The more I think about it, the closer extreme relativism and extreme fundamentalism seem to be together:

  • Both is entirely subjective, and do not even seek to be objective, in it’s extreme forms neither to recognize their own subjectivity.
  • The individual caught up in both will hold to their already-found believes come hell or high water, and wouldn’t even consider the possibility that it might be they who are wrong, since it isn’t needed to even consider that they might be wrong.
  • Both approaches give it’s proponents the amazing ability to percieve their worldview as absolutely consistent even when it clashes with all of reality.

In the end both approaches adhear to the same basic idea: their is no truth except for the truth which I hold.

freedom of speech and facebook

September 15, 2008

I just spent some time writing a note on the group Requesting having groups shut down? You’re against freedom of speech…, so I thought I might as well publish it here. The group was started by blogger Hugo, who’s blog I’ve been reading for a while, and whose thoughts I have a great deal of respect for, against groups such as Facebook Must ShutDown the group :”Fuck Jesus Christ” and Facebook please shutdown the Group “fuck islam”. Now, I’m no political philosopher, but in the name of dialogue, these are some of my thoughts which I have on this today:

I belief it was the philosopher Levinas (although I haven’t read him first hand) who said that ethics should form the foundation for philosophy. We tend to do the opposite, first develop a so-called objective philosophy, and then try to derive some ethics in time. What if, from a theological perspective, orthopraxy is taken more seriously, the search for the correct way of living, rather than correct way of believing (read: thinking)?

Absolute freedom of speech is a nice idea, we might even call it a value. But what about the value of dialogue? Within our pluralistic society, shouldn’t that be upheld even more? What should we do if freedom of speech break down the search for dialogue?

Even more important, if freedom of speech lead to a relativism of ethics, should that be allowed? Is that the post-modern ideal? Can we really separate speech from actions? Words from deeds? Work with the idea that what is said remain in a perfect little “idea world”, where we could experiment with whatever we want, and only once the experiment has succeeded within the idea world, is it allowed into the realm of praxis?

On other levels, how far are we willing to defend freedom of speech even when it is breaking down ethics? In a world where a capitalist consumerist culture, which is forcing millions into poverty and death, seem to have a near monopoly on communication services, is it enough to say that an alternative voice must be allowed (and yes, it is heard, on blogs, in books, sometimes even in our papers, and even on global television in small bits)? Is it against freedom of speech to fight for the end of speech which is leading to the oppression of others, in order that the voice of the voiceless can be heard? Is it against freedom of speech when I fight for the end of a marketing culture that drives a consumer culture which oppress the voiceless?

Maybe speech is happening on at least two levels, that of public rhetoric (which include the finely formulated advertisements, sermons, and groups crying out for the end of religions, or the end of groups that ask for the end of religions), and that of dialogue (the place where marketing must argue it’s value within the public sphere, where capitalism and communism should be allowed to dialogue, critique, and search together). When the possibility of dialogue, the possibility to argue the validity of a viewpoint is no longer recognized, history have taught us that our ethics will seriously suffer, since the oppression of other worldviews in order for only one to have a monopoly always tended to lead to the oppression of people. But when the possibility for me to call for the end of oppressive rhetoric is taken away, our ethics also tend to suffer, as the last 10 years of economic development has taught us, when capitalism was allowed to sell it’s cause by any means possible.

But then the possibility of private dialogue within a democratic and pluralist society should also be called into question, why should some closed group be the only privileged ones with access to any conversation? So: The call to end oppressive rhetoric need to be allowed, this guard the higher right onto life from the sometimes misused right for freedom of speech. To do this with integrity, however, the rhetoric of the oppressor need to be replaced with the dialogue. The challenge is not to kill the oppressor, but to dethrone the oppressor…

I’ve been thinking about writing on postmodernity for quite some time now. Two years back when I started blogging, I decided never to use the word postmodern, because I felt the meaning has become hollow with popularity, with everybody just using it however they want to, same with modernity. Rather, I decided to use alternative words which would better describe what I wanted to say, such as rationalism.

Well, it’s two years down the line, and I still feel quite the same. But the fact is, I still believe that a paradigm shift has happened, and is now working it’s way through every level of society, and this we need to talk about. Many call this postmodernism, and there seem to be a lot of good reasons for using this term.

