Tag Archives: postmodernism

On the dangers of our centrated thinking


One of the most critically satisfying phrases in the modern era was the reductionist phrase “nothing but” as in “that’s nothing but a typical Freudian Electra complex at work” of “that’s nothing but a typical Marxist class struggle” [etc.] (Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christian)
“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.” Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.”
(C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

AnkocToday’s post is one of those things I need to write down so I can link to it later, instead of having to give this explanation every time… The Brian McLaren quote above doesn’t only describe the problem I’m talking about quite well, but it also might foreshadow some later thoughts on some of the things that ‘the emerging church’ promised to go beyond without any such thng ever happening. (The problem sometimes is even more perfected in American ‘progressive Christianity’ as far as I can see…)

The term ‘centrated thinking’ in the title is borrowed from Piagets theory of psychological development by lack of a better word to describe it elsewhere, but I will use it in a much broader sense. Let’s first start with the wikipedia definition for those who are uninitiated in the theory or have forgotten it bPiagety now:

In psychology, centration is the tendency to focus on one salient aspect of a situation and neglect other, possibly relevant aspects. Introduced by the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget through his cognitive-developmental stage theory, centration is a behaviour often demonstrated in the preoperational stage.

Yes, I do know that Piaget is speaking about small children in the pre-operational phase here as he calls it, but the same thing he described but manifesting in other forms is also happening all the time in adult human thought. We always look at the world through a certain lens. We are not omni-present to look at a situation from every side, cannot calculate all angles in, and would not have the time and energy to do so even if we could.

So very often people tend to frame their thoughts through a very specific lens, finding only one aspect or dimension of reality important or even real, and ignoring or negating all the rest. Often the idea is that whatever lens they have is the most important thing that explains everything, while all the rest is just irrelevant.
This has something to do with out human hunger for a simple explanation for life, the universe and everything. (Well, duh, 42!)
The ancient Greek philosophers for example were busy looking for the archè or principle on which the whole of existence was based. For Thales of Miletus it was water on which everything was based,his pupil Anaximander thought it was the Anaximandermore vague ‘indefinite’ or apeiron, while Anaximenes would say that it’s air. (Yes, all 4 elements have been seen as archè by one Philosopher or another in those days, and they were first combined by Empedocles as the 4 elements we know now, but that’s another story) Pythagoras on the other hand posited that everything was based on math and numbers.

Not much has changed since the centrated woldviews of those ancient bearded guys on their faraway Turkish or Greek coast… Freud said that everything in human behaviour is based in sex, and both communists and ‘capitalsts’ have fallen for the dangerous idea of Marx that reality should first and foremost be framed in terms of economics. And then there are more postmodern theories that have the archè of our humanity based in language, or power dynamics, etc…

Let me repeat that nothing is wrong with looking at the world through a certain lens and thus ignoring other parameters or whole dimensions. It’s unavoidable even, and we need to do this if we want to be able to understand the world around us at all! The more parameter we leave out, the more we can focus on details and really look at what’s going on.

But we should NEVER forget that it only is a lens. Power games are only one of the many things going on in human relationships and certainly not always our main motivator. Economics are one dimension of our reality, but to say it’s more important than other things is not reality but a choice. A very dangerous one. And so on…

If we forget that any of these centrated ways of explaining reality and our human existence are just possible lenses that focus on only certain dimensions of existence, we get in trouble easily. There are always more factors that can be looked at and probably even more that we aren’t even able to see, and reducing any issue to just one angle is always doing violence to the complicated reality we inhabit!

Nuance, and looking to all viewpoints and stories is always needed. And evidently it is always dehumanising to reduce people to just one aspect of their being and then completely fold their identity into that aspect, no matter if it’s sex/gender, race, culture, status in power/privilege, whatever… People are always more than that, and cannot be reduced to any of those. Relationships and human motives always based on more things than we know.

