Thursday, 16 September 2010

Not 'The Truth' Anymore

The Pope makes his usual comments against aggressive secularism and he opposes relativity. Yet it is that very relativity that allows an optimistic outlook to him conducting a mass in a Glasgow park.

People sometimes forget just what a revolution was involved when John Knox (1510-72) moved from being a Catholic priest to a Protestant minister. At that time every church was a place of saintly superstition, magic, the supernatural, with fears of the afterlife given that life was so quick and even cheap. Money bought mass saying priests, and others just prayed to saints.

To go from that universe of meaning to pulling down statues and smashing windows and to rejecting a whole heavenly body of saints was one huge change. But what it left until very recently, and still divided in education, was a bitter sectarianism only one nudge of conflict away from that found in Northern Ireland. Scotland was divided into Catholic and a self-dividing Protestantism, both as "true" as they could be, with the Episcopal Church being a tiny odd non-State version of Anglicanism.

What first of all an Enlightened liberal State, and then postmodern relativity allows, is the spaces for these various clashes of beliefs to co-exist.

My postmodernism is of a moderate variety: it varies from high on the meter regarding religion and the arts, to low regarding scientific research and mathematical work. I'm aware of the great and small uncertainties in the latter two, and also the place of the market and institutions in guiding a lot of science (including, it should be said, the business of climate change), but research anchors forms of truth. There is no way that Catholicism or Protestantism holds similar strengths of truth, and in these as in the arts the best that can be hoped for are insights to truths, even I would say signals of transcendence rather than transcendence itself.

When Catholicism and the right wing of Protestantism makes claims to alternative science, such as bread and wine actually transubstantiating, or a some sort of alternative history of the origins and end of the world (whether literalist or somewhat symbolised but still structurally held) then they are up against a different language and truth game and open to being even ridiculed.

There are all kinds of sensible, interesting and approachable theologies by Catholic and Protestant theologians in modern times (think of David Tracy as a Catholic, for example - discovering life's meaning in texts, classics, traditions, revelations, symbols: risking an understanding in participation with many different other publics, in where we live, in what we study, and within institutions of faith and belief), but a lot of the ecclesiastical religion is presented as if still being in an alternative universe. That's what gives the secularists the grounds for an attack, and frankly I want to build an understanding of religious observance free of such an alternative universe than the predominant paradigms today.

That's what the Pope doesn't like: that the prominent paradigms are just that, and his Roman Catholicism isn't 'The Truth' any more. That's not to say religious insights from past traditions are not useful for one's personal orientations, or understandings of suffering and ethical responses. But they are truths around these to be argued, whether into the public space or private spaces.


Yewtree said...

Excellent blogpost. I agree, postmodern liberal relativity is the safe & sane option that allows co-existence. Besides, we can have a societal consensus on values without necessarily agreeing on details of belief.

Anonymous said...

His truth isn't THE TRUTH anymore, but then, yours is only the truth so long as it's an echo of "The Guardian" and "The New Statesman" and the BBC.
You need them far more than they need religion (except for schools for their kids, natch).
Postmodern Liberal Relativity degenerates into self-congratulation when it mistakes its helplessness for self-control. Like a 90 year-old man in a wheelchair congratulation himself for not assaulting anyone, this is a meaningless "goodness". This is the chastity of a eunuch.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am a different anonymous from Australia.

Please check out three references which are very much about Truth and Reality. The first is from the The Truth Book.

Plus a radical critique of christian-ISM as a power-seeking ideology, and its origins via:

Plus on postmodernism