Posted by: trev0rclark | May 10, 2009

An Invitation to the Continental

viewThis semester has been pretty remarkable for me as a theologian and philosopher. I think some of the most difficult questions I’ve ever had to answer have been posed by “people of science.” In reality, we’re all people of science—building conclusions upon experienced data. There really is no other way to interact with our environments other than take as a basic presupposition that when observe cause and effect, we can therefore anticipate effects in other situations. However, as a person of faith, I have sometimes struggled to move beyond those experiences and imagine something beyond the here and now. I’m often stuck in a lack of imagination, focused on daily monotony. On these days, I’m not a risk taker, but one who resigns himself, to use Kierkegaardian language, to the temporal, the finite, and the necessary. 

This is where I was happy to shift the conversation this semester. It was a humble reminder that my experiences don’t bring me to absolute truth, just as other can be deceived by their own experiences. This is not to say that our experiences are not useful—on the contrary, they can lead us to accept greatest truth. However, when we focus too much on the experience itself, we do injustice to others. We make a broad, sweeping generalization that others have the same values as us and that we can all arrive at the same conclusions. However, if we accept the humble suggestion that what we experience is not all there is, if we deny the category of a “collective consciousness” and replace it with “collective personhood”, we realize the only universal theme amongst humans is that we experience, feel, think, and love. When we do not resign ourselves to the here and now, when we acknowledge an “otherness” to the human narrative that does not center on ourselves as scientific law-makers, we are forced to put and end to our struggle to condemn religions, and look in appreciation or curiosity at the experiences of others. If we can make this kind of initial movement, to move beyond worldly resignation, perhaps we can move onto the “leap of faith”. This leap of faith will give both context and meaning to our experiences, instead of ignoring the question of their purpose and just assuming they have something to offer us. 

This course was my invitation to the continental tradition over the analytic tradition. I sought common ground with my fellow New Atheists in order to simply suggest that they keep their experiences in check, remembering the cultural framework in which they operate. At the end of the semester, I’m quite glad I “RSVP’d”.

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