Thursday, April 22, 2010

Deconstruction, Spirituality, and Religion

I've had the privilege of studying the writings of the recently deceased Philosopher Jacque Derrida. Specifically, we read a piece on forgiveness, literature, and the old testament story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering by God, in which Derrida critiques Soren Kierkegaard's interpretation of the events. However, what makes Derrida interesting is that he does not offer a structured argument in return, he offers a multitude of facts, a barrage of information that he refuses to structurally tie together, except as they may fit together to the reader. In his own terms, he writes not in structure, but merely in play, wandering through the data and offering a wide variety of intellectual exercises for the reader. Because he's in the Postmodern tradition of Philosophy, he shares the common thread of never ascribing universal meaning, and in fact pointing out the meaninglessness, in his case in literature, and encouraging by his very writing style a type of individual interpretation, which is, to the Postmodern Philosopher, the way of being consistent with the disconnected and nonsensical nature of reality.

Do I agree with Derrida? Not entirely. However, I admire his consistency. He starts his piece with the phrase "Pardon for not meaning," and then he writes consistently with the most honest rendition of literature, in his view, which is a disconnected and fragmented cacophony of data, finally concluding with his conclusion that literature, by its' very nature, inclusive of Scripture, is meaningless because its' disconnection from the events, its' inability to communicate perspective, and its' inability to be detached from the reader's perspective, makes it singularly meaningless as a metanarrative. In other words, there is no grand story that explains absolute truth, there are fragments of perspectives that float around, but ultimately we must decide for ourselves.

Before proceeding any further, I must invite the reader to recall that I wrote a piece recently entitled "A Hiatus from Christianity." In it, I bemoaned the nature of the Christian religion, and indeed, religion in general, and I renounced my connection to the label "Christian," in so many words. I believe that it is necessary to, at this point, clarify that piece.

To begin with, I still consider myself a follower of the teachings of Christ. I have since I was met with the power of God that changed me, and I have even through the bitterness and frustration that the past 10 years of my life have brought me since that day. Though I am unsure of whether I can point to that specific day as to the point where I "got saved," I can point to it as a revolutionary interaction with God, where He met me precisely where I am. It was not merely an emotional experience, nor was it a realization of intellectual truths that I chose to affirm and then became a "Christian." I already had the intellectual knowledge, and I very much felt deeply regarding my religious choices, and regarding my religious alignment. I had the knowledge and conviction that I had been and have since been inundated with the message of the necessity of; I was a zealous Christian, but something was deeply wrong in me. God addressed it. He took me out of my comfort, out of my lazy acceptance of the status queue, and He made me something else: an anomaly in my subculture. I became interested in things that truly caught my interest, and I grew to enjoy art and literature and philosophy and psychology. I am still the same person in essence, but I have changed because of God, and He is the reason I am where I am today. I can no more deny that than deny my identity as a human, which I believe is intertwined with my relation to God.

Derrida, a Jew, once spoke of the anti-semitism he endured. He felt very strongly about whenever someone was discriminated against based on race, specifically if they were Jewish. However, at the point in which there was a community established where he would gain acceptance as a Jew, he felt distanced from it, in a way wrong about being a part of it. He simultaneously felt vindicated and alienated, accepted and, as an outsider would feel, misplaced. This is my feeling regarding Christianity, and here is why.

I believe Derrida was correct regarding deconstruction, and I've done it naturally all of my life. To see a belief, to see a practice, and even to psychologically see a person, and to pull the influences out of the object, to separate the belief "strains" out of the whole and analyze them one by one. To be this analytical, this critical, is simultaneously a gift and a curse. For example, when someone asks me if I believe in the Inerrancy of Scripture, I can honestly say that yes, I do. If I am asked for a yes or no position, I will say yes. However, it is likely that no one means the same thing as I do regarding inerrancy. I do not believe the Bible to be a historical or scientific textbook in the 21st century scientific sense of the word. I do not take it literally in those senses, and I do not believe that Scripture must be demonstrated to be superior to all other texts in order to believe in it. The reason for that is because I believe it is the inspired Word of God. Word, meaning a thing similar to Christ, as demonstrated in the Gospel of John, chapter 1, a fusion of the human and the divine, and of God, meaning a message from God to humanity about who He is. In the sense that Scripture communicates things regarding God, I believe it is without error, but in the sense that God is transcendent, He has met us on the plain of literature, in the area of written words, to communicate who He is, and He uses example after example from the world and from culture, because who He is runs through all of it.

