Worldviewism and the nature of truth

I had an outbreak of worldviewism today on my Facebook page today after I shared my post on privilege and Biblical interpretation. Worldviewism is a school of thought within the evangelical world, particularly among the homeschoolers and tribulation preppers, that divides the world into thought-systems (there are often said to be four) which are completely self-enclosed, disconnected, and incompatible with one another. Your task as a Christian is to make sure that your Christian worldview hasn’t been infiltrated by traces of other ones (except for capitalism which isn’t one of the other three worldviews since capitalism is just the way God created the world to work ;-)).

So this is the comment that got tossed in my face from a guy whom I’d never met before.

We ought to realize that “privilege” and feminist concerns as concepts are foreign to the biblical text and echoes a more Marxist view than some might like to admit. Liberation theology runs deep in certain Catholic circles, especially when it’s bolstered by the unquestioned assumption of Christ’s and the Holy Spirit’s appearing at Mass in a way his original followers could never have imagined. All this comes from without rather than from within the text of Scripture and so those of us not so concerned with these things must be ready to question their inherently foreign nature when it comes to the God-breathed Word. For those who can’t help themselves, we should be listening when God speaks instead of trying to formulate our understanding of his word within the present matrix previous ideological commitments make clear. Maybe it’s time to drop some of your long-held beliefs and take God’s Word for what it actually says rather than what you’d like it to say.

Admittedly, I didn’t respond in a very Christian way to this. I ended up having to block the guy because he was bringing out the Satan in me. But I’m not sure you can expect to get a charitable response when you open with something like that. That last sentence really made my blood boil: “Maybe it’s time to drop some of your long-held beliefs and take God’s Word for what it actually says rather than what you’d like it to say.”

If you’ve been reading me long, you know how hard I’ve resisted the temptation to drop-kick verses out of the Bible that I didn’t like and you’ve seen the fruit of the wrestling that I did with things like wrath, the fear of the Lord, the blood of Jesus, predestination, etc. I’ve simply read the Daily Office; I didn’t handpick the verses that I read. Each day that I’ve actually read it (it’s not daily), God has been faithful in giving me what He wanted to show me. “What you’d like it to say.” Wow.

So examining my privilege is a concern that’s “foreign to the Biblical text?” And trying to be introspective about my obliviousness to what other categories of people experience makes me a Marxist? I thought it was just part of the process of learning how to speak the truth in love to other people (Ephesians 4:15). I thought it was part of learning how to be a servant to all (Mark 10:44). I thought it was part of cultivating love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

The irony is that being introspective about your privilege, bias, worldview, or whatever you want to call it is precisely what worldviewism purports to be about (though I’ve only seen it deployed as a red herring tactic to torpedo other peoples’ arguments). It’s actually a populist bastardization of postmodern deconstructionism if you think about it. The idea of trying to comb through another person’s arguments for evidence of unacknowledged motives or agendas is what deconstruction is, whether you’re looking for “Marxist secular humanism” or looking for privilege. So worldviewism itself is already “corrupted” by postmodernism and self-invalidated according to its own impossible rubric.

The reason that I don’t fall over when somebody tries to throw out the “Marx” bogeyman on me is because I believe that all truth belongs to God. Atheists can know truth. Buddhists can know truth. I just believe the Christian story is the truest representation of reality. But it’s certainly not the case that everything outside of Christianity is utterly bereft of truth. And whatever truths Marx or anyone else has discovered are just remixes of truths that have been revealed before using different language and slightly different paradigms, some of which are canonically bound inside of scripture.

Marx has helpful insights to offer about the way that capitalism sucks the intrinsic value out of life by making the exchange of value the central activity in the universe, which causes us to look at the world as a marketplace of commodities rather than a garden of God’s gifts (or see the church as a conversion-experience producing enterprise rather than a kingdom of disciples).

Marx completely misunderstood religion because he’s a materialist, the tragedy being that sacraments are the only real resistance to the monstrous force that is turning everything in our world into commodities. Without any concept of transcendence, there is no escape from the hegemony of the market. The only effective antidote to capitalism is not communism but fully sacramental, kingdom-based Christianity (as opposed to the fake religion of suburbianity that goes by the name “Christian” throughout America).

I didn’t need to read Marx to know that. I only needed to read Augustine. Marx did give me more precise language by providing the term commodity. Augustine would have just talked about the ways of the city of man. Of course, Augustine needed a little Platonism to understand how to explain what it means that “in [Christ] all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16), using the eternal/temporal duality to explain the sacramental infusion of Creator in creation.

Throughout Christian history, God has used non-Christian resources to help Christians gain a better grasp of our canonical truths. In some cases, this has gone poorly. The Platonism really did major damage to the Christian theology of the body. But none of us can retreat to some solipsistic Cartesian study in which to read our Bibles; we will always bring our context with us.

