Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I've been meaning to write this since the last post but have been very busy. It's some more thoughts inspired by the debate on the existence of Satan previously mentioned.

In the Q&A session after the debate, one woman who questioned Mark Driscoll was particularly angry. Her question was something like, "Why don't you recognize that your claim to possess ultimate truth is inherently arrogant?(!!!?!!!)" I'm not sure what kind of response she was expecting. I suppose she wasn't really hoping for an answer so much as a way to express her outrage.

Driscoll's rational response was something like, "It's not arrogant if you actually do possess ultimate truth. It's only arrogant if you don't really possess ultimate truth."

I found this response dissatisfying. There is a deeper problem with the woman's question: it is almost impossible for humans to avoid the claim that they have ultimate truth. The only way to avoid such a claim is not to engage in discourse about ultimate truth in any way. It seemed clear that the woman herself clung fast to her own claim to ultimate truth, namely, "all points of view are equally valid," with the implicit qualifier, "except for points of view which explictly state that certain other points of view are not valid."

This is a very popular truth claim, and people who make it are often under the mistaken impression that they have opted for a way of thinking which does away with notions of absolute truth.

Now, that's all been said before. I've heard it many times. The real question is, why do people resort to such a self-contradictory way of thinking? There is a reason, just as Christians didn't invent the seemingly nonsensical doctrine of the trinity in order to confuse people. People resort to paradox when two or more indispensable truths seem irreconcilable.

A modernist like Driscoll sees the challenge in such a situation as "How can we reconcile the two truths and restore the seamless rationality of our thought system?" A (maybe/sort of) post-modernist like me sees the challenge as, "What paradoxical understanding will best protect and honor the two truths, and not deny either of them in an essential way?"

To my way of thinking, the paradoxical understanding represented by the questioner mentioned above is not a good way of doing paradox because it pretends there is no paradox. It tries to keep secret the value it places on absolute truth claims. It pretends there is only one value: open-mindedness. But in reality, it is implicitly balancing "open-mindedness" with the need for certainty.

Personally, I think the best way to balance the need for open-mindedness and the unavoidable fact of making absolute truth claims is to:

1) Clearly define one's own beliefs while
2) remaining open to changing one's mind and
3) being humbly respectful of people who disagree.

And I think that Driscoll kind of got at this with his further response to the woman's persistent questioning when he said that he does "consider other people's opinions" by "reading broadly" and engaging in dialogue with people he disagrees with, such as in the debate on Satan's existence.

I suppose the real difference between my own and an out and out modernist's position is that I want to say there's a tension and a paradox where the modernist sees everything as fitting into a visibly rational system ...

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