Tag Archives: postmodernity

Beyond Belief: Postmodernity & Religion

As I have read more writing on postmodernism I have begun to question many of the assumptions that I have learned throughout my education career. Recently, I have begun to question my own belief about the study of religion. Specifically, through reading Anderson’s piece on postmodernism and religion I question my previous notions of what categorizes religion. I attended TCU as an undergraduate and religion was one of my majors. I chose religion as my major because I wanted to have an objective understanding of religion before deciding how committed I wanted to be in making ministry part of my career. My undergraduate career culminated with a senior seminar course in religion. Throughout this course we discussed various definitions of religion from Thomas Tweed, Fredrich Schleiermacher, Diane Eck, Anthony Pinn, and a variety of others who articulated various definitions of religion. I noticed at that time that many of those scholars were focused on objective views of religion. For me religion has always been something that a person feels. It is an internal conviction with various outward expressions that cannot be quantified. I chose to attend Brite and seminary in general as an attempt to formulate my own subjective ideology about religion. It is from this that I have come to understand religion as beyond traditional notions of belief. From understanding religion in a postmodern context I have come to several realizations.

I have wondered how the Judaeo-Christian context as well as the Western context of religion has influenced scholarship in the field of religious studies. Does Christianity continue to determine the central and privileged norms in global debates about culturally specific ritual practices, localized beliefs on suffering, life, death, and immortality? Certainly not all but there are definitely a great number of religious scholarships that dwells on religious aspects of life, death, and the afterlife. These tools for sifting through various religious beliefs are a decidedly modern Western Christian centric enterprise. Western Christianity’s fascination with the life death and resurrection narrative can taint the way other religion are viewed. For example, it is easy to study religions such as Buddhism and the concept of atman is often viewed as having the “no soul.” The term denotes detachment from a permanent sense of self. However, this is a Western Christian view of atman. The concept of Atman can also be used to describe universal impermanence as opposed to personal impermanence. Universal impermanence means that there are no absolutes. This view of atman allows for more religious plurality and does not confine religious constructs to monolithic interpretations.

I have also questioned to notion of belief as the decisive epistemological term with respect to defining religion. Religion can be easily defined based on the practices and beliefs that a pertinent to a particular group of people. For example, Ninian Smart uses a worldview analysis to describe various dimensions of religious beliefs. According to him there are seven different dimension: doctrinal, mythological, ritual, ethical, experiential, institutional, and the material. Ironically enough he uses these dimensions as a platform to get away from both Western and Christian quantifications on the study of comparative religions. His 1998 addition of the material dimension is proof of the arbitrary nature dimensional analysis. He limits the definition of religion to specific functions of a belief system with all seven aspects as important Western construction emphasis on how to compare religions. For me as I think of religion a major aspect of it that is that Smart misses is the ineffability of religion. What would Smart make of the various views on religion that are not expressed through a particular dimension? Not all aspect of a religion fit neatly into a particular category nor are they articulated as such from various worldviews.

Lastly, I have begun question the need for justification as a part of religious studies. Much of religious studies has focused on an obsession with the justification of a particular faith. Reason as the primary factor to appeal or analyze a particular religious concern seems to be another Western Christian tradition. A major part of early Christianity was the need for apologetics. During the first centuries of the Roman Empire, the early Christians were heavily persecuted for their beliefs. Many charges were brought against them for their seemingly absurd beliefs. Thus it became necessary for survival to depend on a proverbial defense of ones’ faith. This logic to justify faith has carried over into the present and many describe religion using apologetic even if they do so by using a different name. Reason becomes the principle point for analysis. I prefer to think of religion not based on how a faith is justified through reason but how it is experienced by both the individual and the community. Religion through experience for me is a pivotal turning point for the discourse of religion. The chief concern for me related to religion is not the question what do you believe rather it is how is it lived.

postmodern blackness in ABC's #Blackish @black_ishABC

This week I found great relevance in Tony Purvis’ article on postmodernism and television in The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism. In one of the opening statements of the chapter, he states that television is praised and censured for its ability to be the site of fantasy, ecstasy and pleasure. Ultimately the piece helped me to reflect on the question of whether or not television is still the site through which consensus norms and values are transmitted, as they were in the period of television’s modernity. I recently watched a series on ABC called Black-ish, which by its very titled screamed postdmodernism to me. I decided to use this show as a medium to provide my own analysis of postmodernism and television.

