Sunday, July 26, 2015

Kierkegaard a Prophet f or the Times—Sadly So

We finished our Sunday school class today on Kierkegaard. The class was taught by a son of one of our members, a young man of 24 who grew up in this church. I will be honest and say that his personal opinions, like the writings of Kierkegaard himself, appear opaque at best. There was not a lot of discussion as I think the most in the class had never heard of Kierkegaard.  But as we finished he did seem to support the ideal that Kierkegaard has the answer that this generation is looking for . . . however, I beg to differ.  I did voice my opinion in the class.

Kierkegaard came of age just as the philosophical dystopia of post-rationality begin to emerge.  Descartes and Hegal suns were setting without resolution of the big questions.  The ground was fertile for a new approach to the answers and Kierkegaard answered that call.  As I have pointed out before, it wasn’t that reason was at fault, but the Aristotelian perfect reason, based on pure empiricism, was at fault an impotent of finding truth. 

Søren Kierkegaard

So now, two hundred years later, the pendulum has reached it further most point from the center, or so we hope.  We live in an age of un-reason. By disengaging in reason, many of the paradoxes of life’s big questions are resolved. This is why eastern religions are so attractive to this age.

So, coming back to Kierkegaard, he really promoted the idea that the existence or the state of being is where faith is realized and it must be disengaged from the finite mind . . . or reason.  It is based in experience and experience alone in other words. 

In his book Frygt og Bæven (Fear and Trembling) he tries to paint the ideal faith, the faith of Abraham, as being played out on the stage of the absurd (sacrificing Isaac, which God was commanding to do, but doing so would be in direct violation of what God said not to do . . . murder).  He tries to make the point that this is how faith or true Christianity must be played out . . . without reason in the bizarre.  My point today in class was that Abraham was acting rationally because he knew God and had walked with God and trusted Him completely, even on a human level may not make sense.

This faith of Kierkegaard is very attractive to this age because it solves so many complexities, 1) The Christian story and the 13 billion year old universe, 2) The seeking of justice and respect for the gay community in the face of hard words in the New Testament that suggest that behavior is sin, 3) The evidence of evolution with the story of Eden and I could on and on. But when you disengage the mind you can find a faith that brings peace. But the peace that faith brings is not the peace of humanity, but the absence of conflict within a question.

On the flip side of Kierkegaardian faith, is that is has no substance.  What does the Kierkegaardian Christian have to say to the Muslim? To the Buddhist? To the pedophile for that matter?  Nothing.  For, those in the different view of life can make the same claim of certainty as the Christian if that certainty is based on the experience of existence within the cloud of the absurd. 

We need to understand that reason is a God-given attribute.  But like love and justice, it is all broken and incomplete but not obsolete. 

Once again not time for proof-reading.  Mike

Monday, July 13, 2015

Is there a Rational Christianity Still Out There . . . Somewhere?

I feel that I live in a world where you can only be a Post-Modern, mystical Christian or not one at all. I realize that the mainstream of secular society has now moved past Post-Modernism into an ill-defined Post-Post Modernism.  However, throughout history, the Church, unfortunately lags behind the mainstream by at least 50 years.

My church is having a class right now on Soren Kierkegaard. The good news is that they are having the class. Few churches would have the insight that the man is worth the time to study . . . and he is. The bad news, I think as it has only met for one week, is that he will be framed as a hero.  Speaking of heroes, my personal one, Francis Schaeffer, saw Kierkegaard as a little less than the philosophical devil.  I can still hear Dr. Schaeffer's voice echoing in my head about the "Kierkegaardian, existentialist leap."  I do believe that Soren was the first step of the Church on the path that eventually led it to mirror what was happening in the post-rationalist in secular society.

Here is how I frame the problem and as always my time is limited.  My hyperactive Saint Bernard (the dog not the man) is in an open top Jeep that I'm watching from across the street at Starbucks. It would only take one poodle to get him to spring out the top and terrorize that town like Cujo.  So I'm sure I will have little (or big) typos that I will not have time to fix.

Western civilization has been defined by Plato and Aristotle. We have been riding on a pendulum, back and forth, for 2500 years.  So we are in a market where there are only two brands of milk. We have the dualism that states this material world is insignificant (from Plato). That is the breeding ground for mysticism because if this world is crap, then all you have is mysticism.  On the other side you have the rationalism of Aristotle.  The Dark Ages were a 1,000 year love affair between the Church and Plato. The enlightenment was a much shorter courtship between western society (the French mostly) and Aristotle.  

Aristotelian rationalism failed (gradually throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries). So, because it had no where else to go, the pendulum flew back to transcendent mysticism. Kierkegaard gave the pendulum its first push.

My argument is that Biblical Christianity is neither of the above. It is time that we mature past the Greeks for our metaphysical foundations.  Aristotelian rationalism (if your read his works) was based in empiricism + logic. Empiricism, by definition, limits truth to the material and what our senses can tell us about the material. If the senses can't perceive it, it is not real.  This is the great tension and why most Church thinking has been dominated by Platonism.

Let's take Christianity at face value and try to shed our Greek presuppositions. Imagine that God was there and he was real.  He didn't exist in an inferior place (as Aristotle would see Him) or a superior place (as Plato would see Him) but in the reality of that which is there, both the seen and unseen.  Since God is the author of our rational brains (as an organ) and reason itself (as an abstract mathematical construct) then we could embrace it fully. However, we would not put the limits of Aristotle on our reason that it has to obey the rules of our senses.  That is a true Christianity. But now what we have is this terrible place were to be spiritual we must be mystical and irrational. 

There is tremendous mystery in the universe and there, in that place, is a form of true mysticism. It is not a shapeless mysticism (being defined by our psychological minds for our own benefit) but is has definite boundaries. We just can see those boundaries with our material eyes. Metaphysically I'm talking about things like dark matter and dark energy. But it is far beyond that to things like the mind-boggling size of the universe and then it goes on to ideas such as how God can be the way He is.  He loves us each, knows us well and yet we dwell in a space were we are less than the size of an atom. That is mystery, that is a form of real mysticism. But in this more Biblical way of thinking, truth comes through learning, reading, studying, our senses and our reason. It does not come from rolling your eyes in the back of your head and drifting off into nothingness.

I cannot have a conversation with a modern Christian without them quickly combining psychological magic with Christian spirituality.  They say things like "God spoke to me this morning to do such and such."  Really?  Was it an audible voice?  Was it a feeling?  Does objective truth come though feeling?  I've met many people whose emotions have told them all kinds of lies. Virtually all of this subjective "truth,"  if you deconstruct it, is always narcissistic.  "God spoke to me this morning and told me how wonderful I am and how I'm better than everyone who is different from me.