So I have to end with a warning about a certain line of thought that’s pervasive in certain social justice circles nowadays. No matter on what side of the line they are, dehumanising someone as an ‘oppressor’ (a common way to centrate human animalfarmidentity on in certain contemporary circles) and then dismissing them as a human being that has nothing to contribute is as dehumanising as the things the whole attitude wants to erase. Things that should be erased indeed, if we are to treat others like humans, but animal farm revolutions are NOT the way

Humans are always more complicated. Reality is always more complicated. We need centrated theories because that’s how we operate as humans. But we also need to see them for what they are, and to never take any theory at all as comprehensively describing Reality, humans, or God (yes, the same problem is very present in modernist and other theology too, but I don’t have the time here to go into that). We’ll only do violence to whatever we describe if  we think that our centrated theories describe all there is…

Always stay humble, be open to learn, and be open listen to everyone in a certain issue. Open your eyes for nuance, and don’t forget that the world is often not black’n white, nor grey, but it has many colours, some of which we can’t see. (Which doesn’t mean they aren’t important.  Bees can see ultra-violet marks of flowers for example)

What do you think?

Peace

Bram

See also the following posts:

Lust is not about sex but power and control?
The unhelpfulness of words like ‘conservative’, ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’.
The virus of evil: animal farm revolutions and the cycle of violence…

 

 

spiritual warfare against obsolete paradigm fragments?


Foto0067Note beforhand: this is basically a personal story based on my own experiences with enlightenment naturalist fundamentalism as a supernaturally minded Christian, but other totalitarian paradigms ( with Christian fundamentalism in all its forms as another good example, modernist ideologies are often completely absolutitist!) can give roughly the same problems as described here. So I think, if you can pierce through my Christian and esotheric lingo here that any person who’s ever gone through a deep paradigm shift or conversion should be able to get something out of this, and recognise the problem of the old obsolete worldview coming back and trying to invade and subjugate their world again. So bear with me, while this post is mostly my story from a supernaturalist Christian POV, I also will try to find a more general outlook on the subject too that might be helpful for people of completely different persuations…

You’ve all seen my title, which might be one of my weirder and more obscure ones… What on Earth do I mean with a hermetic-sounding title as ‘spiritual warfare against obsolete paradigm fragments’ and why would anyone be interested in it? To explain that I have to tell you a part of my own story but before I start I will give some general notes:
* I use the word paradigm for something like worldview, underlying system of thought through which one sees and interprets the world.
*The paradigm from which I write this myself will be a bit spiritualised, and because it fits my purposes most I might sometimes treat paradigms and thoughtsystems further on as if they were living entities of some sort.(classification somewhere in the order of thoughforms, family of egregores and mass-thoughtforms and probably closely related to illustrous entities as the zeitgeist) You can take that literally if you really want  but it works exactly in the same way if you see it just as a psychological tool to visualise some concepts… I’m completely agnostic on this matter actually…
* I will use the word ‘supernatural’ for things relating to both the Divine Uncreated and the spirit world or anything else beyond what the current consensus of science regards as the laws of nature. This is probably because I’m too lazy to find a more accurate word in the lingo of some weird niche, or maybe because I already have enough of that in my text already…
The supernatural paradigm is this the worldview in which the material world is only one dimension of the actual Reality, with other dimensions including a spiritual dimension to the natural world that are out of reach of our natural senses. I use it quite broadly.

Let’s start the story now…

I grew up as a pentecostal kid in a very secular country, with an awareness of what could be called lazily the supernatural world -even if I hadn’t always been given a very balanced understanding of it in that environment- and have been living in that awareness ever since. This doesn’t mean that I’m a great mystic at all, but throughout my life I have always had my encounters with God, answered prayers and very sporadically other things in the invisible world too. I’ve always known on a deeper plane that the rational that there is a whole invisible dimension to Creation, and an even more grand Uncreated dimension that’s intertwined with the created… And I dare say that just being alive affirms this ‘supernatural paradigm’ every day…

I know that I am in a minority with this outlook in a (post-)modern secular society, and I probably lost a lot of readers with that first paragraph alone… These are things one does not talk about. Some people I know would even suspect that my mental health should be checked after reading such things. (You know, believing in imaginary friends is clearly a mental illness…) So would not even be inaccurate to say that I’m ‘in the closet’ most of the time about this part of my person as an intelligent Westerner in a secular world. Always, from the age of a child on, I’ve known that there was no other option but live counter to the dominant paradigm around me. I’ll always be out of the box…

