The Either/or Dichotomy, Modernity, Fundamentalism, the Grinch, and Epiphany

The hallmark of modernity is a refusal of paradox and mystery and a commitment to an either/or, black and white, dichotomous way of perception.  This, in turn, is the breeding ground of all fundamentalism, whether secular or religious.  It is also what feeds racist, sexist, cultural, and other oppositions, the very legitimacy of the “other” as opposition—the thing against “us”.  What underwrites its power is the belief it is “fact” based, objective, or scientifically proven, whereas these “other” views are purely imagined (faith).
The move to the postmodern has shown all this to be pure nonsense.  However, we still live with the hangover of modernity.  We still feel its aftereffects, its echo.  This is clear simply by perusing most of the comments on this blog.  We see it in all the comments that oppose faith and reason or religion and science.  We see it when knowledge can only be perceived as one thing and not a layered or multi-faceted concept.  We see it when “how” (epistemology) we can know something can only be understood in one way, instead of many ways that coalesce together and support each other (holistic).  We see it when “truth” can only mean one thing, and cannot be seen, again, as layered and multi-faceted.  We see it when all these areas must be “either/or” rather than (postmodern/ancient) both/and.  The “either/or” is the very mind-set of fundamentalism—it is a world of oppositions.  Thus, it is a world never at peace.  It breeds “others” and enemies.  It is the world of “One” way, which is always, surprise, “my” or our way.  It is “us” only.  If one is not part of the “One”, the “us”, then she is one of “those” people, the “other”.  Mapping and categorization, grouping, systematizing, accounting, and surveillance are its tools and methods.  It is the very creation of the “in” group and the builder of boundaries and walls. 
In contrast, the Christian narrative contains an intrinsic alternative to the “One”.  It does this by being Trinitarian.  How this “Three” dynamic is thought about and spoken of is through paradox and mystery.  This opens up an entire universe of “both/and”.  Instead of creating opposites, it allows for a communal, Eucharistic, participatory, sacramental, way of being “together” where we are not swallowed up in the “One” but remain both unique selves and part of each other, both-and, always and already, at the same time.  There is one God, but such is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thus we have the layered and multi-faceted basis of reality and relations as all participate in that relation and reality by way of creation.  We have the eternal dance of peace, love, and joy at the very center of existence and creation and even before there was such as we know it.
Another striking feature of the modern sensibility is its immaturity.  It is exactly the way a child or adolescent perceives the world.  It is very simplistic and eschews complexity.  In this sense, we could say modernity is hardly progressive, but rather regressive.
All this is to say, the times they are a-changing.  This essay captures, in one area (evolution), this movement away from fundamentalism and toward the “both/and” perception or sensibility, which is the postmodern turn, ancient, and Trinitarian.  I’m not sure the writer truly understands any of this, but I think it is there.  The writer may not even perceive that she needs to do the very thing she is happy to see this young evangelical doing, which is to allow for this “both/and” sensibility, this layered and multi-faceted (holistic) perception of things.  Because we should also rejoice when those who think evolution, or science, are the only ways we can know what is true or gain knowledge have the epiphany that perhaps it is more complex than that, more layered, and more multi-faceted, perhaps it requires “a little bit more”.
In this season of giving, as we approach the Sunday of epiphany and New Year, we need to have that moment the Grinch does: “Maybe Christmas, he thought… doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps… means a little bit more!”  But the “more” here is disallowed by the modern sensibility and fundamentalism.  It can only be what it “is” on the surface and nothing “more”—it can only be one thing.  If it is allowed to be “more”, the allowance is made only if we agree the “more” is false and not the “reality” of the “store”, rather than the “more” being the reality.  If one wants to know how capitalism and its organizing logic have crushed everything in its path, one need only watch “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”.  If we cannot see or allow for a “more” then all becomes commodity to be marketed—exchange replaces gift.  Where there is only exchange, there is no need for grace or mercy, nor gift.  There is a “more” to everything and the “more” is the reality.  There is “more” to you.  We are more than tissue and blood.  This truth is captured in the Eucharist.  It is not “just” bread and wine, but something “more” and the more is the reality.  