Recently, I read James K.A. Smith’s The Fall of Interpretation which critiques the modernist quest for an unmediated encounter with truth, or as our friend put it: “what [truth] actually says rather than what you’d like it to say.” Smith’s point is that we are always already in a mediated context when interacting with any kind of text. There is no vantage point that provides a univocal “what the text actually says” because the text always says what it says to people in a context.

One of the main projects of modernity has been to pretend that white people don’t have a context. We don’t have cultural biases like those people with ethnicity and customs and traditions do. We are simply rational. The reason that I talk about privilege is not because I secretly want to overthrow the US government and establish a communist dictatorship. It’s because I want to be cognizant of the ways that I’m making truth “what I’d like it to be” even though it’s impossible to purge them completely out of my system.

People who try to squelch any analysis of their privilege in Biblical interpretation reveal an anxiety that they will be caught claiming to “take God’s word for what it actually says” when in fact their privilege causes them to selectively hear “what they want it to say.” Hey just skip over that Matthew 25 chapter if you don’t like “liberation theology.” Be sure not to read about the Good Samaritan. Liberation theologian Jon Sobrino spent his whole book El Principio Misericordia meditating on the implications of that story. And be sure to cross Matthew 9:13 out of your Bible, because it’s dangerous to tell people to “go and find out what this means: ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice.’” That’s what ruined my life.

  • http://gravatar.com/qmommad qmommad

    :)

    • http://iona57.wordpress.com aspiringholyfool

      This thread prompted me to study a bit more about scripture and how it has evolved over time. Until the 1400s the bible was Latin, rewritten many times to fit Rome’s needs, and unavailable to 99.9% of humanity. For the next few hundred years all attempts to re-translate from the Greek and Hebrew originals was brutally squelched, with people being burned at the stake regularly, usually with their newly minted bibles providing the kindling. Scripture became the instrument of torture instead of liberation. This process continues today whenever we are told not to use our living relationship with the Holy Spirit to guide us. The truly revolutionary vision of Jesus of Nazareth calls us to open our hearts and lives to the outcast, the powerless and the condemned and to challenge all attempts to consolidate privilege and self-righteousness, especially when done in the name of the Lord. Assume this means deepening our awareness of how men wield power over women and all the ways we have of doing that and you will not be far from the way of the Christ.

      • Morgan Guyton

        The sum of what the Bible calls us to do is worship (loving God) and hospitality (loving neighbor). When we worship things other than God, we become inhospitable, nasty people. But some of the details are specific to cultural context.

      • http://cryptocatholic.com/ Dan Guy

        It’s hard to know where to begin with this oft-repeated tangle of lies and half-truths. The short version: that’s all lies and you should repent spreading it.

        Latin was, and still is, the official language of the Church. Until Vatican II in the 1960s, Latin was used for Scriptures and the Mass. Official documents are still written first in Latin, thereby not favoring any particular living language.

        In the Middle Ages, Latin was the language of the educated, even more so than English is the language of business today. Frequently, scholars would study at universities in other countries. University lectures were conducted in Latin to ensure that all could understand, regardless of their country of origin. So too, when attending Mass in other countries: regardless of the native tongue of the officiant and the congregation, the Mass was familiar and understood.

        The uneducated did not read or understand Latin, of course. (But then, they didn’t read their own language either.) Did this put them at a disadvantage during Mass? No. Except for the Scripture readings, the Mass follows a fixed order that was familiar regardless of the language used. And the homilies were in the language of the congregants, so they had no problems following the teachings of Scripture. Additionally, there were morality plays staged and the common man of the time had a much better understanding of the symbolic language used in the art and stained glass decorating the churches, all of which taught the Gospels to the uneducated.

        There were exceptions, of course; some European countries did have the Scriptures in their own languages. Bishop Ulfilas (318-388) created an alphabet for the Goths and translated the Old and New Testaments into their language soon after. In 411, St. Mesrop invented the Armenian alphabet and translated the Scriptures into Armenian using it. In the 9th century, St. Cyril and St. Methodus invented the Cyrillic alphabet (still used in Eastern Europe) for the Slavs and translated a Bible into Bulgarian. As you can see, the earliest translations of Scripture were done by Catholics who had to go so far as to invent the alphabet in order to do so!

        Parts of the OT, Psalms, and Revelation were translated into French as early as the seventh century; the whole thing was translated in the thirteenth century. We have found many parts of the Bible in German dating back as far as the seventh and eighth centuries, and the first complete translation into German is found in the fifteenth century, pre-dating the invention of printing and Luther’s own NT in 1522. The first complete Polish Bible was printed in 1561. A complete translation of Scripture into Italian was done in 1472. Portions were translated into Arabic in the 10th century, and a complete Arabic Bible was published in 1671 in Rome.