This might not be that unnatural for a pentecostal kid in a very secular post-Catholic world, although I assume other personalities might find other coping mechanisms than I did… I never had much problems having different paradigms next to each other. Being part of a religious minority that’s virtually unknown to the general public can have that effect on you. And here probably also lies the root of why I am incurably postmodern: There wasn’t much option for me with the personality type that I have to let the worldviews exist next to each other in one way, as different pictures describing the same world while focussing on certain things, but sadly enough ignoring/denying other parts of reality too. None of the paradigms will ever give a complete outlook on the world, they are all like small windows on a bigger landscape…

To continue my story: as a teenager my parents became part of a vineyard churchplant -of which I’m still a part- so I always remained connected to the Christian supernatural paradigm through my church, even though it’s generally not the most energetic charismatic churchon the planet… But late in my teenage years and in my twenties I also started opening my world and reading other branches of Christianity, as well as people of other persuations, later including interreligious dialogue with a lot of interesting and very different people.
It was not just books and people, but from the early 2000’s also the internet even exposed me to more different ideas and traditions. And then suddenly I found myself in the middle of the ’emerging church dialogue’, that gave me words to describe that I was indeed ‘postmodern’. But it lacked greatly on other aspects, like the supernatural dimension of this world, and more than before it opened me up for a more ‘liberal’ Christianity that tended (for me) to synchretise with modernist enlightenment materialism and a more naturalist wordview. With exploring the postmodern side of my faith I opened a door in my Christianity for something completely opposed to it but prevalent in some contemporary versions of it.

At the same time I encountered another paradigm that could never be mine, and one that some people clung to in a very totalitarian way that demanded the rejection of all other paradigms. I’d always lived in a world where the supernatural was ignored or even rejected by the standard paradigm, but the atheism I encountered went much further, and was agressive and totalitarian in a way that reminded me of the fundamentalism in my religion that I had distanced myself from long ago. Using ‘science’ and reason in the same way as ‘the bible’ and very weird things called ‘the bible’ that were actually far-strected interpretations of it on were used in religious fundamentalism, there people wanted atheism to be the only option in the world, and regarded anything that could be seen as supernatural or religious as unscientific, irrational and stuff for people of a lower intelligence. (Very French revolution, but without the guillotines?)

I’ve always found it hard to converse with this kind of people for some reason…

This agressive ‘new atheism’ was too far from my mode of being to ever compel me in the least, but there were other ways in which enlightenment reductionism denying my supernaturalist paradigm sneaked into my religious worldview to open the doors for this mode of thinking. Through the emerging church and other more liberal versions of my faith, and certain people around me or on the internet,  the ‘supernatural’ dimension became more and more disconnected from my operating worldview… even though the world I lived in was still supernatural in practice. In the end it felt a like being sucked down into a paradigm that was never mine to begin with but actively tried to erase certain dimensions from my world… (I do think I have at certain times spent too much time discussing on fora on the internet where a very agressive version of the new atheist ideology hung as a group spirit, trying to push me into a corner until I’d accept that its worldview is the only possible valid one. This probably put some anchors in me for the thing to get a foothold inside of me…)

Now, I want to be very clear that I surely love science and am often fascinated by its findings, and in between its limits science is possibly one of the most efective systems humans have ever created. Learning about science is one of the things I will never stop to do… I also don’t have a problem with people not sharing my religion or not believing in God… But I do have a problem with reductionism, and people who want a world restricted to what they can understand through ‘science’ -and manipulated by technology- while shutting out everything else…  When I read. things (or speak to people) that promote a certain kind of enlightenment-atheist ideology it feels (and this is a weird visualisation probably) like some kind of miasma is sticking to me, trying to get inside of me, numbing some of my unnamed senses and trying to pull me. It’s much more nuanced and less spectacular than what my description  probably sounds like when written down like this, but it’s the best way I can describe it.

There is something very disorienting in an having to fight an agressive paradigm that’s actually already obsolete to you but that is very dominant and seems in a sense completely compelling when exposed to a higher dose of it, even though it actually contradicts the very core of your own being. (Bring in narnia-metaphors… drumroll…) The whole thing itself like saying to Mr. Beaver of Narnia that animals will never be able to talk, and insist on a world of non-talking beasts. Or even like the witch with the silver chair, telling the children and the prince that there is no upper world, no sun, no Aslan,.. And so on. It al sounds very ‘reason’able, but if you’d take a step behind and take a deeper view it feels somehow like there is more behind it. The (un)spiritual miasma that sticks to me, and numbs my senses and control what comes in to tha point of only being able to see the world through naturalism/materialism. This is extra weird since that wordview has never been part of my ‘working pantheon of paradigms’ and obsolete to me from the beginning on. Why would it even try to creep in and take over?

