Friday, September 5, 2008

The Rhetoric of Liberation

Post-modern deconstructionists make it their goal to reveal how ideologies and narratives mask and support power stuctures. Feminists scholars in particular have sought to overthrow patriarchal normativity in order to liberate women. With the nomination of Sarah Palin, the Republican Party has taken on the rhetoric of feminism in ways that do not match previous statements in order to support a platform which many feminists feel actually harms women.

The fact that various ideologies and organizations can use the same rhetoric to support different ends suggests that the rhetoric has no inherent value in and of itself and is instead merely a tool. This is something that Christianity has struggled with for some time. Historically many people have distrusted religion because of their awareness that politicians have used it solely as a means to power. I fear that a similar awareness of the use of feminism may lead to a distrust of those seeking to promote equality between genders. However, I believe that feminism, like all movements of liberation, is grounded in the Gospel of God's love for all people. God's love elevates no person above another. All movements of liberation, like the Gospel, will inevitably be twisted to support one institution of power or another. This is why God has given us doubt. Doubt is the gift that allows us to question the constructions of humanity and discern the grace of God. Doubt empowers us to identify when messages of hope and freedom are used by political, religious, economic, and social institutions to pacify and oppress. So despite what the Republican Party (among many other institutions, including the Democratic Party and the Church) would have us do, I encourage each of us to go about our day doubting. Doubt feminism, doubt religion, doubt the ideals you hold most dear, so that through doubt we might find courage to hope, and through hope have the strength to live the Gospel of liberation.


Landon said...

I'm very torn in my reaction to this post. On the one hand, I am a huge fan of doubt as a way of exposing the truth. On the other hand, I would be a much happier person if I could have anything resembling faith in anything (such as that the sun will rise tomorrow or that some action that I could take could possible matter at all). The problem with doubt is that it is far too effective a tool. Professor Mark Hinchliff often told his philosophy students that we should evaluate an idea by doing our best to destroy that idea, to find some flaw in it, like field testing a product. You keep the idea if you can't break it. The problem is that you can break anything, any idea. That's why faith is useful. Frankly, I'm very jealous of people who can have faith in something. As someone who has doubted my most firmly held beliefs and found them fatally flawed, and found everything that could replace them with to be at least as hopeless, I cannot advocate such extreme doubts. The only way I can make it through the day is with the hope that I will get better at lying to myself. To quote a great story crafter of our time, George R.R. Martin,

"The truths, the great truths--and most of the lesser ones as well--they are unbearable for most men. We find our shield in faith. Your faith, my faith, any faith. It doesn't matter, so long as we believe, really and truly believe, in whatever lie we cling to... believers are the happy ones, you know. They may believe in Christ or Buddha or Erika Stormjones, in reincarnation or immortality or nature, in the power of love or the platform of a political faction, but it all comes to the same thing. They believe. They are happy. It is the ones who have seen the truth who despair, and kill themselves. The truths are so vast, the faiths so little, so poorly made, so riddled with error and contradiction that we see around them and through them, and then we feel the weight of darkness upon us, and can no longer be happy... We know truth for the cruel instrument it is."

Ben Colahan said...

The easy response would be to say that that we need to always maintain a balance of doubt and faith. However, you and I know this does not truly address the question of what to do when there is no faith to begin with.

We walk in the valley of the shadow of post-modernism. You are right, in this place there are no green pastures of objective truth or still waters of certain faith. We have only our perceived experience to guide us through. Yet I hear you say that this is not enough, that we cannot exist experiencing life as a random and incoherent set of sensory impressions. I hear that we must interpret what we experience and give it meaning if we are to survive; yet every interpretation is equally valid and equally dismissible since there is no Truth. How then can we choose an interpretation when all are flawed?

By relying upon the only thing we have—our experience. In Paul Ricoeur’s words, we “wager.” We wager that we will experience a more meaningful and helpful existence if we allow ourselves to interpret our experience through the lens of a certain set of symbols. This is not an easy or fast process because you have to be willing to honestly allow yourself to experience all things through a symbolic framework to which you may not be accustomed. However, based on the post-modern premise that reality is what we subjectively perceive it to be, eventually the symbolic framework’s reality will be your reality.

The next question becomes which symbolic framework to wager on. If you have unlimited time on your hands, you could try wagering on every conceivable framework, and determine from your experience which is provides the most meaningful existence. However, if you are mortal, I might recommend limiting your options to the symbolic systems prevalent within your community. I say this primarily because humans are shaped by their environment. If we are currently functioning at any level it is because we are currently using some of the symbolic framework our culture has provided us. It will probably be easist to enter into a framework that has similarities to what we are already nomially using. Also, if a framework has existed for a long time, it suggests that it has proven beneficial to many people. Furthermore, picking a framework from your community has the benefit of allowing you to a similar reality with those around you--always a plus!

As a Christian, my symbolic framework understands this process as discernment, it is guided by the Holy Spirit calling all people to rest in God's love. ;)

Ben Colahan said...

Post-modern educational theorist, Parker Palmer struggles with what to teach in a "truthless" understanding of the world. Palmer address this problem by redefining truth, saying, "I understand truth as the passionate and disciplined process of inquiry and dialogue itself, as the dynamic conversation of a community that keeps testing old conclusions and coming into new ones."

As a Christian, I understand Truth to be God. I understand this process of communal discernment to be the active relationship of the members of the Church, which is the Body of Christ, and therefore God. Having a common symbolic framework with others allows us to communicate with others and be a conscious participant in this conversation just as a language does. A symbolic framework allows us to be part of Truth, to be part of God.

Daniel said...

We ride the ship of Theseus down-stream, trying to rebuild it even as we sail upon it.

Faith is extremely valuable.
Doubt is invaluable.

Our language should evolve to match our values.
Our values, well...
Faith is really a great thing to have.