Personally I become more and more convinced that the origin of this change in worldview should be traced to two things, first being Einstein’s theory of relativity, which helped us to see that time is not fixed, but relative to speed, and opened up doors to the obvious next step that then maybe many other things is relative to the point of vision. The second is the disillusionment with the optimism of man and the optimistic view of rationalism after especially the second world war. If Germany was capable of this kind of atrocities, and if rationalism wasn’t able to notice this kind of evil, then something must be extremely wrong!

This disillusionment is leading to the search for a new worldview. But now the problem is, what will it look like? Many are realizing that something is wrong, and many others have possible solutions for the way ahead. But should every possible answer to the disillusionment be considered postmodern? And if not, who is to judge? In short: Which changes to our worldview, which answers to our disillusionment, will provide a possible way ahead, and which will simply lead to a dead end?

We’ve seen the rise in Pentacostal and Charismatic expressions of faith in the same time that this disillusionment kicked in, does this make is a way forward? I don’t know. What about the rise of fundamentalism that increase as the last decade or so continue? Does this make it a good response to this disillusionment?  When should we talk about postmodern? Which maybe just bring me back to my point of two years ago… shouldn’t we maybe use more descriptive words when talking about either modernism and postmodernism?

Café Riche is situated on the western side of Church squere in Pretoria. It is 14 years old, which mean it was started in 1994, I still wonder who had the mind to start this place in 1994 in the Pretoria inner-city! On the last Friday evening of every month they have the filosofiekafee, a philosiphy café that has been running for about 10 years now.

After reading something written by one of my heroes, Jurie le Roux, who said that he delivered this at this filosifiekafee, and then again finding it when searching for something on Johan Rossouw, I decided to go check it out. So on Friday evening I visited it with some friends.

Rian Malan was speaking on Conservative Black USA and the lessons, even hope, we can find in their writings. In short the conservatives he talked about was against affirmative action, saying that this devalue the black, fought for strong family ties and hard work. The problem in Africa he identified as victimhood, the idea that I am a victim still found in black South Africa.

Sadly this remain an all-white, and almost all-Afrikaner, conversation. When we got out at about 10 PM or so, after sitting in the all-white basement of Café Riche, the restaurant was all-black. This intelectual conversation still miss the context I think. I also got the idea that they kind of sit their talking about the problems of South Africa, but work with the idea that the time of the Afrikaner has passed, so we can’t so anything in any case. I even think Rossouw said this at one point (update: Maryke reminded me that this was actually Malan). Furthermore it’s another conversation with an average age of about 50. And myself and my two friends probably was the only under-25’s in the room (except for one other guy who was their for a little while).

All this being said, I still think it was a good conversation. Some of the people I thought naïve, like the lady who said that Afrikaners are not at all that much Western, because many of us were brought up by black workers (a fact that is very true). Luckily someone else helped out by pointing out that actually, we are just Americans thanx to Hollywood. Rossouw himself also call certain parts of Afrikaner culture a colony of America. This is sad but true.

I have a dream of a conversation of young South Africans. People who are strong intelectuals, who can work through the issues of the day, who can do this in a multi-racial way, in a critical way, and who can provide moral and intelectual leadership to a broken country… Is that too far-fetched?

Ever since I started blogging, and even before that, I’ve tried steering as clear as possible from the term “postmodern” (or post-modern). It’s a minefield when you go out there. When I use the word I try keeping to a very general definition. I found Fritjof Capra’s A Web of Life to be one of the best definitions, although he doesn’t ever give a definition, but simply describe changes in science over the past couple of decades.

But sometimes, in ground-level conversations, we tend to be more prescriptive about postmodernism than descriptive. What I mean is that we spend more time telling people how they should think when postmodern than listening to how they think now that they are part of a postmodern generation. This typically comes out when people state, explicitly or implicitly, that postmodern is necessarily “good” and modern “bad”, and that on top of that, postmodern is what “I am”, and modern what those I differ with are.

We then hear things like all truth is relative (something which I think I agree with, wrote about it here), or that we should make room for different opinions (another thing I’m very fond of), and then try to force this into our own lives in unnatural ways. Two examples:

  • I joined a discussion a few days ago, and took some friends along. In the car on the way back, I started asking about their experiences (another thing I like to do at times), and onssaid that the problems with the discussions is that there isn’t really discussion going on. Everyone would just say what they think, and even differ, and then leave it to that.
  • I am currently attending a “seminar” by Roger Greenaway, an expert on reviewing. I’ve been using his model and some of his tools for reviewing for nearly three years now, and can tell amazing stories about how this has helped me. But currently I’m not that impressed with the experience I’m having. I’m not sure if it’s his fault, or the group’s, but somehow the conversation tend to get into the “let’s just get every opinion on the table and let it be”, or the “let’s get something nice to say about everyone, whether they deserve it or not” category the whole time.