Image from Deadline.com

The very title of the series speaks to the complexities of the present in both the series and in the field of postmodernism. The title refers to a characteristic of not being a stereotyped urban black person or an urban black person with non-urban characteristics. This sets the background for the series. The show revolves around the lead character Andre Johnson and his family as they try to adjust to life in the suburbs. Through its treatment of cultural identity, postmodern subjectivity, and the generic boundaries of hybridization, the show Black-ish can be read in a postmodern context.

One aspect of postmodernity that recognizable in the show is its ability to blur generic boundaries of hybridization. It playfully makes use of self-referential preoccupation with the inner thought of Andre. Truth and falsehood are manufactured in various ways on the show. Thus it scantily totes the line between reality and Andre’s perception of reality. For example, on the first episode Andre feels like an animal at an exhibit as neighbors stare at his family as they pass by. This is clearly an example of how Andre’s thoughtful imagination influences the show. Yet there is no event to counter this reality. Thus it blurs the line between what is real and what is perceived as real by not clearly indicating a difference.

Realizing the plurality of perspectives is evident through many of different voice on the show. Andre and his father have different interpretations on what it means to black in a suburban setting. Simultaneously, Andre’s wife Rainbow and their children also have different interpretations of blackness. Laurence Fishburn’s character juxtasposes yet another example of blackness. Fishburn’s character plays the live-in father of Andre. He represents many of the traditional notions of blackness derived from the Civil Rights movement and its subsequent social impact.

They (the family) struggle to gain a sense of cultural identity in a predominantly white, upper-middle-class neighborhood. Black-ish for them refers to the ways that they have to redefine what it means to black in under a different social context. In the very first episode Andre is promoted to the Senior Vice President of Urban development. At first this promotion irritates him because he associates Urban Development with “minority stuff.” For his first project he submits to the other senior vice president his intention for urban development, which fit basically every conceivable stereotype for urban. By the end of the episode however he realizes that there is no one interpretation for the concept of urban. Urban only implies “minority stuff” if that is the way you choose to interpret it. Thus postmodern subjectivity is involved even in how the show defines itself. I think it is critical to understand that the show does not conceive of one definition of blackness and what it means to black under any context.

Quitting The Progressive Christian Internet: Weeds Along The Moral High Ground part 2

Towards A Liberationist Theological Account of Difference & Community Online

In the early 1980’s, after a long struggle with the federal government, the city of Louisville, Kentucky agreed to start busing students of primarily black neighborhoods to schools that were primarily white in order to comply with national regulations regarding racial integration. It was in this context that I experienced my early formation as a student.  My favorite subject was Social Studies where the history of the U.S. begins in Europe, with the Spaniards, French, and British racing to find a faster route to India. It was during Social Studies hour in the afternoon, I had the privilege of learning about Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, and George Washington’s military victories against the British redcoats.

In addition to Social Studies lessons, some of the more memorable history lessons during my elementary education came during Library Time. It was there that two or three classes would gather into a large room in the library, and the librarian would show us a video and lead a discussion on that’s day’s topic. I can recall two specific lessons in the particular, that speak to the rather ambivalent nature of my experience. One day we had the opportunity to learn about the origins of Hanukkah (yes, that’s right, at a public school). As a third-grader, this was the very first time I had encountered the topic of Jewish history or the story of the Maccabees. The way the lesson was framed (Hanukkah being compared to Christmas…slightly problematic),

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I was even a little jealous of my Jewish friends who had EIGHT days of “Christmas” presents. No fair!  The comparison of the Jewish holy days of Hanukkah and the Christian celebration of Christmas is problematic for a few reasons, but the two major ones are as follows: First, comparing holidays of two major religions works in favor of secularization (read: late capitalism) in the appropriation of religious symbols for a more unified national hegemony. And secondly, this comparison fails because it inhibits both nonreligious and religious persons from being able to appreciate the uniqueness and particularity of the Jewish and Christian stories.

The other lesson that has always somehow stuck with me was the video on Christopher Columbus informing us of the background for Christopher Columbus Day. It was inexplicable why we (the students) still had to come to school on a federal holiday, but we did learn that Columbus sailed out to find India with the explicitly Christian blessing of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand of Spain. The “discovery” by Christopher Columbus plus the scholarship of Amerigo Vespucci were presented to us (the students) as world changing events; however there were no mentioning of Columbus’ letters to the royal family where he shared his most enduring innovation with the world: White Supremacy.