So I guess this is where the part of spiritual warfare comes in. No matter if you take this term more literally or as a psychological metaphor, the effect is the same: an invading worldview that you have left behind and don’t want can try to take over your perception of the world, and your modes of thinking. I think it’s important to be aware of  such things, to learn to recognise how it happens, and so be able to stop the attacks…

So this was my  story, which outlined the problem of spiritual warfare against aggressive paradigm fragments in a very specific casus based on my own experience.What we should do now is look at the problem in more general terms, and at possible solutions.

When it comes to the solution I have less experience in succesful overcoming the problem (I’ve only been understanding the problem in these terms for a few days now) so I will be much shorter, -this post is way too long already anyway-:

I’m not that sure I can tell you the best way to fight invading paradigm fragments, but being aware of them is probably the best first step to start with. It’s always much easier to fight something when you’re aware of it than when it want to take you over while you don’t have a clue that anything is happening…

But I used the metaphor of spiritual warfare. Maybe if we are aware of such things it’s not such a bad idea to visualise them as entities trying to invade your inner world and expel them in the name of Jesus, that’s very effective for Christians. People of other spiritual paths can take their own rituals of banishing or expelling.  That’s something that might work for me at least, even though it’s most likely a psychological tool…
(It doesn’t have to be an actual entity to react positively to being sent away in the name of Christ. Sending negative thoughts away in the name of Jesus (or taking them capture in Charismatic lingo) can also be very effective.)

I do think that throughout my text here I already gave the general description of the problem: a paradigm that has been already discarded and has been rendered obsolete, but that nonetheless tries to come back to take over your whole outlook on the world. It could, if it works better for you, also be visualied as a mental computer virus too, that tries to rebuild your whole operating systems from fragments that get inside and reform it according to the will of a very totalitarian tradition.

It is not the case in my example, but if that totalitarian tradition has once been your total worldview the spiritual battle might be a lot harder even. Note that I took a very specific example but that even for me there are other paradigms that try to invade sometimes. I can have the same kind of problems with fragments of other paradigms that make no sense to me at all anymore that come back -the fundie influence on my childhood pentecostalism, the weirdness of Charismatic Christanity- but I rarely encounter those in such a dominant way personally. Another very invasive ideology that seems to want to take over my theology sometimes is a very agressive and  totalitarian form of calvinism that is virulent on the internet…

So, for those still with me here: if any of my readers know of another effective way of expelling or ‘banishing’ paradigm-frangments that keep on sticking to you, trying to invade you again while you know that the paradigm is obsolete, please tell me.

If you find that I’m talking absolute nonsense please ignore me, this is probably not meant for you…

peace

Bram

Some interesting things elsewere (Jan 2015)


noodle

I used to have a series called ‘Some interesting things elsewhere’  that disappeared when my time got absorbed by other things very different than blogging. I was planning to resurrect those series, and make one list of interesting reads that I encountered each month at the end of said month, but suddenly it’s February already, not January anymore, and my list isn’t that long yet and I still haven’t posted the first one… But I still think it’s not a bad idea to resurrect this series so here is the first edition nonetheless…

So what did I read recently that stood out?

Lana hope with ‘an instrumental view of language and Christianity: a critique‘. Just read it!

Two interesting reactions to the whole Charlie Hebdo thing from Khanya in South-Africa and Vinoth Ramachandra in Sri Lanka.

Heather Goodman with some critique of a more fringe Charismatic theory that relates contemporary studies of epigenetics with the supposedly biblical idea of ‘generational curses’.

This Orthodox text would make a lot of sense if it wouldn’t have the exclusivisionist part in the end: the spiritual person is not  moral!

An older article from the ‘Anglican pentecostal’ that explores the idea of being ‘slain in the Spirit’ with the Orthodox idea of the ‘energies of God. Very interesting line of thought!