This seem to be very nice, and very “postmodern”, but I think we are missing the point here. We could, for example, gain a lot from Roger’s work when using a word like “holistic” to describe postmodernism; Roger could then help us to not only listen to the logical argument going on, but also to the experiences people are having, which would help us get a more holistic view of what happened, or what is happening. Or what if we rather used a word like “relational”: I’ve written some time ago:

Truth is also relational, in relation with each other, in conversation with each other, seeing each others opinions, looking through each others lenses (as far as that might be possible), we arrive at answers.

When in conversation, differing is OK! Even arguing is OK. What’s not OK is saying that my way and my way alone may be correct. What’s not OK is saying that the logical argument I’m using must be correct because it’s logical. The physical sciences have shown over and over again that what seemed logical at one stage change when new information, or perspectives, get put on the table. So if differing, or even arguing, can help you to see things through the others eyes, through the eyes of another gender, generation, race, culture, or whatever else there might be, then maybe we need the differing, maybe we need to point out to people if there is a difference in how we see things. Not necessarily to be able to win the case, but rather to continue our search for truth and meaning relationally, rather then individually, or by only listening to certain “power” figures (whether intellectual, political, religious, or whatever might be found).

Do sharpen my thoughts on this if I’m missing the point myself…

round-table church

October 22, 2007

I’ve started this post a few days ago, but never finished it, so now I’m just restarting.

I gave some thoughts on Dwelling in the Wordlast time, what I’m writing here follows on this. The idea of the Round-table church is that everyone can participate on equal level, like sitting around around table, rather than in the pews. In systematic theology, but only for the Dutch (and Afrikaans) reader, the practical/systematic theologian Dingemans has used this idea in ‘De stem van de Roepende’. Doug Pagitt tried to make this practical (although working from a different tradition than Dingemans) in some of the chapters of ‘Church re-imagined’.

We arrive at the idea of a Round-table church from a number of directions. I’ll try and touch upon some of them.

Let’s start out with the most difficult one, which might also be the most important one. Philosophically, when we work with a new concept of truth, the this idea of church make sense. If truth is no longer something absolute which can only be retrieved by those most smart, or in a position of power (I think usually it was actually the second one that was at play), but something that is relative and relational, this idea will make sense. Truth is relative. This must not be mistaken with being relativistic, truth being relativistic would mean that there is no truth, since that which you consider to be true can be true, without regards of anything else. If you think of the spacial meaning of relative, it might help, I think. You can try to give my current position in cosmic coordinates at the moment, or else you can see where I am relative to something else. I’m currently at a certain position relative to the city of Twane, of the N1 highway, or the Kameeldrif church building. What I consider to be true is relative to my own experience, my upbringing, my current emotions etc. Everyone of us look at things through these, and other, lenses. We see truth relative to this, and therefore, since our lenses differ, we don’t arrive at exactly the same answers. And the answers of those in positions of power, is also scene through lenses. Truth is also relational, in relation with each other, in conversation with each other, seeing each others opinions, looking through each others lenses (as far as that might be possible), we arrive at answers. Thus we can really listen to everyone, and not only to the trained theologian.

The ease with which people can nowadays get information also play a role in forming this idea. It’s not only the trained theologian that have access to information, anyone can google a topic and get info, both good and bad. Theology is not only for those trained, but everyone can take part.

On a very practical point, I have a feeling that communicatively (is that a word???), the real questions and answers in a community are better addressed in dialogue, rather than monologue. When one person has all the speaking rights, they tend to get so high up in the clouds, that the real question isn’t addressed, or keep to some pet topics, which miss questions which some are asking, or simply don’t know what’s going on in people’s minds. Also sometimes, what is needed isn’t answers, but a place to ask questions, to connect with others that ask the same questions. The way in which we are currently doing church services is not addressing these needs.

However, I’ve been contemplating the role of pastors and trained theologians, and this post brings me to this questions. So I’ll address that in a following post.

Oh, and just for interest sake, I just discovered that my previous post was number 100! This is post number 101.