Today we’re going for a trip to explore some paradigm shifting. We will revisit some of the oldschool ’emerging church’ topics, but that will only serve to better be able to venture far into grounds where both angels and academics fear to tread (and maybe not without a reason) like the obscure postmodern occult art of chaos magic. Although for the regular readers nothing here should be a big shock…
So, on to paradigm shifting or a change of how one understand Reality and the rest… Let’s start on more or less safe ground and firmly inside of cliché emerging church territory with some C.S. Lewis quotes lifted from Brian McLaren’s vintage emerging church classic ‘A New Kind of Christian’. (It seems that the EC prophecies of the emergence of a new and better form of Christianity can be filed with a lot of end-times madness and hypercharismatic promises of a ‘great revival, but the ANKOC trilogy remains worth re-reading nevertheless)
It is from Lewis lesser known book ‘the discarded image’ that talks about medieval literature, but the last chapter is about the paradigm-change between the medieval and modern world. And Brian McLaren got it more than right here in that this chapter has a lot of insights that are able to help us understand the modern-postmoden paradigm-shift. I will give you the extended version:
It would therefore be subtly misleading to say ‘ The
medievals thought the universe to be like that, but we
know it to be like this’. Part of what we now know is
that we cannot, in the old sense, ‘ know what the universe is like’ and that no model we can build will be, in that old sense, ‘ like’ it.
Again, such a statement would suggest that the old
Model gave way simply under the pressure of newly discovered phenomena-as a detective’s original theory of the crime might yield to the discovery that his first suspect had an unassailable alibi. And this certainly happened as regards many particular details in the old Model, just as it happens daily to particular hypotheses in a modern laboratory. Exploration refuted the belief that the tropics
are too hot for life ; the first nova refuted the belief that the translunary realm is immutable. But the change of the Model as a whole was not so simple an affair.
There is no question here of the old Model’s being
shattered by the inrush of new phenomena. The truth
would seem to be the reverse ; that when changes in the human mind produce a sufficient disrelish of the old Model and a sufficient hankering for some new one, phenomena to support that new one will obediently tum up. I do not at all mean that these new phenomena are illusory. Nature has all sorts of phenomena in stock and can suit many different tastes.
Lewis is talking here about the historical shift in worldview which made the old way of looking at the world impossible. And yet the ‘proof’ of the new worldview had always been there, and had only ‘turned up’ because people looked for them.
Our views and explanations of Reality are always just in part, as through a dim ancient mirror. (Yes, I’m paraphrasing 1 Cor 13 here) Even if our models and paradigms are only working models and approximations, it’s all we have and all we can have. No paradigm or ‘model’ as Lewis says it will ever explain our world completely accurately, and every model has its weak sides and strong sides. Key here is Lewis’ last sentence: “Nature has all sorts of phenomena in stock and can suit many different tastes.’ Reality is like the elephant in the parable, and we are the blind men who only have one part of the elephant and try to reconstruct a whole ‘theory of the Elephant’ from one bodypart of the animal.
Why do we even assume that the human brain is able to fully understand the universe around us? As a Christian believing in a Creator God that made us in His image I already find it a bit too much. But if I were an atheist such a illusion would for me only be a lingering relic from naive belief in a Creator…
What I would propose when it come to these things is just a humble epistemology. Acknowledge that any paradigm is just ‘seeing in part’ and that there’s a strangeness in the universe that makes it simply unable to just pin it down to one paradigm. Sometimes different models that cannot be reconciled do accurately describe the same thing. (Even in modern science that is true: look at light, which can be described as both a particle or a wave. Both paradigms work and can be used to explain different things, but they are in fact mutually exclusive and at the same time both true!)
Maybe that sounds too postmodern to some, but note here that I do still have a Ground, even when it cannot be Pinned down, or grasped. Truth and Reality do exist, even if they defy complete description and understanding, and even if different understandings of it can be both accurate in a way and completely exclusive of each other. Real hardcore postmodernists will most likely not have such a ‘Ground’, which is a completely different story altogether
Groundless postmodernism, even more than my moderatie ‘humble epistemology’ is a radical meta-paradigm that makes all other paradigms invalid, and that makes every use of a paradigm pragmatic. Nothing is true, but still we believe things because it helps us in some way. We can’t be Groundless all the time, so we take on a worldview for the moment…
But there’s more we can say about paradigm-shifting. Up until now I’ve been just talking about understanding and describing the universe, as is done for example in science. Which is important, but only the first step. The second step is reacting to the universe, and often also manipulating it in various ways. We are not just spectators in this world, we are living in it, connected to it, and we need to interact with it…
And our paradigm is very important here. The way we view the world around us does change the things we’ll do with it. If we do not believe that there is a land on the other side of the ocean we won’t make a ship to go there. If we don’t believe something can be don’t we won’t try it, etc…
But like I wrote this ‘power of belief’ can go further. Like the song says, there can be miracles, if you believe…
Now what do we get if we combine groundless postmodernism in which no paradigm is true with the power of belief and magic? This is not a rhetorical question, as the answer is an existing occult tradution; Chaos magic (or magick in the Crowleyan spelling) is what you get when you combine Groundless postmodernism with pragmatism and the idea of ‘belief as a tool’. I don’t think you can go further than that into postmodernism than pragmatic paradigm-shifting-at-will as a tool, it does outpostmodernise the most postmodern postmodernist and its implications are far-stretching.
