Saturday, July 29, 2006

sun is shining

beautiful day today. anna and i went for a walk along the waterfront and i took my lomo with me. the tide was in, the water was perfectly calm, and no clouds in the sky. took some low shots of the sea and sky with a silhouette of the port providing a horizon line. so as long as i have been able to get my horizon level (one of my weaknesses) and have avoided lens flare shooting into the sun, they should be nice shots.

anyway, i've been reading g.k. chesterton's book 'orthodoxy'. i'm particularly enamored with his idea that christianity is a belief system that allows two seemingly opposite ideas to be held true with equal and undiminished strength ("the paradoxes of christianity"). one of his examples is that orthodox christianity treats suicide as a sin and matrydom as a virtue. it doesn't mean that if you are a christian you can believe whatever you like (there is an established orthodoxy) but it seems to me that chesterton's angle on christian orthodoxy gives it strength in a postmodern pluralistic world. i could go on for hours about this.

in postmodernism there is an idea that no "truth" precludes any other "truth". because of the difficulty of this position in practical everyday terms, society has come up with the idea that you have to do what is right for you. obviously that's not a position that a christian can hold (because we believe that God has established clear standards), but in the last few years i've come to think that perhaps the simple christian view that things as are basically a dichotomy is actually simplistic. rather than being a "christian" point of view, i now see that approach as being more of a grecio-roman point of view. ie, it was constructed through the heavy influence of greek thinking and logic in the western world. i seem to recall that this process was helped along by aquinas in the middle ages (i think, from memory, it had something to do with plato).

[this is getting way too long for a blog post.] the first thing that lead me in this direction, away from a purely dichotomistic view, was looking at the way logic functions in the old testament, hebrew, worldview. i don't think God really uses metaphors - not in the way we tend to think of them anyway.

we see a metaphor as being a thing that stands for a another "higher" meaning. so when the bible talks about "water" (for example) we like to divide those instances up in "actual" water and "metaphorical" water. but i'm not sure that that is the way God sees it. i think God sees water as conceptually the same whether it applies to spiritual or physical matters (maybe there is ultimately no division between spiritual and physical - but i'll use those terms for now, otherwise our minds might blow up). i think that in God's framework, what we consider to be material water and metaphorical water are in fact exactly the same thing conceptually. so whether "water" is material or "abstract" it always functions in the same way: it provides life, healing, sustainance and cleansing - it doesn't matter how it is embodied.

the same thing holds true for the bible's description of christ loving the church like a bride, and the bible's command that husbands should love their wives like christ loves the church. i think we tend to build a hierarchy into that truth. we see earthly marriage as a metaphor for something more spiritual, thereby implying a hierarchy between what God has us doing on earth as opposed to his own activities. i don't think such a hierarchy exists. instead i believe that christ loving the church and husbands loving their wives is in fact conceptually identical. that comes about because the same God had the same concept for both humans marrying and christ uniting with his church.

here's a practical application of what i mean: over the centuries, commentators have interpreted song of solomon (or 'song of songs') as being a giant metaphor about christ's love for his church. that interpretation avoided the embarassment of all the "racey" potential of some of those passages if they are in fact about human erotic love. in recent times, commentators have said, "come on, this is obviously a celebration of human sexuality." but if you move song of solomon into the framework i am proposing, it is in fact BOTH of those things equally and indivisably - not one or the other. conceptually, both those things are the same thing. that fact has come about because the designer or author (God) has applied the same concept to both human sexuality and the intimacy between God and his church.

this is a work in progress, so i'm yet to fit all the pieces together in my own mind, much less try and communicate them in writing. but i think there is some way in which chesterton's idea fits in with what i'm saying. and that all this serves to show that christianity is as relevant today (in the postmodern world) as ever. i think it cuts to the heart of the postmodern desire to get away from dichotomy. and so, rather than try and communicate that, i'll just cut and paste the pertinent passage from 'orthodoxy':

"...sometimes this pure gentleness and this pure fierceness met and justified their juncture; the paradox of all the prophets was fulfilled, and ... the lion lay down with the lamb. But remember that this text is too lightly interpreted. It is constantly assured, especially in our Tolstoyan tendencies, that when the lion lies down with the lamb the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem is - Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? THAT is the problem the Church attempted; THAT is the miracle she achieved."

i might write a part two on this. in part two, i might argue that the establishment of a dichotamistic view has been a survival strategy in a world where ultimately "physical" and "spiritual" cannot be united perfectly because of sin. and that the final consummation of those two seemingly opposed elements will not happen until there is a new heaven and earth. that might be interesting.

2 comments:

Jonathan Nalder said...

"a belief system that allows two seemingly opposite ideas to be held true with equal and undiminished strength"

yeah, and its nothumanly possible to hack this without the help of a supernal-human being, ie. God. Grace is as alien as it gets.
The dichotomy that pervades most of orthodox Christianity is the watered down human institutionalised way of dealing with this...

andrew killick said...

i think chesterton is arguing for an "orthodoxy" that transcends human institutions - he talks about it as if it is a kind of heartbeat through history - a kind of divine agenda - he also says that fairy tales exhibit this "orthodoxy" (which is one reason why cs lewis was so keen on the writing of chesterton - i've heard that this book was instrumental in lewis becoming a christian).