Magickal blogger Peregrin Wildoak makes a lot of sense here in his analysis of the word ‘love’ in the works of Aleister Crowley. Although not a Christian himself when he speaks from a Christian paradigm he seems to understand Christianity better and make more sense than a lot of Christians for some reason…

If Jesus talked about loving our enemies, he meant it, and he also meant our real enemies, not just people we vaguely don’t like. Good piece on formerly fundie.

Morgan Guyton is having a very interesting series called ‘radical Jesus ‘101’ on his blog. In the first issue about who and what is God he compares the trinity to ‘a polyamorous  love triangle’ (it even makes sense and is quite orthodox…)  Be also sure to read the second part called  is humanity good or evil.

And this just came in: Eric at the Jawbone of an ass with identifying religions to species. And when we’re in the category ‘other faiths’: Iceland to build first temple to Norse Gods in 1000 years. (I decidedly like neo-paganism more than materialist atheism and logical positivism, so in today’s world I find this good news…)

so what did you read?

Bram

I Corinthians 13 (V)


reLOVEutionIn this post we proceed our meditative explorations on 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s well-known ‘love chapter’.  This is always the first thing I think about when people say ‘Paul isn’t important’ for whatever kind of reason. I can’t believe that anyone would want a bible without 1 Corinthians 13, and Gods message to mankind that was brought by Jesus is not complete without an understanding of what Paul is saying here.

Let’s just read the next part slowly:

Love never ends.
But if there are prophecies,
they will be set aside;
if there are tongues,
they will cease;
if there is knowledge,
it will be set aside.
For we know in part,
and we prophesy in part,
but when what is perfect comes,
the partial will be set aside.

This is a well-known piece of the bible, not only used for meditation but also for fierce theological discussions.
Some have used this piece for the defence of cessationism, which is the idea that the supernatural works of the Spirit have ceased after the time of the apostles. I don’t see how one could make that exegesis without having to conclude that not only speaking in tongues and prophecies, but knowledge itself would have ceased. And knowledge is quite important to most cessationists I’ve met. Also in this interpretation it seems that one has to conclude that the ‘perfect’ that will come is the canon of the bible. I really can’t see that work at all…

No, the piece is just noting the fallibleness of everything in this fallen world, in contrast with the love this chapter is speaking about. You don’t have to be postmodern to have  a very humble epistemology! Just reading 1 Corinthians 1′ may suffice…
Prophecies, tongues and knowledge are incomplete in this age, but they will be perfected in the next age, when the Kingdom of God comes. So the last verse here really is eschatological.

Read the piece again. Let every detail sink in.

Everything is incomplete in this world. Our religious things as well as the non-religious, and we are just fallible humans.

One day there will be a perfection of Creation, but we won’t see it in this lifetime… And then the partial, the incomplete will be set aside.

Love will be completed then… We can not even start to understand what that might mean, but it surely will be good!

Peace

Bram

Some interesting things elsewhere IX


So here we are back with another edition of ‘Some interesting things elsewhere’, after quite a long absence…

A picture of a Snowy owl, which has been taken just before newyear, here in Belgium close to the Northsea coast. This is an arctic species that very seldom come so far to the South, and scientist do think that this specimen does not come from Northern Scandinavia, but has taken a boar from Northern Canada… No matter where it comes from, it’s a beautiful picture of a beautiful bird. (Picture via natuurpunt on facebook)sneeuwuil

Lana Hope has started an interesting series about what is modernity that looks quite promising. Speaking of modernity and Christianity, Roger Olson had a series too a while ago that is worth reading: Christianity and modernity: oil and water? Part 2 part 3. As someone who does identify as postmodern and who wants to connect more to the non-modern roots of my religion those things are very interesting…

David Russell Mosley from the letters from Elfland has written a very interesting artcile On the economics of Elfland for the birthday of J.R.R. Tolkien. I recently reread the Lord of the Rings trilogy (which I like a lot) and watched the second hobbit movie (which was quite disappointing, you can’t make a movie of the hobbit without including the gradual arrival at Beorns house, and a love triangle with a female elf captian Kili the dwarf and Legolas who isn’t even in the book is just too much…) so I’m still in a Tolkien mood anyway.

