Friday, April 27, 2007

Fundamentalist Postmodernist

A few years back, I joined Dave's pomoxian yahoo group. The purpose of the group is to discuss how the Christian faith might adapt to postmodern times. Early on, someone posted one of those delightful worldview tests and I discovered (to my horror) that I tested 100% postmodern in outlook. In other words, I didn't claim any item/statement presented as categorically true. It wasn't the "postmodern" component that horrified me, however. I'm as happy as an existentialist next to a No Exit sign, postmodernly speaking. It was the "100%" part that made me grimace.

There it was again. I was a "fundamentalist postmodernist." Damn! I was trying to so hard to shed my fundamentalism, yet I had merely brought it along for the ride right into absolute relativity. How like me!

It was about that time that I started graduate school which (though not advertized) has turned out to be a four year fundie-detox program. I learned a few things that helped me see how I had merely exchanged my sets of beliefs, not my way of being.

One of the things I've discovered about questioning the faith is that each of us has a need to find some kind of authoritative answer to our questions. We postmoderns don't take "yes" for an answer and instead want to find out the "whys" before we commit. That means, the postmodern quest for identity is often a search for some kind of originary knowledge, some base from which to anchor one's identity. We don't trust anyone or thing without having come to a conclusion that that trust is warranted.

Therefore postmoderns take apart their beliefs like Lego sets. We call it "deconstruction." Often, we look first to Scripture for some kind of originary authority (a context beyond which we need not go). When the multiplicity of interpretations of even basic texts confronts us, we start down the backwards path to the early church. That search usually includes the patristic fathers, or the Apostolic era, or gnosticism, or mysticism, or some other earlier form of Christianity. Orthodoxy and Catholicism are very popular sources of originary knowledge for deconstructing evangelicals.

Each search is founded on the belief that some earlier incarnation of the faith will prove to be more authentic, closer to the original, more authoritative than what we have today. Still other Christians begin down that same trail and yet find themselves even more puzzled when they discover that every context of early church faith is also in a semantically loaded, politically charged, historically conditioned context that needs just as much deconstruction as the faith tenets that launched the original search for meaning and authority.

Science makes its move as do linguistics, culture, social politics, gender, geographical location, psychology, philosophy.... each of these adds layers of complexity to the attempt to nail down that answer, that absolute that is reliable, that leads to some resting place which will end the postmodern quest for meaning.

Some of us give up along the way. We say: okay, there is no answer. There is no spoon. We'll float long in the sea of charged contexts, aware of our limits, humble about our ability to evaluate them, willing to live without moorings.

But what happens then? A kind of postmodern fundamentalism can creep in - that absolute relativity I was talking about, a hesitation to ever take a stand, to make a wager, to risk being wrong or to risk security on behalf of anyone else. If culture and politics and religion can all be rethought to suit their contexts and "who am I to judge?" is the end result of study, how can we ever make moves for justice or morality or human rights?

I'll leave you hanging right here. We'll tackle what I think might be the way out of the postmodern vortex of reductio absurdum tomorrow.


SusansPlace said...

Well, you did leave me hanging...thanks a lot. :-)

I'm just back from the library where I put Marcus Borg's "The Heart of Christianity" on hold. I also picked up a book titled "The Jesus Family Tomb." eek

Deconstructing, deconstructing...

I really WANT to stop but I can't find a place to hang my hat. Maybe you will tell me how tommorrow?


Tim said...


Tim here... :-)

I'm officially holding my breath in anticipation of your next entry. This smells an awful lot like "full circle"; like you might have actually landed somewhere; but something tells me its a mushy runway carved from swampland. :-)

Keren said...

Ah yes. Though I've grown to love the uncertainty, rather than hate it, which I did early on. Voltaire was on the money when he said "Doubt is uncomfortable, certainty is ridiculous."

Re: your question in an earlier post on whether I have a blog - I did, but for a number of reasons I deleted it. I'm slightly ashamed to say that it felt too self-indulgent! :-S Also, I'm very determined not to bash the community I've come out from, and some of my posts were treading a fine line - just didn't feel RIGHT somehow.

Oh yeah, I'm also not the greatest writer in the world, though I'm great at spotting good writing when I see it. And what I produce isn't Good. And then I get frustrated... Heh.

So I'm officially a blog lurker, as opposed to a blogger.


julieunplugged said...

Susan: I don't know if I'll ever feel like I've come to the end of the evaluation stage (as in having exhausted all the nuances and complexities of the faith, reality...). But I also know that I have to find a way to go on or I can lose hope. One of my professors talks about dialog as a "good candidate for hope." More than dialog, I liked his terminology: a "good candidate for hope." I've thought about that a lot. What make good candidates for hope?

Tim - so great to e-see you! How's Missy? Yeah, you know me too well. "Mushy runway carved from swampland."

I don't think full circle will describe it either and certainly you know me well emough that I don't think it's "I" who has something to offer. More later.

Keren, glad you've come out from lurking. Yeah, self-indulgent is a writer's middle name. I remember agonizing over whether my private journals were self-indulgent, overly self-conscious, too directed toward post-humous pulbication, etc. in my 20s. I used to 'fast' from journal writing to purge my motives.

I got over it. Writing is what I do, it's how I process my ideas, it's one of my favorite ways to connect to my thoughts and to other people. What's so great about the Internet is that people vote with a click of the mouse. I write because that's just who I am. When others read along, it's a bonus. Thanks for being a reader. :)


MaryD said...

Julie you make me think and tie myself in knots sometimes puzzling through it all. And sometimes I also enjoy a chuckle with you. Julie the fundamentalist. Some people just have that fundamentalist personality... sometimes it's strident voice but in some ways it's like a voice calling in the wilderness, almost like a prophecy thing? I don't know. Its a gift as well as sometimes a burden to be zealous and passionate about your beliefs, whatever they are.

Dave said...

Nice summary, Julie, and thank you for linking to the list. One way to distinguish "fundamentalists" is measuring the intensity with which they (we) throw ourselves into whatever meaning-matrix appeals to us at the time.

Disgruntled evangelicals or fundamentalists do thankfully have a rich heritage to draw on when the novelty and infatuation with conventional spiritual practices has worn off. It's a relief to discover that there are many ways of being a Christian so that we don't have to face that prospect of becoming non-believers, atheists, heretics or whatever else we've been instructed to fear becoming. There are centuries of old Christian movements for us to sample from, digest and synthesize into new expressions of faith. This is a good thing and has prolonged my affiliation with Christendom.

However, limitations and frustrations remain for many of us and that's where I'm glad that the pomo thing has developed as an alternative to blur the distinctions between sacred and secular. Thoroughly pomo attitudes (not the fake pomo imitation of hip and trendy fashions or symbols) end up loosening the grip of cultural institutional Christianity but make the experience more affirming and livable for me, anyway, now that I am unhooked from the burden of having to carry other peoples theological baggage.