When the Bottom Drops Out

The most important insight, I believe, the post-modern offers is the idea that the meta-narratives we inhabit cannot be proven true by empirical/scientific methods or indubitable foundations.  Whether one is a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Secular Humanist, Atheist or Agnostic, whatever has brought one to that place, the reasons one believes his meta-narrative/world-view to be true, cannot be proven in an empirical/scientific way such that other narratives are clearly shown to be false.

In other words, it is not a problem of information, science, facts, or the lack thereof.  It’s not as if a person only knew this fact, piece of information, science, history, he would see he were wrong and the other person correct.  Clearly, if that were the case, at this point we would all inhabit one narrative—the one that had “proven true” empirically and scientifically and prevailed over all the others.  That hasn’t happened.  The problem is not ignorance.

As an aside, also note how this very schematic privileges the modern—the idea something can only be true if proved empirically/scientifically.  The very reason we have the post-modern is because enough philosophers, thinkers, and cultural movers realized not even the modern could do this.  The ‘modern” was simply a way to position other narratives.  It was a way for the modern to place itself above all other narratives in a position of judgment, rather than in the dock with all the rest.  The post-modern has displaced the modern as neutral judge, disrobed it, taken its gavel away and told it to step down and become a witness like all the other narratives.

Further, I am not speaking of those matters of disagreement that clearly fall into the empirical/scientific realm, such as is the earth flat or does water boil at a certain temperature at sea level.  Obviously, many disagreements can be settled by empirical/scientific means.  We do this all the time and life goes on.

None of that, however, addresses the meta or over-arching narratives we inhabit, which inform our core beliefs about ultimate ends, values, morality, good and evil, or the big “why” questions of meaning.  And, fundamentally, whether or not a god exists or a transcendence of some type, rather than a purely material universe.

Any supposed answers to those questions are areas, cannot be founded or proven empirically/scientifically.  An easy way to see this or it’s truthfulness is to simply note the number of scientists/engineers/physicists/biologists/mathematicians who are also Christian, Muslim, Hindu, atheist/agnostic, or whatever.  They all are familiar with the same science and mathematics/physics. And yet, they do not agree as to many of the areas noted above.

We might bring all those areas into the discussion and argue how we feel those areas make better sense within our own narrative, lend credence to our narrative, but none of those areas (the “hard” sciences) alone will simply “prove” or demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt, the truthfulness of one’s narrative.  And, of course, this is what the modern and especially the fundamentalist (whether secular or religious) tries to do.  Usually to no avail.  They are certain everyone else is just ignorant (whether of the Bible or science) and needs to be educated.

So, something else must be going on.  Here is a very insightful essay (see here) that brought this to mind recently, and it goes to this “something else” I think is in play.  At first, it may appear she makes the exact opposite argument I am making.  After all, she comes across “information” or “facts” that seem to change her mind.  Upon closer examination however, I think there is a little more to it than those factors alone.

Why?  Because many fundamentalist/evangelicals have come across the same information and facts but found ways to explain them away, offer alternative explanations as to what they mean, or just believed the facts and information to be in error.  She writes:

“That’s not to say that realities can’t change. Mine did. But few individuals can be argued out of an entire worldview. Realities shift when ideas bloom and ideas are slow and patient, creeping in through unguarded portals and establishing themselves without much fanfare. However well-intentioned you are, bludgeoning people with fact after argument after fact will only entrench them in their position and reinforce a perception of being persecuted by the world.”

She no doubt had heard growing up that evolutionists and atheists (the “bad” people) believed the earth to be old.  And before college, she no doubt had heard about or read their reasons for believing such.  Epiphanies usually come when the ground-work has already been laid.  There must have been more to it than that one day in class.  But what?  Well, all the other things she talks about in the above quote and entire essay.

We were not argued into, or reasoned into, the narratives we inhabit now whether atheist, Christian, or whatever.  We would all like to think we were, but such is one of the many lies we tell ourselves (in my opinion).  There are intangible factors involved, which weigh far greater than simply learning a new fact or piece of information (or even a lot of new facts or information).

And to the writer’s greater point, whether one is a Christian, atheist, or whatever, to encounter a hole in one’s world-view, is to have the floor drop out from underneath.  The free-falling, with nothing to hold onto, is disconcerting to say the least.  It is to have one’s world collapse in many respects.  We don’t know what we are asking sometimes, when we ask another to see their world-view as false or to see the same holes we see.  We think, “How can they not see this?”  Well, for the same reasons we cannot see many things having to do with our own world-view.

Patience, generosity of spirit, listening in good faith, and most importantly, kindness are the keys to being heard.  Only love allows the other person to step inside our world-view, narrative, if even briefly to see things from our perspective.  And we should do this, not to convert, but in the genuine spirit of honest conversation and mutual understanding.  We should do this to learn and entertain even, the possibility we could be wrong.  We do this not to triumph or “win” arguments, but to build bridges where each can cross freely even if they only want to visit, but not quite move there yet—or, ever.

I have often failed to do this.  I have not shown patience, kindness, generosity of spirit, or listened in good faith to opposing views.  I have not shown love in these areas.  Too often I was more interested in being right, in “winning” the argument, even if it meant losing the person on the other side.  Maybe you know someone like this too.

Late in life, I am trying to better cultivate the aforementioned disciplines as I encounter those with whom I disagree.  By the grace of God and wise counsel I hope to do better.  I trust we all do.


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