Yes, pragmatic paradigm-shiftng-at-will! While Lewis and McLaren wrote about paradigm shift as something that happens with a society when the world cannot be viewed in the same way any longer, and the emerging church generally saw it as something happening once in a lifetime (or a few times). Chaos magic starts from the idea that ‘nothing is true, everything is permitted’. (Which is derived from Aleister Crowleys ‘do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’ and can end up not far from Voldemorts ‘there is no good or evil, only power and those too weak to seek it’…)
So it does not matter whether or not a paradigm is true, if you need it you ‘climb into it’ and exercise enough belief to accomplish your purposes. Andrieh Vitimus describes it like this:
“The most telling thing about a chaos magician is their ability to change their beliefs and paradigms at will. This is a complete change of perspective on the world that they live in to be able to see their reality from a different point of view. If you think about it, this would mean one day a chaos magician might be a Christian, while the next week they would be a Buddhist. These two philosophies are radically different in their orientation towards the world and an adoption of either worldview would have implications towards the person’s daily actions and attitudes. Chaos magic will demand that the practitioners be able to meaningfully switch between any beliefs about themselves, others, and religious beliefs. To the chaos magician, beliefs are choices. Belief is the tool that empowers the magic.”
(And yes, chaos magic can be pretty dark stuff. Invoking made-up dark gods like Thanateros (god of death and sex) or fictional ones like Chtulhu seems to be popular for example among chaotes. But that’s outside of the scope of my post about paradigms now, and the same principles could work without this dark side and without invoking any deity at all.)
I’ve written before about ‘belief as a tool’ and magic, and I do believe in this power. But on the other hand I also believe it has its limit. Even chaos magicians pragmatically try a lot of paradigms and discard those that don’t work… Pragmatism tries what works, and in that process a lot of things are thrown away that don’t work. Not every paradigm is equal, even in Groundless postmodernism or chaos magic.
There is something scandalous in the pragmatic combination of ‘belief as a tool’ and paradigm-shifting in a Groundless postmodernism. Is it an echo of a snake whispering ‘you shall be like gods’ and the temptation of a Power that isn’t safe for a mere mortal to wield?
There is another limit. One cannot put the sun in a bag and make slices of cheese from the moon with mere positive affirmations and choosing the right paradigm. Even if we would have a lot of power to create our own universe we are not solipsists. There are other powers in the Universe that might be stronger than us. There are solid things in Reality that won’t liquify or even go out of our way no matter how hard we believe they will. The power of belief is strong, but even if it can change our percerption of reality, and in some cases affect Reality sometimes, it is not able to change the real inner structure of reality. And sometimes our perception of is only an illusion.
Let’s go back to where we started, to C.S. Lewis. In the chronologically first book of Narnia, ‘the magician’s nephew’ we do find a arrogant ‘magician’ named uncle Andrew, who’s by accident present at the Creation of the world of Narnia. The poor soul does have a lot of modern sensibilities though (a lot of colonial and capitalist ambitions that would turn Narnia in a hell and made him richer if could accomplish them…) and the idea of talking animals does not work for him. After a while he isn’t even able to hear them talking even if he would want to. He just hears growling and hissing and barking of a bunch of wild beasts, while they are actually are discussing what they would do with the guy…
Yet the animals are still talking…
Another example of this comes from the last of the Narnia book, the last battle, where a bunch of dwarves have been put in a stable by the enemy, but are not able to see that the door worked as a portal to the Land of Aslan. The lion Aslan wants them to open their eyes, but all they want to see and can see is still a stable. They keep on mumbling that “the dwarves are for the dwarves” and that no-one will be able to take them in, stuck in an illusion they can’t get out that is only kept in place by the power of their belief.
Our views and explanations of Reality are always just in part, as through a dim ancient mirror. Even if our models and paradigms are only working models and approximations, it’s all we have.
And after all we should watch out for illusions and lies…
What do you people think?