In my youth I was entangled with fundamentalism. I eventually found my way out and later described the phenomenon of fundamentalism in the documents published here.
This experience is very instructive for where I find myself now. Way back then, I had to escape the fundamentalist paradigm, and find a new way of seeing the world. Twenty five years on, I face a new paradigm shift.
What is a paradigm? Let me quote from that previous essay.
As a finite being facing a bewildering and, to all practical purposes infinite, range of experiences, a person forms a 'reality construct.' That is, they order incoming data to fit to a series of conceptions as to what the world is like. [Feyerabend, P. Against Method pp19,76] (The theory is that the) world is too complex and too big to see as it really is. So experience is interpreted into, and by, a system. This system or reality construct gives meaning to our perceptions.... The experiences we have would become meaningless if we could not fit them into an ordered structure. We would no longer know what they mean. [Alves, R. Protestantism and Repression pp27-28]
If you've ever been overwhelmed by too much information at once, you know how our perceptions can break down and we begin to lose the ability to make sense of a situation.
We call our big picture of the world our paradigm. It is the set of ideas- the reality construct- that become the tools we use to interpret the world. In the essay I said that
Ideally, when the incoming sense data we have is too often at variance with our reality construct; that is, it doesn't 'fit' or seem to make sense, we eventually-- perhaps in a moment of crisis, modify the construct. This is instead of having the construct modify how we perceive the data, we shift to a new paradigm which explains and orders our perceptions more harmoniously and successfully. There is a 'transformation of vision' enabling the world to be seen in a new way. [Kuhn, T. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions]
I finished the section by saying that after a shift, We again have power in the world, it conforms to our conceptions and we can live in it successfully, and with less pain. In positive human growth one hopes that the construct becomes a closer approximation of what really is in the world.
I think a lot of depression comes from a non-functional paradigm. That is, a person has a view of how the world should be. But it does not work. It fails to deliver It is too much at variance with 'what really is.' Depression is the sign (in this situation) that our paradigm is failing; setting us up to expect some happiness, or other thing, that does not eventuate, and which we know inside, cannot and will not eventuate. A classic example is the person who has learned that possessions bring happiness. They don't, and depression follows until they can find a new way of seeing the world.
In her book Models of God Sally McFague describes a "root metaphor" as
the basic or primordial metaphor of a paradigm. It fundamentally affects the paradigm, or most basic set of assumptions in which a tradition or religion operates.
A change in root metaphor signals a revolution in the paradigm. If the root metaphor of a religion is lost then so too is the religion.
I noted in an essay using her book that if 'Father' were the root metaphor of Christianity, its exclusion on the basis that it was sexist, would result in the religion being so changed that it could not be Christianity any longer. To move 'Beyond God the Father' would to ultimately cease being a Christian... I went on to say One wonders if for some conservatives, for example, the root metaphor is the inerrant scripture. So when you challenge that, you challenge the whole religion, and must be resisted at all costs.'
Today I do not wonder. Hard-line fundamentalism does have the inerrant scripture as a central metaphor in the defining cluster at the centre of its paradigm. For me, twenty five years ago, the challenge was to find a new paradigm- a new way of seeing the Christian faith, which was not so much, and so often, at variance with the reality I experienced. For Christians today who read Bishop Spong, for example, or who simply have their eyes open, the situation is similar to my own those years ago. The paradigm is failing.
These people are not stupid. They do not believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden. However, they still experience something they would call "The Divine;." they have no doubt that there is more to life than meets the eye. They know that purely materialist and physicalist views of life miss major aspects of Reality. But the language, the ideas, and the images of the church simply do not work any longer-there is too much variance from the rest of their daily experience. There needs to be a revolution in the paradigm.
Let's be clear we really are talking about a revolution here, not a mere tinkering or renovation of beliefs. The house of belief is not needing repainting , or having or room added. It needs to be rebuilt- ground up. Fundamentalism sees modern liberal theology as a complete betrayal. It cannot, even in its most generous moment, comprehend what the modern believer is on about. In turn, the modern believer finds the fundamentalist inexplicable and baffling. The same incomprehension applies to the new paradigm shift the church is being called to make. For the modern believer, the pressure that comes from a "Spongian reading" of reality threatens a change of similar magnitude: There comes a point where no more rationalising is possible, no more tweaking can be done, and no more allowances can be made . There is just too much which does not work!
At such a time of great stress it is not usually the case that a person faces a vacuum. These is usually a ''paradigm in waiting." In my crisis years ago, modern educated theology offered an alternative . There was also the offer of good old "ignore God most of the time" Australian consumerism. Or even a flight into outright atheism.
This time, things are different. I cannot see or theological paradigm waiting in the wings, as it were. By comparison, the last shift was relatively minor; this time is huge. If today's believer moves, it is a move into exile. There seems no clear way to go. There is no welcoming community- unless one leaves all pretension to faith and joins a non- religious pattern, or joins another religion altogether.
Christianity is so called because Jesus the Christ is the root metaphor around which the many metaphors of the faith's paradigm are clustered. Many people have long ago abandoned physical resurrection, for example, as necessary to this paradigm. But just how much can be abandoned?. Does Jesus, without all the unsustainable pre-critical and pre-modern baggage remain someone, or something, worth basing a life around? Might one just as well be a disciple of Gandhi or Mandela? Might one just as well seek to honour life and the Reality which has brought us into bring by modeling our life on theirs? Leaving the shelter of a paradigm will always have unforeseen consequences. We may find that God, in any recognisably Christian sense, just disappears.
For those in the church who see me going beyond the pale and joining the barbarians, I can only say it must be done to preserve the Faith. What we have now has already become barbaric with its emphasis on redemption by blood payment, for example. The Faith, as we have understood it, is also increasingly unbelievable, and therefore unhealthy. It dis-honours Reality-Which-Is to maintain such an artificial and ultimately ridiculous system. If we are to survive as a church and have anything to say, even to ourselves, it is time to trust God and set out into the desert again. We are exiles in our own faith, who must seek anew the Promised Land.
In this page I have used the term "Spongian." For a sense of what I mean, use the search box on this site to search for Spong. You may also care to look at the article here for one insight of what going out into the Desert may feel like.
Posted January 2006
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