        Did the Church discourage people from reading and interpreting the Scriptures on their own, outside of the teaching authority of the Church? Absolutely. We can see from the scandal of Protestantism what happens when everyone goes their own way, proliferating schism and fresh denominations every day, causing deep divisions over minute differences in personal interpretation.

        The Church has always encouraged people to examine Scripture with its guidance, though. The Church composed the canon of Scripture and preserved it over the centuries. It has been at the work of studying and analyzing Scripture longer than anyone! The Church contains within it the vast majority of the great theological minds of the past two millenia, plus
        experts on language and culture and translation and historical context. It is criminal to shun such a resource.

        St. Jerome (340-420) said, “Not to know the Scriptures is not to know Christ.”

        The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) stated, “Among other things that pertain to salvation of the Christian peoples, the food of the Word of God is above all necessary, because as the body is nourished by material food, so is the soul nourished by spiritual food, since, ‘…not by bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4).

        The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “In Sacred Scripture, the church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, ‘but as what is really is, the word of God.” (103)

        “And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting font of spiritual life. Hence, access to Sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian faithful.” (131)

  • Dan Guy

    AMEN.

    I hadn’t heard of worldviewism before, but there is a chart on the wall of the Protestant school where my daughter takes cello lessons that divides worldviews in much the same way as your link, and which I have pondered on occasion.

    Addressing the Facebook comment from your drive-by commenter, liberation theology does run deep in certain Catholic circles, and I have long been suspicious of it, simply because those I’ve met who most espouse it are the ones committing the greatest number of liturgical abuses and promiting heresy. (The friar with whom my wife and I did our Pre-Canna, who was always extolling liberation theology, insisted that Church teachings were just suggestions for an ideal world, and that real life was more complicated and that we should do whatever we thought best.) I was very pleased to see that Pope Francis had, in his time in Argentina, taken a hard line against the theological abuses of liberation theology, even calling his fellow Jesuits to task over it, while still advocating social justice. And I am thrilled that prominent liberation theologians such as Leonardo Boff believe that Pope Francis will benefit their cause. He is, it seems (and I hope), a Pope who can unite both sides, reigning in liberation theology where it has gone astray while pushing the rest of us to reawaken to the need for social justice.

    It’s a hard thing for the privileged to confront that privilege, and God bless you for continuing to struggle with it.

    “I believe that all truth belongs to God. Atheists can know truth. Buddhists can know truth. I just believe the Christian story is the truest representation of reality. But it’s certainly not the case that everything outside of Christianity is utterly bereft of truth.” AMEN.

    Augustine said that every sin is a misdirected virtue, and I think that there is a parallel here. Marxism has a grain of truth that has been misdirected. Liberation theology starts with some measure of truth but, in some hands, has been misdirected. Truth can be found in many places, and it’s important that we have a clear, consistent theology by which to sift the truth from the falsehood and misdirection.

    “Maybe it’s time to drop some of your long-held beliefs and take God’s Word for what it actually says rather than what you’d like it to say.” Doesn’t he wish! This is the tragedy of sola scriptura, IMHO. A written work does not convey meaning; it is interpreted by the reader. It’s unavoidable. So we add in the Holy Spirit to guide us, and that’s a wonderful gift, but we are still so blinded by sin that most of us struggle to divine the true stirring of the Spirit from our own selfish desires. (I know that I do!) This, for me, is one of the appeals of the Magisterium: to have a third leg to the stool, promulgating a minimum of dogma, guaranteed (I believe) by Christ against error, by which I can test possible truths in order to screen out the demonstrably false.

    • Dan Guy

      I seem to have neologized there; I’m not sure if, when I wrote, “promiting”, I mean “promoting” or “permitting”. I suppose I meant both!

    • Morgan Guyton

      As you know, I find tradition extremely helpful and useful but not infallible. I’m probably always going to be a Protestant infatuated with Catholicism.

      • http://cryptocatholic.com/ Dan Guy

        No one ever claimed that tradition is infallible; I think you’re confusing it with dogma? Tradition is far from infallible; that’s why we are free to revise it as our understanding of the truth grows.

        • Morgan Guyton

          I think I call tradition what you call dogma.

          • http://cryptocatholic.com/ Dan Guy

            What do you call tradition then?

            It is important, when examining Catholicism, to understand the difference between tradition (e.g. priestly celibacy) and dogma (e.g. the trinity).

  • http://www.facebook.com/justin.hanvey Justin Hanvey

    Really, it does come down to “all truth is God’s truth.” everything has something to offer. Beware of the person who has decided what is truth and what is lie completely in each worldview though. Some stuff is obvious, other things not so much.

    • Morgan Guyton

      The point is to know how to interpret the other truths that we encounter. That’s what we need the canon for.

