truth.

Todd
http://www.livejournal.com/users/toddtrembley

elnellis said...

that book has been coming up for me way to much to be ignored, i've got to get my hands on a copy, thanks todd. ps, i laughed pretty hard at your recent grocery store post! peace.

pedro said...

Wow, todd,

That's a great quote, one that resonates within me.

As i have written elsewhere, I think that absolute truth does exist independently of us(i.e., God), and is therefore unaffected by what we believe about it. However, its com[lex nature is shown by the fact that our understanding of truth haschanged in time and with circumstance. Thus, we shouyld always be willing to humbly accept that our version of truth may not grasp the entirety of truth and should always be open to revision.

pedro said...

p.s.,

on a less abstract note, For me, the lack of certainty often makes my relationship with a living God highly uncertain as well.

It at once gives me an infinite view of an infinite God and an absolute lack of certainty what it means to concretely encounter and obey him in faith while also faithfully obeying him.

None of this might make sense, but it is part of the reality in which I am living.

pedro said...

I was just reading a book about global politics, and the author is describing the ongoing global resurgence of religion that started in the last decades of the 19th century.

Here is a quote from the book:"For people facing the need to to determine Who am I? Where do I belong? religion provides compelling answers, and religious groups provide social communities to replace those lost through urbanization [and the hostile forces of modernization]. All religions, as Hassan Al-Turabi said, furnish 'people with a sense of identity and direction in life.'"

The quest for certainty is rooted centrally in a quest for identity. Even those of us who espouse a doctrine of subjectivism need to remember that even though identity may develop, it can be rooted in a concrete absolute. For those of s who follow Christ, heis the concrete absolute, and our relationship with him as his disciples provides with a certain adentity, an anchor in the chaotic storm of life.

Flyin J said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Flyin J said...

Pdero, i like a lot of what you have to say. However since I feel low on the knowledge totem pole here I won't try and explain myself. This said, I feel as I have gotten older more and more things that I have held absolute, have become less and less so.

nathan Barrett said...

Great stuff here. I think about this all the time. The more I walk with Christ, the less I am afraid of funny ideas and whacked out theology or thoughts in general. Each time in my life I have established an absolute in my walk with Christ, he has challenged and at this point, I've given up, not because I don't believe in absolutes, but the very person I am forming them about keeps destroying them through life's circumstances and relationships. I have found that this creates a dependence on principles not on rules and that rules sometime (many times) have to change according to an unchanging principle. It has also created a dependance on obedience that breeds sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. I am obeying more today out of a desire to be close to "the next big thing" because I find it is difficult to hang on to something that may change, even at the hand of God - even though it is cheesy, it's true - in my "very-little-room-for-black-and-white world" I am more dependant on the "encounter" with Christ and daily conversation, place of need because I can't depend on a law that establishes distance between me and the person who I have made the law for, to live in accordance with Him. Why's He always got to do this, I don't know, but it's fun, because it means I can do it to, and for other reasons!

Blessing from London!
Nathan

elnellis said...

thanks nate, good to hear you voice from across the water :)

Catorce said...

Hello Mr. Nellis...your topics and comments have finally sucked me into creating an account. Just a question on the terms being used...I'm not sure how your using absolute, subjective, etc. Is there room for defining even as we live a life of dissoance?

elnellis said...

hey catorce (is this john f?) thanks for your question- definitions are important, i'm using (and questioning) "absolutes" in the way modernity and scientific empiricism have defined them in the last centuries- that there exists a single Truth and that man is capable of coming to know it. the problem was that christians took themes in scripture and made them propositional. all of the sudden the primal pursuit became "absolute truth" (not the Person behind it) and we began to claim that the bible was innerrant (making evangelicals into biblio-idolaters). all the while, the foundational element of the message was relational in nature: and when there is a genuine relational encounter between two living beings, absolutes go out the window. this is the inner subjectivity of two beings joining to create a third subjective encounter that is held only by the two present. so what is conversion? what is the gospel about? how will we choose to encouter the other?
-note i'm not saying that absolutes don't exist, i'm just questioning our ability to say with certainty that we know what they are. (i believe, help my unbelief).

Catorce said...

yes, this is john f. I'm not sure how this blog thing works...(I haven't done anything to my cite, or whatever it is.) Are you saying that the claim that the bible is innerrant automatically converts only evangelicals into biblio-idolaters bc of our never being able to truely and completely grasp God's truth, or am I missing the boat?

elnellis said...

hey john, welcome. i guess what i was getting at is that we place our trust in the bible because it is true (inerrant) or even scientifically verifiable- it becomes a series of propositional veritas. i would like to return to regarding the bible as authoritative in my life because i have had an encounter with the Person behind the text that gives it meaning. i accept the bible not because it has withstood the modern critique, but because it is my family story- it is the text of our faith.

elnellis said...

ps, john, i'm also asking in this post, "what need am i attempting to meet when i cling to absolutes?" or, put differently, "why is it so important that i know 'beyond a shadow of a doubt' that the bible is inerrant?" i think the answer to those question can be very telling.