Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Evangelicalism vs Modernism: fight!

So, the first of possibly several posts on this.

I've been thinking a bit more about how different counterphilosophies interact with modernism, which is still the dominant philosophy of the time and place I find myself in. I'll start with Evangelical Christianity (EC) because the interactions seem reasonably clear to me and I know it fairly well.

I was an Evangelical Christian for over 10 years, from the age of 18 into my early 30s (I'd find it hard to put a date on when I stopped; it was a gradual thing, and the process isn't over yet.) This represents more than half my Christian experience and well over a quarter of my life. In this time I read widely, wrote stuff myself, heard many sermons and speakers - I think I know how Evangelical Christians think. (Outliers, exceptions, disclaimer, blah.)

EC inevitably defined itself in relation to modernism; it arose in the late 19th century but really flourished in the 20th. Modernism was the thing it had to define itself against. At the same time, any time there is as pervasive a philosophy as modernism, there are likely to be aspects of that philosophy that any critique of it will tacitly accept, without entering into discussion or debate; it's just "obvious to everyone".

(There's change over time and place and person, disclaimer, blah.)

Seems to me, what EC tacitly accepts is modernism's concept of truth: Truth is rational, propositional, literal, demonstrable, manifest and preferably scientific. It is firmly decideable. You won't see debate about this in the central regions of EC, because debating it pretty much automatically places you on the margins, if not beyond them. It's just a given.

However, EC explicitly denies modernism's contention that only what is material is true and real. Indeed, EC would contend that what is material, being temporary and temporal, is less true and less real than what is immaterial, some of which is eternal.

Herein we have a potential contradiction sitting at the heart of EC (and indeed at the heart of modernism, in a slightly different sense which I will probably talk about some other time). The contradiction is not acknowledged because, remember, the concept of truth isn't up for debate.

So we have this chain of logic:

A: "Real" truth is propositional, rational and provable (implicit, not up for debate).
B: Religious truth is real truth (explicit, not up for debate).
C: Therefore, religious truth is propositional, rational and provable.

And from this stem many of EC's problems, in my opinion. At the extreme, this leads to "creation science" and its desperate attempts to show that statements which were never, could never be, intended as scientific statements, which were made before there was such a thing as a scientific statement, are nevertheless scientific statements - because only if they are scientific statements are they "real truth".

If you put proposition A up for debate, however, instantly many of the problems go away.

As it happens, this is exactly the proposition which postmodernism directly challenges. However, postmodernism doesn't accept proposition B either; it is in tacit agreement with modernism that only what is material is "real" (a contradiction at the heart of postmodernism).

Which explains all kinds of things about why Evangelicals are uncomfortable with "postmodern Christianity".

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