The infamous Monday reading group at IWU (okay, so we're not really that well known) is finishing up this semester dabbling in Charles Taylor's Sources of the Self. It is a somewhat dense book for we lightweights, but most are persisting. I have received a couple F's for not having my homework done.
The book does a fair job of articulating some of my thinking in relation to modernism and, perhaps even more helpful, has helped give me some categories for understanding some of those I come into most conflict with on the blog and on the Facebook edition of these posts.
I have usually described the difference between myself and my detractors as the difference between pre-modern and modern. Forget post-modern. I am far more modern than post-modern.
Of course Descartes and the Enlightenment are the boogiemen right now. I actually think they get the credit for the great advances of Western culture. I feel like they more need some crucial footnotes than anything like a return to what was before. So, yes, there is no such thing as the completely detached observer of Descartes. But it sure would help the world if we all at least tried to be.
We're reading chapter 11, "Inner Nature," for Monday, and something just clicked for me relative to some recent debates. Prior to Descartes, it was assumed that truth was a characteristic of the world, in the world out there. I'm not quite putting it clearly, but perhaps an example will help. Taylor suggests that one reason the theory of evolution was difficult for people when it came out was because of the concept of extinction. If the universe embodies truth, then something can't go extinct because that would be like a truth going away.
That's still not quite clear, is it. Another example is melancholy, which used to be associated with black bile in the body. "On the earlier view, black bile doesn't just cause melancholy; meloncholy somehow resides in it... black bile is melancholy" (189).
I have grown up, I think, with the Cartesian model, and I think this is why it is so hard for me even to make sense of some of the things my discussion partners say. I attribute this to their being unreflective, pre-modern, but this is obviously language that places a judgment on their ability to reason. I will need to reflect more carefully on how to bridge my language with them.
To use an example that has not come up in discussion, I generally have trouble making sense of the following statement: "There is a moral structure to the universe." I don't know what such a statement would mean. Where? Is there a gene in my DNA? Is it hiding behind Orion's belt?
For me, God has a will regarding morality. Yes, the consequences of certain actions will tend to lead to certain bad consequences. But this is completely modern thinking. It is something completely different from the pre-modern view, which somehow sees moral structure as somehow in the universe. I have no idea what this even means.
Another example is a recent speaker on campus who suggested that the literal meaning of marriage might be the wedding of Christ with the church and that specific human marriages are metaphors that point to it. I have great difficulty even making sense of such a statement. The idea of the bride of Christ is the barest sliver in the New Testament. So this suggestion is that in God's mind, before the foundation of the world, He designed human marriage to point to the ultimate marriage of the church to Christ.
This is an interesting idea, but seems a quite peculiar suggestion, mainly because I wonder how many Christians throughout history have received this revelation, let alone any OT individuals! There have been millions of marriages since the foundation of the world, and how many dozen have realized the symbolism of their union?! Clearly the normal sense of the world marriage is the union of a man and a woman to live together their lives long and perhaps have children. At least in terms of our experience (including the first New Testament individual to whom the idea of the bride of Christ first occurred), the notion of the bride of Christ is a new truth based on transferring language from its normal use to a different context.
In short, to consider the normal use of marriage as the metaphor requires us to know things in God's mind that we simply don't know, indeed, that the overwhelming majority of Christians have not known. The idea is not spelled out in Scripture, meaning that must be secret insight into God's mind to be true, brought to us on the lips of prophets.
But Taylor helps me understand. Before Descartes, it was perfectly normal thinking to see the particulars of our existence (like marriage) as reflections of the inherent order of the world (marriage of the church to Christ). After Descartes, we build up to the universals from the particulars by establishing common ground between the particulars.
I have not explained things well. Perhaps in future discussion I will have opportunity to point out examples. I am simply unable to think that black bile is melancholy, that melancholy inheres in bile. I believe that God has a moral will for the creation. I cannot make sense of the statement that the universe has a moral structure.