Christ's crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father are strikingly similar to the story of Mithra, a story of redemption written centuries prior to the account of Christ. Does that mean that Christ's apostles lied and wrote down a story similar to a traditional one, and hence to follow Christ is to follow lies? I think not. I think God met us where we are, and used elements from religion and mythology to demonstrate who He is. For ultimately, Christ said that when you've seen me, you've seen the Father. Truly, the Trinity makes little sense to us analytically, but in the sense of a God who is beyond anything we could ever imagine wanting to speak our language, to come into what it has come to mean to us to be human, Christ is a success beyond anything ever hoped for. He confronted violence non-violently, became counter-cultural, and his followers have done the same since, saying that there is more than the power driven systems that run the world, even in the Modern, Postmodern, and "Altermodern" eras.

Derrida was correct that we see the world only through our own perceptions, and he was correct to advocate deconstruction and reality as more complex than the modern scientific world would have us believe. However, where he, Sartre, and even Nietzsche fail, in my opinion, is that they do not believe in an overall meaning. They isolate individual perspectives and do not believe in the grand unity that their own writing proves exists by its' sheer popularity and identification in the Philosophical community.

Truly, Postmodernism is a self-contradictory Philosophy, but not merely because it is not structural, by the fact that it is an overemphasis on autonomy, on the individual human meaning, while failing to recognize that humanity as a whole can only relate because we share some things in common. Though culture may be constructed, it takes more than a single person to construct it, and we are all aware of some things regarding reality, though we may be interminably separated at times by our own perspectives, stubbornness, and arrogance.

Of arrogance, I am guilty as charged, to the extreme definition of the word. I have at times bordered on both Narcissism and on a complete lack of confidence in myself due to crashing from said overconfidence. To be frank, it's because I take myself too seriously. For the damage I have done in acting this way, I must apologize. For the division I have caused, I must also apologize. I am not the absolute measure of truth, and I am not so different from you. For I am not merely an individual, I am human, created the same way by the same God as any of you reading this, but in a unique fashion that makes my perspective both valuable and fallible.

Subjectivity is not a curse, nor is it a license to construct our own individual perspective without regard for anyone else. It is a valued trait of what it means to be human: a perspective no one else can duplicate. To demand uniformity in light of this uniqueness is both insulting and unhelpful. However, to demand disconnection is equally destructive, for a perspective in a vacuum truly becomes meaningless, for it will interact with the void around it, eventually leading to destruction.

It is because of this that I am content to once again hesitantly call myself a Christian. Not because I approve of the actions taken by those in the Christian religion, but because my perspective is needed desperately not only by those in the religion, but by humanity. To call myself a Christian is to immerse myself in the culture around me, to functionally utilize a label for the purpose of conversation, of cordiality. However, should the label offend or get in the way of discourse, I hold no attachment to it whatsoever, not like I hold attachment to God and His desire to reach out to humanity.

I have often been labeled a heretic. If I must be again, then I can only say that that hurts me, but I have come to expect it. I can no more change who I am and how I think than I can deny the God that made me this way. I have an overriding purpose that I can not outrun nor distance myself from, and I'm not even sure what it is.

Ultimately though, I must live for more than just myself. If religion can be understood to be a collection of people attempting to understand, attempting to live together and respect each other, and open to alternatives, and if it can ever possibly be detached from a structure of power and control, I believe it can thrive. It is perhaps this that Martin Luther sought to do with the Reformation, which merely lead to fighting, judgment and division. Luther was by no means perfect (I don't even like him), but I think he was onto something by promoting freedom of religious and spiritual expression. However, Protestantism fails next to the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, due to their unity. Not perfect, but enough to where they do not bicker over adiaphora and express hatred and practice exclusion due to differing perspectives.

The Church is not perfect, but if God Loves His Bride, and if God Loves this thing called unity while Loving us individually, who am I to argue?

My hiatus is ended, for I've found my love once again for the community that drives me insane. That community is humanity, that God seeks to renew. May I be a tool to heal the brokenness, through expressing my own.

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