The Post(structural) Apocalypse Post: or, God is Dead; But She Doesn’t Have to Be.

Small Epiphanies: December 22

Part The First:

Just as I believe we are often constrained by language and by culturally enabled and reified narratives, I believe that our understanding of any sort of higher power is hopelessly hindered by our small human brains and by limited language we have with which to describe such a thing. I’ve railed before about our substitution of the words we use for royalty and other hierarchies to describe our religious experiences and institutions. We just don’t have the vocabulary to help us along toward any kind of real understanding of any higher power. (Before you say it, yes, this is about the Eskimos and their gazillion words for ice. But it’s also about much much more than that.) And so we endow it, him, her, with these human traits, because that’s all we’re capable of, and then we have stupid arguments over whether God is a man or a woman. And then we cover it all, dress it all up, with Advent purple velvet, jewels and jewel tones, cathedrals and other Monuments to Power. I mean, really.

The language that we do use to represent God or any kind of spiritual being is so lacking that our experience of such a being is stymied. And so our language reduces abstract concepts like the idea of a higher power to concrete things we can understand, and then we forget the reduction, and think we do, in fact, understand, and that our language does, in fact, represent.

From Edward Arlington Robinson: “The world is not a prison house, but a sort of spiritual kindergarten, where millions of bewildered infants are trying to spell God with the wrong blocks.”

Part The Second:

If you let them, poststructuralist thought, and postmodernism, will annihilate you. They will x you. You will have never existed. And most certainly, neither will God, nor anything absolute.

From A Wind in the Door, by Madeleine L’Engle:

She stood beside him, looking at the brilliance of the stars. Then came a sound, a sound which was above sound, beyond sound, a violent, silent, electrical report, which made her press her hands against her ears. Across the sky, where the stars were clustered as thickly as in the Milky Way, a crack shivered, slivered, became a line of nothingness.

“Progo, what is it? What happened?”

“The Echthroi have Xed.”

“What?”

“Annihilated. Negated. Extinguished. Xed.”

Taken to their extremes, nothing exists. Certainly not Truth, and for a long time, I thought not truth, as well. Truth is just a bunch of metanarratives ordering the world for us. There is not one correct metanarrative, one grand narrative. The old dead white man no longer has supremacy. Postmodernism killed him, along with the universal and the general.

But. But, but, but. There is hope.

Gary Aylesworth define Postmodernism in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which you can read here, and tells us this: “The loss of a continuous meta-narrative therefore breaks the subject into heterogeneous moments of subjectivity that do not cohere into an identity. But as Lyotard points out, while the combinations we experience are not necessarily stable or communicable, we learn to move with a certain nimbleness among them.”

We have, instead of Truth, truths. Little t.

Part The Synthesis (We Hope):

So we have this language–failing as it does to accurately and precisely represent anything, signified and signifier separated by an abyss, even, sometimes–and yet it gives us a place to stand. A place to make meaning, however contingent, however partial, however unstable.

There’s a difference, there, between Truth, big T, and truth, little t. With the big T, we’re talking metanarratives; we’re talking ideologies; we’re talking Roland Barthes’ myths–values and beliefs we take for granted as natural and inevitable and universal (does this sound at all familiar? Have I used these words before?) that are in fact neither natural nor inevitable nor universal, that in fact vary from culture to culture, or even community to community.

Gone is a universal Truth, a universal morality, that we can run around the world imposing on everyone else for their own good.

But we do have truths. Local, fragmented, particular. We have truths that mean within communities, within ethnicities, within nations even. But not without. Not across borders. Not always, anyway.

We’re human beings and we need a place to stand. A place to be. A place from which to make meaning, however impermanent. Something to hold on to, maybe just for a little while, even as we challenge it. Just as the postmodern needs the modern to exist, just as they feed off each other, so we need structure and narrative even as we break them.

We are, and thus our God is, created and limited by discourse, by language.

Aylesworth, Gary, “Postmodernism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2012/entries/postmodernism/>.

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