To show how different life and gender issues can be in other places: Indian Eunuchs adopt to fulfill motherhood. The eunuchs in questions are living in special brothels, and the person the article speaks about identifies as ‘she’, and has a heartbreaking story. No matter how different and difficult their lives, they are humans like us!

Did you hear my EP instant pocket apocalypse from last summer, which might have been the least advertised release ever? It switches from abstract electronic instrumentals to weird semi-electronic indierock and other not-so-common stuff. I will never be able to play any of this live though…

Zack Hoag quits the progressive Christian internet for 2014 and I completely understand him. As a non-American I don’t even understand all the calling-out for using the wrong words and all the shibboleths of that strange niche…

On new years eve we had ‘de tijdloze’ in Flanders on the radio station studio Brussel, when the listeners choose the top-100 of classic rock-songs, including some hard ones. For the first time #1 was Led Zeppelin with ‘stairway to heaven’, which kicked ‘smells like teen spirit’ from its first place. (#3 was Pearljams ‘black’, a song I don’t care for much. Also, the weird song Mia (click for my blogpost about that song), a former #1, fell to 22, which means the end of an era… (singing that the middleclass rules the country better than ever before isn’t accurate anymore?)

And which means that there wasn’t any Belgian song in the top-20 left… (Only Americans and Brittish ones even, speak of colonialism? -edit: Wait, isn’t the arcade fire Canadian?-)

This sociological piece about American fundamentalism confirms my suspicion that unlike whatever it might claim it is not at all built around ‘the bible only’ at all, but more like a complex man-made (made up on the way?) tradition.

Speaking about American fundamentalism, this slice of life story at the broken daughters blog (by an American ex-fundamentalist girl currently studying in Germany) is quite funny to me. Don’t ask me why…

And this is just a fraction how we humans are being an abomination against nature and Creation: 10 animals that went extinct in 2013 (or declared extinct)

Another sad statistic from last year: 70.000 Christians killed in 2013

And then there’s this genius piece from the onion about brainwashed idiots feeding the poor (yes that’s satire, but it sounds like some atheists I’ve met)

What did you see that caught your eye?

Peace

Bram

Short thoughts on the futility of language


Rosetta_Stone

*

If 2 or more groups disagree on the meaning of a word, communication is futile. When scientists use the word ‘theory’ they have a certain meaning. When creationists hear the word they attach a completely different meaning to it. And when working class people hear the word they just us it pejoratively, as in ‘its work in theory’, which means it does not work. (Like in a users manual)
what does the word theory mean? I do have my theories about it…

*

Perspectivism is good, but hardline postmodernist relativism in the end dissolves all meaning that could be. Just as with post-structuralism and the futility of the meaning of words we need to find a balance or we have nothing left.
The other option would be completely naive though. To think that my perspective (or that of my tradition, the Western modern enlightenment tradition for example) is completely objective and not just the best but also ‘the right way’ to look at a certain thing. Same with the meaning of words, if we thing words can have a fixed meaning we will only get frustrated and confused in the end by the real world…

The question is how to find this balance… Continue reading

An apophatic video interlude with Peter Rollins…


I’ve been talking about apophatic theology, and the limits of language earlier, and the idea will come back in some future posts. Apophatic or negative theology is a very important way of doing theology in the Eastern Orthodox church and some church fathers. The basic idea is that God the Creator does not exist like we do, and is not bound to words and ideas that are derived from what we know as created beings in Creation, so the only way to speak of God is to say what God is not…

Another tradition that is very suspicious of the preciseness of language, when speaking about anything actually, not just God, would be postmodernist continental philosophy, which is quite popular in certain parts of the emerging church. So here is for you the guy with the coolest accent and the weirdest background music in postmodern christianity, Peter Rollins himself.

And no, whatever the description on youtube says, he could actually not be further away from classical christian liberalism, and fits more between old orthodox mystic apophatic negative theology and postmodern linguistic deconstructionism… Both thought systems that couldn’t be removed further from the rationalist roots of the original Christian liberalism… And yes, some of his stuff here is just semantic wordplay probably… Some atheists would object to his definition of atheism probably, but I see where he’s coming from.

What do you think? Is Pete making sense here? Or is he just talking heresy or plain nonsense to you?

shalom

Bram