Sunday, November 11, 2007

The "Other"

I am continuing to post some of the writing I have done in conjunction with my DMin course. This section is about postmodernity and metanaratives. [A metanarative is story that explains all the elements of life with one overarching thesis or paradigm. All the world religions presuppose a metanarative. Christianity's metanarative has been at times been summed up with John 3:16.] Postmodernity will get lots of press as my paper continues. Enjoy.

We are facing a changing view of life itself that challenges many of the things that have been part of the understanding of society for centuries. We live in a postmodern world, where people “embrace pluralism and place value in the diversity of worldviews and religions that characterizes contemporary society.” Also, Postmodernity certainly influences Christianity, and may in some ways actually be interpreted as a reaction to Christendom.

Among numerous definitions of Postmodernity, Paul Lakeland provides a succinct description. The basic tenets of Postmodernity are:

1. No standpoint is neutral or above suspicion. All are rhetorical.
2. Metanarratives erase otherness by including the other within “my” metanarrative, thereby removing its otherness. Therefore all metanarratives are suspect.
3. The task of understanding or interpreting society, if attempted at all, must be conducted through piecemeal, tactical, pragmatic, and tentative means.
4. The task of changing society if attempted at all, must be conducted through grassroots, localized (though sometimes networked) tactical, pragmatic and incremental means. The social activist must be committed to dialogue and consensus building.
5. Postmodernity contains within it elements both of the emancipatory and the demonic. No theoretical grid is available that will easily allow the discernment of which elements are which, though the kinds of totalizing impulses that would reject points 1-4 provide important hints.

One of the predominant characteristics of Postmodernity, according to Lakeland, is the explosion of communication technology that has, for the first time in history, created a world culture. This world culture allows us to be in contact with many divergent viewpoints and has contributed to a pluralism that challenges Christianity’s exclusive claims – at least in the public forum. It has also contributed to the “small world” phenomenon whereby we are much more closely connected to every other person upon the earth.

Similarly, communication technologies shift how our society views people in leadership positions. With instant and mass communication leaders are now under much closer scrutiny than ever before. This concept of globalization (or a global spirit) will continue to present challenges to the understanding of the exclusive claims of Christianity.

Also a world culture creates scrutiny of metanarratives. One of the main problems with metanarratives, whether or not they are consciously adapted or unconsciously reflected, is that they shape a singular view of the world and its peoples. It is only when the metanarrative is abandoned that voice can be given to people who are marginalized – who are defined as the “Other.”

Lakeland gives this example: “… the privileged citizens of any developed Western nation, and that of course meant a white male, and probably a Protestant, did not have to confront the Other … Women, slaves, native peoples, and homosexuals were of course not invisible, but were successfully deproblematized, incorporated into a monological schema of untroubled serenity. So, while they were undoubtedly “others,” their status as “Other” was unrecognized.” Therefore in a postmodern world, the minimized other is genuinely accorded the status of “Other” and is to be heard. This shakes some of our Evangelical certainty and must be considered as we examine the church’s sensitivity to existing paradigms of power, exclusiveness and inclusiveness, the role of laity, women, children, language and other religious systems.

In the midst of the challenges to Christianity, interest in spirituality in general and more specifically Jesus, is actually increasing. The popularity of a postmodern Jesus is the result of the perception that “he’s a pluralist, he welcomes outsiders. He welcomes women, he is against organized religion, he’s for economic justice. Jesus comes dressed up in the clothes of our own culture.”

Evidence of this interest in spirituality finds expression in New Age events like psychic fairs or like the Burning Man Festival , and in movies like David Fincher’s Fight Club (based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk). In describing the attraction of the movie, Frost and Hirsch say: “Theirs is a community of male empowerment with a strongly anti-consumerist sentiment. Like the Burning Man festival, it is also about belonging, liberation, rebellion and the rejection of middle-class American values.

There is an untamed energy about Fight Club. It has a dissident wildness about it … both are prime examples of the desperate yearning that has been unleashed in the Western world … (raising) within the West many expectations for an experiential, activist form of religious, mystical experience. The Christian church has not met these expectations.” Even though Jesus may be attractive, the Church is seen as the LEAST likely option for those seeking an “artistic, politically subversive, activist community of mystical faith.”

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