I was sitting around musing tonight and this ran through my mind (didn’t take long; it’s a short trip) as the simplest way I can think of to relate modern thinking to postmodern thinking. This is not deconstruction 101. It’s not even K-12. But, it’s a start.
Most of us have been raised to think along the following analytical lines. If I say:
1a. Mike has worn every single shirt he has ever owned, and
2a. Every shirt Mike has ever worn was red, then
A correct conclusion would be:
3a. Mike has only owned red shirts.
While if I say:
1b. Mike has worn every single shirt he has ever owned, and
2b. Mike has only owned red shirts, then
It would be incorrect to conclude:
3b. Every shirt Mike has ever worn was red.
I’m not well versed in formal logic, so somebody may email me and tell me I’m a moron, but I think I have created the above cases correctly.
This is pretty classical thought that persisted into modernity and became embedded into our mindset. Nearly all of us would see the above two sets, as presented, as simply common sense. They are intuitive and right. A pure exercise of how the human brain naturally works. But deconstruction would unsettle our discussion by walking us down a rather uncomfortable path that asks us to do the impossible: to define the symbols “red” and “shirt.” For a discussion of the two above sets to have any point, all stakeholders would have to agree upon what “red” is, and upon what a “shirt” is. Deconstruction demonstrates, quite handily, that this is not possible. In fact, the most psychologically unsettling aspect of deconstruction is that it incessantly pursues this challenge and drills down layer, after layer, after layer, after layer, after layer… (in my opinion it eventually collapses inward upon itself, but that’s another story).
What I’m doing here is conveying the essence behind a mental image I get when I read threads composed of opposing viewpoints concerning certain tenants of the Christian life. I’ve come to conclude that I seem to have had an existentialist view of life since I was a little kid, and studying deconstruction has only amplified things. And what I’m left with at the moment is this image of people arguing and they think they are throwing intellectual rocks at one another, believing that the right sized rock of the proper density thrown at the correct speed and striking the necessary vital area of the opponent will win the fight and settle something with no questions left. But what I see is simply people picking up fistfuls of dry sand and creating a dust cloud of blindness.
The most direct way I can think of that this matters to the church is that much of our doctrinal debate that purports to be so important is, actually, hopelessly behind of where it needs to be. Take, for example, a thread I was reading this weekend over at the internet monk regarding homosexuality. We argue over men with men and women with women, versus men with women and women with men. I understand that the argument is presently necessary. But what many of us utterly fail to recognize are the questions that make the argument rather pointless, and which the church will someday have to answer. The first is, what is the definition of “men” and “women?” And someday a second, something like this, will follow: what is the definition of “human?”
But for now we argue over whether 3b is correct or not. We never question “red.” The sand sifts through our fingers, and we believe we hold rocks in our hands.