Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Offensive

Like most people, I have a few well-meaning friends who send me e-mails containing no personal correspondence whatsoever, but bits of humor the friend thought I might appreciate. Sometimes I do. Other times, I wonder how much the person thought about who they were sending the stuff to before hitting the "send" button. Here's an example:
Postmodern Liturgy

Leader:
The Lord
be with you.

Persons of all genders, creeds, theologies, ideological backgrounds including but not limited to Christianity in all its denominational forms:
And also with you, providing you are not referring to a gender-specific denominational-claiming deity, but, if you are, that's okay.

Leader: Let us lift up our hearts.

Persons of all genders, creeds, theo… yada yada yada : We, being both the collective body gathered here as well as the collective persons living on the earth, who may or may not want to be included in the pronoun we, do lift them up to the Lord with the understanding that the word "up" is not the only way to recognize the direction of an all-loving but still judging God, because that God is not just up but all around us.

Leader: Let us give thanks to God...

Same group as before: It is right, though not entirely required, based on the idea that right may be geographically influenced to give him/her/it/father/mother/sister/brother thanks and praise, which can be expressed in a multitude of ways with the understanding that no one way is the actual way preferred by the aforementioned deity.

Leader: It is a right and good and joyful thing always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father, Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

People: Yeah, whatever.

Although I'm not unsympathetic to some of the concerns here, I can't help but feel that such humor, specifically referencing the liturgy of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, isn't entirely innocent, but rather is a veiled attack upon a particular group of believers already decried by many "conservatives" as falling from the paths of orthodoxy (a claim many conservatives within the Anglican Communion may themselves agree with, but the point remains that the group certainly isn't homogeneously "conservative" nor "liberal").

I know the person who sent this humor (who presumably is not the original source of it) enough to know that he holds a deep concern about issues of "postmodernism," "liberalism," and "political correctness." However, this piece, which specifically claims to be about "postmodernism," belies a failure to understand what "postmodernism" is really about. "Postmodernism" is not an "anything goes" type of theology. Neither is "anything goes" truly a hallmark of "liberalism" (certainly not among religious liberals). The fact is, many people on opposite sides of the "conservative/liberal" spectrum would agree that "anything goes" would be a bad thing! Although people who consider themselves "postmodern" do seek to learn from a wide variety of traditions, they are perfectly willing to dismiss certain doctrines as "wrong." All that's left to create the difference between "postmodern" Christians and other believers is the criteria by which teachings are assessed.

I also mentioned my friend's concern about "political correctness," which he tends to define as a desire not to cause offense to anyone for any reason. This desire not to cause offense definitely seems to be one of the targets of this e-mail, despite the lack of overt mention of "political correctness" (which I would again argue has been misinterpreted) in the piece itself.

But let's grant for the sake of argument that "postmoderns" don't wish to cause offense to anyone (is that such a bad thing?). It seems to me that one of the hallmarks of the modern conservative movement is the willingness to cause offense in the name of "defending the truth of God." I'm not sure God (who conservatives would certainly argue is all-powerful) needs defending, but that's beside the point. I have suggested many times over that conservatives often defeat themselves by their offensive tactics. Perhaps if they sought to be a bit less "offensive," more people would agree with them! It's not like I think conservatives are wrong on everything! In fact, I think it's safe to say that I agree with them on all of the most essential matters. It just seems that one or two "important, but not essential" (to borrow a phrase from one of my professors) matters take up all of our attention.

But the reality is that, once in a while, offense will (and must) be caused in the defense of what we believe is right. This is unavoidable. But this does not give us license to "be offensive" whenever we feel that what we hold to be true is threatened. Ultimately, a lot of this discussion boils down to tolerance. We have several options when confronted with positions that we ourselves do not hold:
  • Do we allow those who are "unlike us" into our lives? This is essential to dialogue, not to mention conversion, but does indeed risk the possibility that we might be changed ourselves.
  • Do we fight against these positions? There are indeed some evils that must be fought.
  • Or do we retreat entirely, allowing those "unlike us" to continue to exist, but only so long as we do not have to interact with them in any meaningful way. This may seem an unattractive or undesirable option, but it may be the best alternative. In fact, Slacktivist cites the example of the Amish as a group of people who advocate for such separation. He argues that this option is preferable to the ideal of "conquest" and "domination" that many conservatives advocate.
I do not mean to suggest that any one of these possibilities is the "right" answer. As with most things, the best option will depend on the circumstances. Of course, that lack of willingness to advocate a singular response for all situations may well be what gets me criticism for being too "postmodern."

Oh, well....

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