Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Postmodernism and a Nose Bleed

It seems fashionable these days to tell stories, especially those that have a character named Neo. In most, Neo represents the postmodern man who thinks and acts in keeping with the postmodern ethos, which is quite remarkable given that postmodernism claims dogmatically not to have any dogmatic ethos. So, today I offer my own postmodern story about Neo and Oldo, who of course, opposes the postmodern ethos, even though the adherents to such an ethos can't agree on what it is. Ready?

One day Neo was out walking and came accross his old friend Oldo relaxing near the brook, in the shade of the old oak tree.

"So, Oldo, what's new?"

"Well, Neo, I'm just laying here listening to the wind and the birds and marveling at the simple majesty of God's creation. What's new with you?"

"I'm just wandering, trying hard not to dwell on any one subject too long for fear that I might come to some sort of certainty about it. Certainty, as you must know, is really the enemy of truth, because as soon as you are certain about something, you're sure to try to share that certainty with someone else, and that, of course, would be a power play, trying to tell them what is true for them when it may actually be only true for you. In fact, when I find myself coming close to some sort of certainty, I just try to formulate that last sentence in my mind, and that confuses me and keeps me from drawing close to any firm conclusions, which I am certain would be wrong for me."

"Come on. . ." Oldo replied ". . . certainly you don't think you can really live that way, do you? I mean, aren't there just some things of which you are certain? Doesn't the existence of the universe, and its continued management depend on some fixed and certain natural laws? Seems to me your view is logically inconsistent, and just won't stand up to reality."

Neo calmly adjusted his cap, cracked a few knuckles to reach the right level of calm, and then replied "Not at all. In fact, the fact is, that no one can ever really know anything for sure, except that you can't know anything for sure. And here's why: To say you know something for sure would mean that you knew every possible thing about it. Take gravity, one of your so-called 'natural laws.' We suppose something called gravity, but we don't know for sure because there may be things we don't know about gravity, or about the way objects behave in the atmosphere surrounding earth. We also don't know if that will change tomorrow, or if there may be some objects that will react contrary to the 'law' of gravity. Since we can't know everything that could be possibly known about gravity - in fact, we can't even know if there is more that could be known! - we can never come to the place that we are 'certain' that we know all that could be known, and thereby, be 'certain' about gravity. Simply put, until you can know perfectly, you can't know certainly." And with that, Neo smiled, clearly proud both of his opinion, and his unassailable presentation of it.

As he waited for Oldo's response, he watched with surprise as Oldo slowly got to his feet, and walked the few paces until he was face to face with Neo. With a speed uncharacteristic of his advanced age, Oldo drew back his fist, and socked Neo in the nose.

"Hey" cried Neo, "what'd you do that for? Now look what you've done . . . my nose is bleeding down my face! Is that how you act when you're bettered in an argument? You took your fist, hit my nose causing it to bleed, and my head to ache. What are you thinkin'?"

Oldo calmly replied "What makes you think your nose is bleeding? or for that matter, that you were hit in the nose, or further, that I hit you? From what you've just said, you can't be certain that I hit you until you are able to consider that there are no other possible reasons for you to assume that you're bleeding. Maybe your senses are off; maybe you're asleep and this is a dream; maybe a supersonic bird, flying faster than you could see, smacked into your nose; maybe you fainted, hit your face on the tree root there, and then I picked you up, and you revived just in time to see me withdrawing my hand from your shoulder, and mistakenly assumed that I hit you. Maybe the disciples went to the wrong tomb (whoops, wrong subject!)."

Oldo paused for effect.

"No, here's the deal Neo. You've got this great new philosophy, and you like it because it gives you a convenient - even somewhat pseudo-intellectual - way of escaping the obligations of certainty. The obligations of living in a real, day-to-day world, where people make decisions, stand for things, deal with right and wrong, and have to go to work, and do things they don't like. Your little philosophy always give you an out if you run into something you don't like, or don't want to submit to. And I am sure you can flesh out your arguments with citations from loads of academic types who are hiding behind the same philosophical curtain. But, the problem is your philosophy is stupid, foolish, and moronic. It can't pass the nose bleed test. Try as you might, you can't honestly escape the reality - the certainty - that I took my fist, hit your nose, causing it to bleed and your head to ache. Of that we're both certain. And if that's certain, so can be a whole host of other things. And by the way, you were right about one little thing: my certainty did turn out to be a power play. My power played a tune on your nose!"

And with that, the two friends walked away together. Neo nursed his now swelling nose, trying desparately to ease the pain with quotes from Lyotard and Derrida, yet all the while feeling that perhaps a philosophy that included Tylenol might be the better answer. Turning to Oldo he said "So, you admit you hit me in the nose, right? And, if I know your heart and belief system, you probably recognize that it was a bad thing to do. So, what are you going to do about it?"

Oldo said "Yes, I am sorry to have caused you pain. But, I am thankful that the pain may in fact awaken you to the vacuous nature of your worldview."

Oldo was quiet for a few paces, and then exclaimed in eureka-like fashion "Hey, today's Thursday, right? I know just what we ought to do! There's this guy named *John - a real intellectual type, who also messes around with theology. He's kind of a mixture between Augustine, Hume, Newbigin, Billy Graham, and Bono, and he's even read Foucault, Derrida, and Webber. You know what? He even knows Mark Driscoll! Every Thursday, he's at this bar - he calls it Beer Thursday. Let's invite him into this conversation and see what he has to say! I'm certain he can help, and maybe even bring in a little Bible."

Neo nodded, but said "I'm not certain that will help, but then again, I'm not certain it wouldn't. In fact, I just not certain about anything except that my head hurts, and I sure could use a beer."

Don't hold this against me; it's just a story,


* To meet the real life John, go to - he's a good guy . . . really.


At 12:52 PM , Blogger La Seule Fille said...

Hi Pastor Hegg. I found your blog from a link on the church website. I really liked the story. It made me take a new perspective on other people's opinions. Especially professors. ;-)
~Brittanie Froesch

At 9:21 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sitting here with Allen Connette and we found your blog. Turns out you've been talking about and saying nice things. Hmmmmm. Makes me suspicious. What do you want from me man? Where's the catch?

See you Saturday night.

john mitchell


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