We need our views broadened not narrowed and such is what the postmodern (ancient really) turn allows for, which as a Christian I understand or perceive to be Trinitarian, participatory, and sacramental.  This sensibility follows the grain of the universe, and escapes or transcends the linear, surface, and one-dimensional, oppositional view of modernity, which goes against the grain and thus has at its very core an intrinsic unrest and violence.  The only result can be hearts several sizes too small. 
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7 Responses to The Either/or Dichotomy, Modernity, Fundamentalism, the Grinch, and Epiphany

  1. Burk says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    So how does the theist know that there is “more” to specific phenomena? How does the theist know that god is, nevertheless, behind evolution? How does the theist know that god is, nevertheless, behind all the giving and other human cheer during the holidays? I don't think that there is a very good or rigorous answer to this, beyond bare assertion and “faith”.

    Nor does human cheer rest on invisible fantasms. Sorry to stand up for rigor, logic, and all that, but at this point in our appreciation of things and ouselves, it is rather apparent that we construct our social world by our own hands, whether the narrative is fantastical or magical, or rational.

    It is quite telling that you see the postmodernism as ancient, coming full circle to the intuitions and errors of yore. Best of luck with that. Good feelings and compassion, yes. Theistic evolution and trinitarianism, not so much. As usual, there is no evidence.

    “He liked his faith, his community, and, OK, also a girl in his youth group. “I kind of hobbled back to my faith,” he says. “Evangelicals were my tribe. And it’s kind of hard to let go of something.””

    Not exactly a model of reason. Ditto for the schools who told teachers that the truth was not “convervative enough” for their taste.

    As for theistic evolution generally, I have nothing against individuals who believe in such things, personally. But lacking evidence for it, there is no reason to agree with them either. The number of false and unsupported beliefs about in the world is truly astonishing. But giving up intellectually on issues of truth, and calling it all postmodern/ancient either/or is pathetic, indeed dangerous. Would you do the same with Christ- is that truth there to be fudged, and perhaps Allah/Muhammed is just as good; 12 of one, half dozen of the other?


  2. Darrell says:

    Hi Burk,

    Clearly, you misunderstood the linked essay and post, or you did understand but the only way you know how to respond is to beg the question. Hard to respond to such.


  3. Darrell says:

    Here is a clue:

    When the very issue disputed is how we can know what we do and if there is only one way of knowing, and to then oppose “rigorous” to “bare” assertion, to ask “how” we can know these things and to then write: “I don't think that there is a very good or rigorous answer to this [the how], beyond bare assertion and “faith”, is a clear example you just don't quite get it. Wow. Try sometime commenting without begging the question. If you cannot, you don't really have an argument or much to say really.


  4. Burk says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    Well it is extremely curious that what you portray as a discussion of “how” does not touch on this “how” at all. It has a lot of rhetoric about how all sides are correct and there are no facts, and multifaceted, and holism etc. But how does the theist know what they purport to know? What is the method, and what is the evidence, and what is the rationale? Is what you are calling a “way of knowing” really just a way of asserting?


  5. Darrell says:

    Hi Burk,

    “Well it is extremely curious that what you portray as a discussion of “how” does not touch on this “how” at all…”\

    I never portrayed it as such other than it is a perennially disputed subject on this blog. My post is not a discussion of the “how” but whether we are going to reduce everything to a simplistic “either/or” or realize the complexity of a “both/and” world as we think about truth. You are the one begging the question as to the “how” in your comments. Why not address the substance of my post as it relates to the essay and my comments, rather than engaging in a “lot of rhetoric”? I find it very curious that no one ever wants to engage the substance or main points of my posts or links, but wants to divert to some imagined point they think is what I might be “really” saying. Why not simply address the actual post or links?

    The fact you think what is being “asserted” here is that all sides are correct and that there aren't any facts is just further confirmation you have no idea what is even being talked about here. You just don't.

    You are the only one “asserting” here and offering no thoughtful engagement beyond a sophomoric continued question-begging. Always the sure sign the conversation is not being understood by at least one party.


