Friday, September 11, 2015

Crossing the Language Barrier

From the Orthosphere:

To put it bluntly: if you can’t talk of God and his will for us in a language that everyone understands and accepts (even if only pro forma), then nothing you say can be quite definite, in the final analysis, or therefore definitive, or then authoritative, or suasive. Every utterance then will be tentative, merely pro forma and nothing more; ergo, not really binding, or even interesting, but only conventionally. At most, you’ll muster only indignant insistence about this or that outrage, full of sound and fury but, as signifying really nothing, empty of any real conviction.

S.I. Hayakawa, who was, I think, dumbing down General Semantics a bit for a wider audience, wrote about the ladder of abstraction.

He, being at least an agnostic, probably an atheist, generally tended to think theologians, philosophers, even many so-called scientists, spent too much time high up on the ladder of abstraction, playing word magic.

This is entirely possible, and often true. In fact, I think word magic has descended into the masses, even among Christians, who seem to need to say 'in your name Jesus, we pray' now, all the time, because they don't understand what doing something in a person's (usually a king's) name means, and they seem to think this is the way to get a little extra oomph in your prayer.

But, the great abstractions are there, and can be helpful in describing parameters.

Or, let me be blunt too- we need the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. We need an unfathomable god, who is both Other and our goal.
We need perfection. We need infinity.

Of course, what everyone has been trying to do, amid all these years of everything falling apart, is have everyone have a personal relationship with Jesus, whose identity, unfortunately is further clouded by sentimentally and romance.

To give another example, in the hopes of illustrating a point, I will turn to Plato's world of ideal forms. In Plato's world of ideal forms, where does the ideal ideal reside? This is not meant to be childish, but rather, I am pointing out we have concepts which in themselves contain an element of the unknown- the unknowable. We need these concepts, because they point to God, and they point to a way for those who don't believe to ally themselves to what is at least sane.

Or to put it yet another way- Christopher Alexander's Pattern Language was an attempt to describe patterns in architecture, the idea being that you teach people these patterns and when they build they put them together using a kind of grammar, similar to a language, so that the whole construction makes sense, like this sentence would if grammar and I were more closely acquainted. Well, in America currently, Christianity is best described femininely with the Father as a loving dad who is happy his daughter is ignoring 1st Timothy and going off to college to get a sociology degree and some unknown number of liasons under her belt before she tries to settle down, and Jesus is the boyfriend who anyone she actually tries to settle down with must measure up to.

We are suffering from horrible theological grammar, both within and outside of Christianity. People need some clue as to what is plausibly helpful. This is why I think we need a Meta-Theology.

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