Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Assertively Certain

I have spent the last five years or so learning to think fuzzily. I'm pretty sure that I didn't set out to do it, but I am convinced that I am now an expert fuzzy thinker. But I am also convinced that this is not much good to man or beast.
There is much that I like about postmodernism. To choose one thing, it's love for authenticity. But its embracing of plurality is now giving me a hard time. Give me any situation, any argument and I will develop five different possibilities for a way forward, all 'true' according to some measure. Of course effectiveness is only seen on trial. But which way forward do I believe is right? Somewhere along the line I have learnt to understand multiple positions, but have abandoned the belief that there may actually be an ultimately right or correct position.
Philosophically that might be acceptable. It helps with writing academic papers and having conversations with a variety of people. But it makes me useless as a leader. I tend to have the attitude that if someone will give me an idea of where they'd like to go, I'm pretty sure I can get them there.
The time is about now when I actually decide what I am here for. Why am I a minister? What do I believe God wants me to do? What should I be preaching as 'true' theology? What am I willing to lay down my life for? What is going to stop me just whiling my time away waiting for the next holiday? Sure, I can give many different answers. But what, for me now, is the correct answer? God's answer? When am I willing to say that culture does not have a voice? That expedience is not a factor? That there is only one way to go?
What will I stand up for and lose the respect of others for? When will I take a chance that I might be wrong because I am so sure that I am right?
All the objections to this come rising up. The difficulties. Yes, but . . .
No buts. Do or die!


Anonymous said...


Macrina Walker said...

I can sympathise in many ways, Jenny, or at least I think I can. Postmodern academic discourse can be very difficult to challenge, especially when one is in the midst of it, and it influences us in more ways than we realise. I was certainly deeply influenced by it for many years, although also never entirely comfortable with it. But it took a real jolt and fairly major crisis to shake me out of it.

Although I'm rather out of touch with the SA academic theological scene, it might be worth pointing out that it really is a rather small pond in which some perspectives have come to dominate to such an extent as to virtually exclude the possibility of other debates that could end up challenging them. And some of it is based on very superficial scholarship. If that sounds too critical, it is perhaps because I was in it myself (to some extent) and cringe when I now read what I wrote (which I try not to do!).

One other point though: I wonder if it is not worth making a distinction between fuzziness and nuance. Fuzziness is ultimately very destructive and leads to death (and also lends itself to all sorts of manipulative power relations). But I am also horrified when I see some fundamentalist stuff online (I use the word in the broad cultural sense, although it may also apply in other ways) that automatically identifies people's own positions (and very often their own anger etc) with God. When I see stuff like that I realise that a certain nuance, and ability to understand contexts, etc is needed. But in such a way that does not simply descend into relativism.

Of course discernment is the key issue here, and that is not easy. I've been thinking for a while about blogging on this (but am unlikely to get to it) as it applies in so many ways. A certain balance is needed, but that cannot simply be a pragmatic compromise. St John Cassian speaks of the Royal Way, of discerning what is central and living within that.

Anyway, excuse my rambling. I should probably write about this on my own blog...

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Hi Macrina. I think you are right about the pool of thinkers being quite small, but they are also very vocal and I happen to agree with them on many other things (such as not favouring a passive Christianity) which makes their influence on me quite strong.
Thanks for your thoughts on 'nuanced' and 'fuzzy'! I find that a very helpful distinction.