  6. Burk says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    Well, I think the reason why comments come in the way they do is that what you are saying seems rather vacuous and/or nonsensical. Yet its “moves” and ideological point are also quite clear, in the general vein of apologetics. So one naturally comments on that instead, trying to come up with something coherent on your behalf, and address what seem to be motivating issues. Or just trolling, depending on one's taste!

    To engage with some of your substance…

    “The hallmark of modernity is a refusal of paradox and mystery and a commitment to an either/or, black and white, dichotomous way of perception. This, in turn, is the breeding ground …”

    Firstly, Manichaeism is hardly something new to modernity. To suggest that is simply absurd. One has to look a bit deeper, to human nature, and also admit that sometimes, some people are really wrong. Yes, the dustup between Catholocism and Protestantism was a meaningless dustup. But what about the election of GW Bush? Wasn't that worth a bit of lather?

    As to mystery, it has been the great project of modernity to resolve many mysteries, from germs to atoms, etc. That is what comes of not goggling abjectly at its feet, but deploying one's mind. Yet plenty of mysteries remain, as I think modern art illustrates and provides in profusion(!)

    Further, it is funny that you paint modernism in such black and white, dichotomous terms. (Breeding-ground, indeed!) Etc. and onwards from there, making it difficult to engage directly. And further, to think that Christians do not think dichotomously and have not done throughout their history, sometimes with startling vehemence and lethality … that really takes the cake.

    Nevertheless, I enjoy the Grinch as well, and take your sentiment to heart.. that is all very well. And its lessons on capitalism, etc. What is there to disagree with? The question is whether trinitarianism is a reasonable and effective solution. Sadly whatever the sheep are induced to believe is not going to change what the wolves who run the system do. We need improved morality (or lacking that, at least improved behavior) at the top. And that may be best enforced/encouraged in a more direct fashion, per Bernie Sanders is proposing.


  7. Darrell says:

    Hi Burk,

    “The hallmark of modernity is a refusal of paradox and mystery and a commitment to an either/or, black and white, dichotomous way of perception. This, in turn, is the breeding ground …” -Darrell

    “Firstly, Manichaeism is hardly something new to modernity…”

    No one said anything about Manichaeism; I certainly didn’t. I am speaking of modernity. If it also happens to mimic the mistakes of other ancient religions, so much the worse for it. You fail to speak to the problem, which is an “either/or” conception of truth, which clearly you believe.

    “…and also admit that sometimes, some people are really wrong.”

    Again, no one is saying otherwise. In fact, I am telling you and any who defend the “either/or” of modernity—that you are wrong.

    “As to mystery, it has been the great project of modernity to resolve many mysteries…”

    I think you confuse modernity with science. They are not the same. Science has resolved many natural mysterious and mainstream Christianity has no problem with such. The problem comes when modernity interprets what science has done to mean that science can resolve all mysteries and that science is the “only” way to know or the only “how” to know truth.

    “Further, it is funny that you paint modernism in such black and white, dichotomous terms.”

    I paint nothing. It is clear with every example of opposing faith and reason, religion and science. Every time you tell us these are indeed oppositions, that these are “either/or”, you do all the painting for us. I’m simply agreeing with you that such is what modernity gives us, although I disagree that these things need be opposed. There is an entire body of literature out there noting the dichotomous, binary, perspective of modernity. I am saying nothing that many, many other have already pointed out, such as Charles Taylor.

    “We need improved morality (or lacking that, at least improved behavior) at the top.”

    You have no basis for telling us what is moral or “improved” to begin with. The word “improved” requires a bar or objective point of reference, of which you have none. Morality and improvement are just code words for what your personal subjective opinions are—nothing more than saying you think a wine could be “improved” while another might think it fine. If the difference were to be settled by power it would only mean that the more powerful got their way, not that the result had been truly improved or moral. The subjectivist always cuts off the branch he wants to sit on when he tries to turn and preach about morality. Putting all that aside, you’re not addressing the point of the Grinch. He notes that it isn’t all about the market, but something “more”. This “more” is the truth, but we can’t see it, touch it, taste it, weigh it, or measure it. Thus, for modernity, it doesn’t exist. The “more” disappears and all that is left is the physical presence of the market, the store, the physical things. You fail to address the main point.

    The rest of your comments are question-begging nonsense.


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