September 22nd, 2008 18:28 EST
My Life as the Evolution of Ideas: Postmodernism and Religious Violence
The move from a premodern mindset of faith without reason to a postmodern view of God and truth as subjective is a common transition in many people`s spiritual and intellectual lives. My goal in writing this article is to illustrate this transition through my personal story and to elaborate on how an understanding of God and truth as subjective concepts can aid in the defeat of inter-religious violence.
In youth, faith reigned supreme. I read and interpreted the Scriptures for myself, especially the Gospels and the book of Acts, opening up a cabinet in my mind and in my soul in which I pulled out a file that contained the first chapter of my individual intellectual and spiritual life. This "awakening" came complete with a period of time in which I abstained from sex, drugs, alcohol, and profane language for the sake of pleasing the Creator. Faith was key. Nothing else mattered except doing what I believe God had desired for me to do. In many ways, this period of my life reflected the premodern mindset. In this era, matters of science and logic were pushed to the wayside as faith played the starring role in the intellectual and spiritual production of the medieval mindset.
Eventually, I found myself immersed in the intellectually rigorous realm of academic philosophical and theological inquiry. Suddenly, I was entrenched in the champions of reason such as Plato, Aristotle, and Rene Descartes, and I began to view the Scriptures in a new, ultra-critical light. My mind had altered; I could no longer accept a doctrine of faith based solely on one book that was not without its errors and inconsistencies and in which its authors differed so greatly. For a time, I was bitter with my family and with the church that I grew up in for seemingly keeping so much from me. You don`t learn in church that the book of Hebrews most likely was written by someone pretending to be Paul! In this light, I had fallen into a modern mindset in which reason was championed and the thinkers of the period developed a bitter angst for their premodern theological "parents" such as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.
But it all changed when I read Kierkegaard. The Danish pre-existential philosopher, SÃ¸ren Kierkegaard, shined a whole new light on my ideas of faith with his famous statement "subjectivity is truth." I did not understand fully what he meant at first. Initially I understood him as saying "you have to experience it to understand it." But the more I fell down the so-called "rabbit hole," the more I began to understand myself.
Kierkegaard`s writing will do that. In fact, his writing style, termed the "Kierkegaardian Project" by scholars, has the intention of influencing the reader to unknowingly self-analyze. And self-analyze I did. One of the most shocking things about Kierkegaard was that he was a Christian; a man with these kind of "radical" theological ideas had faith! And not only did he have faith, but he railed against "Christendom" for forcing a conformed version of spirituality on the masses. This is what I was looking for the whole time!
Combining Kierkegaard`s ideas on existence and subjectivity with pluralistic ideas such as that of John Hick and Charles Taylor, I began to understand that God is subjective, and He reveals himself uniquely to each unique individual. It is in this light that the postmodern mindset crept its way into my brain. Stanley Grenz, in his book A Primer on Postmodernism, describes postmoderns as believing that "beliefs are ultimately a matter of social context." The reason why so many religions and varying ideas on spirituality exist in the world is because God reveals himself subjectively to each person in accordance to their cultural and, ultimately, unique context. Absolute truth is a myth and a major distraction from what each person should be looking for. God reveals Himself within each person. To the Hindu in India God could be Vishnu; to the Buddhist in Tibet God could be Enlightenment. To the person who thinks he or she has lost all faith, God is the universe and all the good that is within it! To mass produce God with objectivity almost feels like we are killing God. It is almost Nietzchean. But God resurrects Himself each time someone looks truly and honestly within him- or herself and finds that calm and ease in which He communicates with us through our perceptions of what the Good is.
The importance of these ideas is tremendous in the world today. We are living in a global society, people! America, itself, is the manifestation of pluralism. Rarely it is seen anywhere else in the world that a Muslim, a Jew, and a Taoist could live in the same neighborhood. If people begin to understand and open themselves up to the possibility that we might not have all the answers, that truth is not something that everyone can just reach up and pick out of the sky and that we all must earnestly look within ourselves to find our subjective truth, then the potential of eliminating inter-religious violence exists!
One need only look as far as the events of September 11, 2001 to see my point. It appears that religious terrorism is responsible for the tragedies that took place on that day. If we are to accept ideas of subjective truth, then this kind of fundamentalism-inspired violence will begin to be isolated and gradually weeded-out. And to add insult to injury, reactionary public policies have sprung from this violence, playing on the fear that terrorism has caused. Policies like the Patriot Act merely add to the hysteria that violence causes.
My life at 21 years feels like the evolution of theological and philosophical ideas through history. I am far from done, however. In fact, I never will be. To paraphrase Kierkegaard once more, "Each person is a process, and God is that ideal self we are all striving to achieve."
I welcome all comments, rebuttals, and counter-arguments to my ideas as this article is meant to spark conversation and a global dialogue on these topics.