Wednesday, September 22, 2004

A discussion on postmodernism (Part 4)

(Continued ...)

This is very helpful and interesting. I personally would want nothing more than to experience all life as sacramental, and I was not aware that that was a theologically Catholic notion. Certainly the past few years have meant an ever greater sensitivity to that sacramentality. That's what I meant when I was talking about listening before. Joining a church was only the beginning. Joining the Global Missions committee, brought greater sensitivity, and joining the choir recently has really jacked up the volume. Life is good these days. I would accept, I think, that private revelation cannot contradict public, but still, of course, there is the variable of interpretation to keep things murky.
Murky? Yes, of course; if you want to call it that. The way I see it, this is just a condition of human finitude. Even the Catholic Church, which proudly sets forth its dogmas (doctrines that have been officially "defined" by Ecumenical Councils and Popes, usually in response to controversy) as "irreformable" is faced with the fact that it's "definitions" are themselves subject to further interpretations. For example, we know that orthodox Christianity accepts that God is "three Persons" + "one Being" (substance, or nature); but does this mean that Jesus' human consciousness was independent of His divine consciousness, or that God the Father has a different consciousness than Jesus? Such matters remain open for speculation, for those who enjoy that sort of thing-- at least until the Church decides that a particular controversy has reached the point of perhaps leading the faithful into gross theological distortions and that it's time for a further "definition" to fine-tune her teaching.

Most Protestant denominations have what they understand to be "sacraments," of course, though not all (Quakers and Salvation Army folk have no sacraments, I'm told). And it's reasonable to assume that some of this understanding of sacramentality (as an "outward sign of an inward grace") infuses mainline Protestant conceptions, which, after all, emerged in the 16th century from Catholicisim (Peter Kreeft likes to say that Luther was a Catholic monk who rediscovered the Catholic Faith in a Catholic Book).

But the understanding that not only the two Protestant sacraments or the seven Catholic ones, but that all of life is "sacramental" I have not seen developed extensively outside of Catholic literature on the subject. It's quite a fascinating subject, I would agree. The idea that the world itself is a sacrament, which is saturated with meaning that points beyond itself, has implications that boggle the mind (not only in terms of "surplus of meaning," etc.), and sharply contrasts with the French existentialist view that the world is absurd and nothing means much of anything.
And I accept your distinction between a Christian prostitute and Christian prostitution. I always forget that you're a philosopher!
It's a professional hazard.
On lables, I guess I was trying to bring into our analysis a way of softening the violence of lables while still not diminishing their force. Postmodernism doesn't really require any further comment, but there are so many other lables. I have sometimes heard, from students and sometimes from faculty too, that such-and-such ought or ought not be done here because this is a "Christian" school. I disagree: it is a Lutheran school, and that has to mean something. I wanted to mention that because it gets us back to your original question: can there be Christian psychology, or whatever. I remember that you served wine at your faculty discussion of Lutheranism, which many would call un-Christian, for example, and if they did, we would feel the violence of the use of lables without the z-sub-1 clause I was trying to think about.
I agree with your mediating stance between softening the violence of lables while still not diminishing their force.

As to the "Christian" vs. "Lutheran" thing, a Baptist colleague of mine and I have a running joke stemming from early discussions between some campus evangelical Fundamentalist (probably Baptist) students and some Lutheran faculty members we witnessed. The Fundamentalists were saying something emphatically, like: "C'mon, we can't allow that here! Isn't this a CHRISTIAN school?" And the Lutherans answered, agog with horror, "Heavens, no! This isn't a Christian school; this is a LUTHERAN school!" Each time we recall that conversation, we nearly laugh our asses off. By God, don't call us CHRISTIANS, dammit! We're LUTHERANS!

Now I understand completely (I think) what animates this Lutheran response. The assumption seems to be that a "Christian" institution would be one in which we might see people in the cafeteria holding hands, bowing their heads, and singing "Kum Ba Ya" or preaching against inter-racial dating in the quad. There may be some humor in that, but there's humor in spades in the notion of Lutherans bending over backwards to deny that they're "Christian." I agree that being Lutheran has to mean something, but I think you would agree that it can't mean that Lutherans, in contrast to Fundamentalist "Christians," are willing to tolerate everything, because they quite surely do not wish to tolerate Fundamentalists.

What good Lutheran folk as well as Fundamentalists seem to lack in these parts -- near the buckle of the Bible Belt as we are -- are viable models of intelligent Christianity that is both faithful to the historic creeds and culturally engaged. Such models, in my opinion, do exist. In fact, I don't see any other options but to identify myself with such models. In my experience they are most readily found in Dutch Reformed (Calvinist) and various Catholic circles. But that's a story for another time.