Wednesday, April 25, 2012

NeoRationalists


It is not often I have such time to type anything. But I’ve been traveling for the past few days. I came to Minneapolis to visit my son and his wife, to see my grandson #1 who was having surgery and meet grandson # 2 for the very first time.

I’m on my way home to Seattle and because the Minneapolis airport security was so efficient, I now have an hour to wait before boarding.  I wanted to put down some thoughts while I have the chance.

I watched a report last week from where a group of thought leaders (mostly innovators from Silicon Valley) and the like at the "Invent Your Future" conference. They were looking at the next 20 years.  One after one they proclaimed that all the world’s problems would be solved, through technology, within this time-frame. The examples cited were small (dorm room refrigerator-sized) machines that took filthy water and then through distillation, turned it into perfect water in a few minutes.

The thought that came to mind was “been there . . . done that” and I was thinking on the grand human scale.

Human thinking is like the pendulum, swinging eternally back and forth, never finding the proper place of balance.  There is something about human nature that when we reach a limit in thinking, and it doesn’t work, we don’t just modify it a bit, but we start immediately looking to the answer in the opposite extreme.

One of the major spheres of this pendulum swing is in the area of reason and non-reason. On the non-reason side you can add words such as feeing, mysticism, faith, grace and others.

So if you go back a couple of thousand years, at least in the West, you will see the desire for reason in the Greek philosophers, especially in the linage of Socrates. But even Plato (Socrates’ student) started to look at non-reason as the source of meaning and the resolution of problems. The entire western world sunk deeply in the non-reason direction during the Dark Ages.

The Renaissance of course rediscovered reason, or at least opened the door for it in the sixtieth century.  The pendulum swung in the direction of reason reaching apogees in the French Revolution and Empiricism and the Enlightenment.  They had this eternal optimism that was eventually dashed in the trenches east of Ypres under the cloud of poisons chlorine gas, a gas which was produced by the same scientists that held that hope. It was crushed under the power of the atom’s destruction in the crater of Hiroshima.

Slowly the artists led us, like haggard men and women with dimly lit torches out of those dark places where reason had abandoned us.

Finally that journey went to seed as the New Age, expressed in the total loss of reason.  Now that light of New Age mysticism is burning itself out.  I had the suspicion that the pendulum had once again reached its apogee in the direction of non-reason and now we are back on the swing towards reason.  This time, with communications so much faster than before, the swing will be at light-speed. Our kids will certainly live in the Neo-rationalistic world. But I also wander, that different from the last time, reason will splinter and be more narrowly defined as technology. So an extremely precise “techonologist” might still hold to mysticism in his/her philosophical world, while the last they were pure rationalist in both their professional and private worlds. So they would attempt to find personal meaning in mysticism, but The Answers (of life) in their technological worlds.

All of human endeavors shadow these swings. Christianity is no exception. We went from the total darkness (and extreme dualism) of the Middle Ages, to the rationalistic, theological hair splitting of the Catholic Scholastics and the Protestant denominationalism.  As the secular world moved into the New Age, the church moved deeply into the world of non-reason.  This age of Christian non-reason became the back bone of charismatic movement and Evangelicalism.

As the Church starts its parallel swing back, it too may endorse this intellectual schizophrenia divided between technology and mysticism. The coming Evangelical might feel the Holy Spirit speaking to them through their screen saver or find new level of an experience with God through a virtual reality helmet and system.

It is my dream, and prayer, that the new, coming age of the Church, would for the first time find a balance. Where the average Christian would see reason, logic and scientific advancement as a gift from God and the way He has made us. Yet, not give up the hope that comes with the beauty of nature, the arts, music and passion.  That the new Christian age would usher in a deep respect of knowing, where education is not a treat to dogma, but a channel for knowing God better through the universe He has made. Yet . . . understanding the Fall had buffeted reason so it will always fall short of resolution. We can’t know God or even know if God is there at all, through reason alone. But we can come close.

It is my dream that we give up the mysticism and mystery that goes against logic.  It would be a place where emotions don’t have to be re-named as movements of the spirit in order for us to place value on them. In that place we can enjoy laughter, grief, anger, depression as gifts from God without having to be reflections of our godliness (for example “godly people don’t mourn”).

I dream of an age where we can shed the Christian ridiculous, the stretching of legs as example of miracles. Where there is real chance once more. If you flipped a coin a thousand times, roughly 500 would be heads and 500 tails, complying with the rules of probability, gravity and kinetic energy not demons and angels determining which way is up.

I also dream of a place where we could get away from using spiritual labels to cover up our manipulative behaviors. For example, “You are going against my wishes?  That is very sad. God, in his great sovereignty has put me over you. When you remove yourself from my authority, you are in great danger!”  Or even, “Hey, I would love to come over to your house and meet with you and your wife. I’m so excited about what is doing in my life in the area of finances.”  The later is a typical mutual fund sales pitch in the vestibule of an evangelical church.

I’m now on the plane somewhere over North Dakota. The peanuts and Coke are coming my way and I’m hungry. I’ve said enough for one post so I’m signing off.

3 comments:

tapji said...

Good thoughts here. I too have been thinking about how The next generation of christianity can find a balance. One of the two methods i came up with is increasing the standards for theology & philosophy. Unfortunately for the christian these two fields often fly into the territory of non-reason. I think we can have a more robust and honest theology(at the academic level) if we correspond with natural science , social science , the best available philosophy & history(so that we can recognize mistakes and have an increased awareness of the value of the past). I've heard this time of theology referred to as "analytic thelogy" or "empirical theology". My second idea , is that christians should really think about what they believe..Not just believe it , but sit and think hard about why they believe & be able to affirm what exactly they believe. In other words we should be able to articulate our worldviews. I'vew noticed this trend amongst a number of atheists , and how instead of being angry they are now affirming a positive worldview(often secular humanism and usually philosophical naturalism). I think christians should do the same.I also hope that the churches growing in south America & Africa can receive good education so that the do not dive into the problems of evangelicalism & the charismatic movement. I'm sorry if i've rambled , but i was wondering what you thought of my ideas.

jmj said...

tapji, I'm glad there's thoughtful people like you . . . thinking about these things. I'm concerned that the fastest growing part of the evangelical church are the most anti-rational. After thousands of years we just can't get it right, reason is good, God given, but not perfect.

tapji said...

I agree , anti-rationalism is going to really hurt the church in the future and the exodus of young people from the church will only continue , as a grade 11 student i can say so with a high level of confidence. Reason is indeed God given & wonderful , but not perfect..amen.