Friday, February 17, 2017

The truth shall set you free

I have often found myself lost in the sea of epistemological uncertainty that comes with postmodernism. As philosophers have deconstructed knowledge we have come to take as a truism that it is inextricably tainted by our personal, social and cultural contexts. The idea that anyone has access to "pure" knowledge is a fallacy. From this relativism quickly follows. If objectivity is unavailable to us, and if all knowledge is "tainted", then we are simply left with our own unique and individual take on things. What I consider to be True is true to me, and vice versa.

This morning I was reading the final chapters in the book "Exclusion and Embrace" by Miroslav Volf. It's an amazing read and one I highly recommend, if for no other reason than to find a way through the modern epistemological fog Descartes left us with; this being a seemingly unbridgeable gap between the inner world of our thoughts, and the world that is (theoretically) "out there".

The author standing in front of Descartes' tomb in the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris 2014
(Copyright Stephen A Richards, 2017)
For many years I struggled with this problem, and no more so than in the context of faith. For if I am unable to get outside my our mind then how can I possibly claim to know anything of the existence of God, for example? The belief that knowledge is constructed and relative led to a folding up of my faith over twenty years ago.

Recently I returned to the world of faith and belief in God again, and largely for the reasons Volf discusses in his chapter "Deception and Truth". He makes the point that trying to access Truth as an abstract metaphysical concept is impossible for the reasons we have already alluded to: There is no way we can step outside our own thinking processes to do this. We are always going to be inside our head in one capacity or another.

Looking at the street through a pair of glasses
(Copyright Stephen A Richards, 2017)
However, to resolve this seemingly irreconcilable tension, Volf directs us towards the notion of Truth as that found in the Bible; this being that Truth is not so much discovered, but lived:
Neither Jeremiah nor Paul speaks abstractly of the relation between "minds" and "facts," as the western philosophical tradition like to state the relation between the knower and the object of knowledge. In a sense, so then there are no such things as "minds" and "facts." Instead of forging abstract categories of "facts" and "minds," they narrate the things people do to each other… "facts" exist only within a… community (261)
Truth is not so much "out there" but in the midst of us. We live the truth we profess. If you want to know what Truth is, look at the lives people are living. Jesus is also making this point when he says that we will know what people are like "by their fruit" (Matthew 7:16). You want to know what someone believes is true, then look at how they live, the things they do, the people they hang out with, the places they go etc.

Truth is not hidden "inside" waiting to be discovered, but is "outside", lived, and being revealed. For me God's existence is not something I have proved through abstract arguments, but something I have chosen to organise my life by. I have chosen to believe God exists, and God's existence is proved true to me (and others) in the daily lived experience of my life.
Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16)

Volf, M. (1996) Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, Nashville: Abingdon Press 

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