      • http://www.facebook.com/justin.hanvey Justin Hanvey

        Can agree with that.

  • Steven

    “Marx completely misunderstood religion because he’s a materialist, the tragedy being that sacraments are the only real resistance to the monstrous force that is turning everything in our world into commodities. Without any concept of transcendence, there is no escape from the hegemony of the market. The only effective antidote to capitalism is not communism bu;t fully sacramental, kingdom-based Christianity (as opposed to the fake religion of suburbianity that goes by the name “Christian” throughout America)”

    Amen to that, from a former card-carrying Marxist.
    Before the world can be transformed, our hearts must be.

    • Morgan Guyton

      Word!

    • Chris

      “Marx completely misunderstood religion because he’s a materialist, the tragedy being that sacraments are the only real resistance to the monstrous force that is turning everything in our world into commodities”

      “The only effective antidote to capitalism is not communism but fully sacramental, kingdom-based Christianity (as opposed to the fake religion of suburbianity that goes by the name “Christian” throughout America).”

      The king is dead, long live the king. I’m not so sure Marx wasn’t critiquing religion in the same way that you do later in this blog post. And when we look through history, and fail to find that fully sacramental, kingdom-based Christianity anywhere, but rather a religion that has always been corrupted by worldliness – in what do we base your preferred form of Christianity?

      • Morgan Guyton

        Slavoj Zizek writes in his In Defense of Lost Causes that just because communism has never worked doesn’t mean that the real communism that all of its failures never reached isn’t the ideal human society. I disagree with him because I don’t think you can avoid a Stalinist takeover without building your revolutionary movement around the liturgically instantiated body of a self-emptying God. But I would say what Zizek said about communism instead about the true Christian ekklesia versus all of our failures. When the Catholics say in their mass, “Lord, look not on our sins but on the faithfulness of your church,” there’s something to that. The ekklesia (out-calling) is pure and has always been pure. The institutions that we have formed in response to the ekklesia are corrupt and worldly. If we could really embrace the God whose nature is cruciform instead of saying that the Son was lynched to satisfy the blood-lust of his pagan Father, then we would become something that resembles true Christianity.

  • http://twitter.com/voluntaryaaron Aaron (@voluntaryaaron)

    If privilege concerns are foreign to the bible as your commentor stated then what were prophets like Amos doing, what was Mary doing in her Magnificat, what was Jesus doing in the Nazareth Manifesto? Were they not all addressing privilege in the forms and manifestations they had taken, especially with regard to worship and justice? It seems that the role of the prophet is at times exactly to point out when privilege is standing in the way of worship.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gup20 Ben Guptill

    Regarding Truth:
    1Jo 4:6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

    Morgan, this was an interesting read (this is the first time I’ve read your blog). One question that arose from reading for me was when you said, “Admittedly, I didn’t respond in a very Christian way to this. I ended up having to block the guy because he was bringing out the Satan in me.”

    What do you mean when you say you have Satan in you? I assume you don’t mean to say you are possessed by Satan. Are you making some kind of a Romans 7 reference? For some reason, in my mind this stood out more brightly than anything else.

    • Morgan Guyton

      In Hebrew and Greek, the words Satan and diabolos are not proper nouns; they have specific functional meanings: to satan another person is to accuse and heckle them; to diabolate another person means to “throw them into” (dia + ballo) disarray. So yeah, I was just using the term figuratively in a Romans 7 sense. I didn’t like how I was acting so I had to disengage.

      Regarding the 1 John quote, I would say it refers to how people *respond* to the testimony of the gospel, so it’s not saying that you can’t understand aspects of truth like physics and math unless you already know Jesus.

      • http://www.facebook.com/gup20 Ben Guptill

        My take on Romans 7 is this – Paul says “It isn’t me who sins, but sin in me.” My wife commented to me once that Paul was using a “cop-out” by saying “it’s not me, the devil made me do it.” But after pondering it, I came to the conclusion that Paul wasn’t saying “its not me, its the devil”… Paul is saying “its not me, its me.” Paul takes Romans 7 and 8 to discuss the split within himself between the spirit and the flesh. When Paul says “It’s not me, but sin in me” he is demonstrating what it is to live in the spirit. He is IDENTIFYING his “true self” as the righteous one who is in the spirit and his “false self” as the sinful one who is in the flesh. The battle between the two selves takes place in the only place they overlap – the mind. That’s why Paul says “the mind set on the spirit is life” or “the mind set on the flesh is death”.

        Do as Paul demonstrated and identify yourself as who you are in the Spirit, and you will avoid the trappings of the flesh.

        • Morgan Guyton

          Right. I would say that what happens when we accept Christ is that we take God’s side in the battle for our soul so that when He finally destroys the flesh that oppresses our spirit, it’s liberation for us, not a lake of fire.