In my first part for this series, I talked about how much of the theological debates online have occurred between essentially three parties: the view from the Top/Down Privileged, the Middle Way (still Top Down) Privileged, and the Bottom Up Marginalized perspective. Part of that discussion highlighted some of the ways that members of the Dominant culture use language to hide their power. As I continue to experiment with a Liberationist Political theology for online behavior, in this post, I plan to look at the way privileged members of our society create communities, and work to sustain their privilege and retain control of THE Narrative. Whenever privileged persons label detractors as “angry,” “agitators,” “ideological (READ: unable to be civil and objective as white people)”, and “alarmists” who write with extremist radical strokes, they are continuing the White Supremacist, Male Supremacist colonial legacy of Christopher Columbus. “Quitters” of the Progressive Christian Internet bank on unhealthy forms of community (both in real life & online) all the while denouncing #EmpireBusiness while profiting from it.

New Communities And Spiritualities

Part of Zach Hoag’s beef with what he called, “The Progressive Christian Internet” was that “And in the attempt to be ideologically Progressive, it often fails to be substantially Christian. […] Love for God and neighbor are nowhere to be found, overwhelmed by pharisaical posturing.” Further more, Hoag contends that social media such as Twitter and Facebook as well as the Christian Blogosphere had “fostered a disconnect between the Progressive Christian Internetter and rooted, relational church realities, such that the ideology expressed online has become an end in itself rather than a means tethered to the end of ecclesia.”

For Hoag and the “Quitters” of the Progressive Christian Internet, Social-Justice oriented Christians have been found lacking in the area of virtue. In fact, so much so, that Hoag has described his critics as the the modern-day Pharisees who do not show love for God or neighbor. Like many evangelicals and post-evangelicals, “Quitters” of the Progressive Christian Internet portray the Pharisee Jewish party of Jesus’ first century C.E. context as obstacles to overcome.  Pharisees are the cold-hearted legalistic enemies against Jesus’ “grace-filled”civilized ways. This popular negative depiction of Pharisees has a long history of anti-Judaism, and fails to recognize that Jesus the Messiah and the apostle  Paul were having self-critical intragroup religious conversations. The injunction of “Pharisee” as a derogatory label against one’s “enemies” not only fails to show love for YHWH or our Jewish  neighbors, but it also is symptomatic of “Quitters” of the PCI and their inability to appreciate difference.

Also according to Hoag, the Progressive Christian Internetter violates White PostEvangelical (ever-changing) rules about civility, and being “grace-filled”, and more importantly: RELATIONAL! Angry Twittervists, YALL, they just ain’t RELATIONal enough! Co-Opting on the rise of postmodern neo-liberal discourse, Missional Christians use “RELATIONAL” as a catch-all phrase to shame people who have honest disagreements with their theologies. The use of “RELATIONAL” as a weapon void of any affirmation of difference means that it (relational theology, ecclessiology, etc) is just another tool for White Hegemony.

WHO WANTS TO BE RELATIONAL? ANYONE? ANYONE?

WHO WANTS TO BE RELATIONAL? ANYONE? ANYONE?

One example of “Relational” as Weaponized Discourse is the story I referred to in part one of this series. I had two friends write an email to Missio Alliance, and the response by Missio Alliance leaders included framing the discussion as my friends being the “angry rabble rousers.” The racist and sexist version of AnaBaptist Christianity that the PostChristendom conference was advertising was said to be only an “accidental” outcome. Predictably, Missio Alliance’s response to my friends called for a more “constructive and relational conversation” on these “issues.” While claiming to be advancing peace between brothers (Romans 12:8), there was a different story being told behind the scenes, as I demonstrated in part 1, that of referring to my friends’ actions as vengeful, violent, and lacking humility. I hope you (the audience) had a chance to reflect on what it means to call an e-mail campaign “violence,” because this can only make sense within the logic of Christopher Columbus-bred White Supremacy/Male Supremacy.

One of my friends was asked to provide consultation in regards to making the Missio Alliance more diverse and more reflective of the AnaBaptist movement worldwide. The original letter that was filled with concern for MA’s conference that was held last week, pointed to five suggestions by my friend:

“a) The hegemony of the all-white male organizing committee members take a step back so that minority members could be a part of the planning process, so that a committee more representational of the diversity in Anabaptism would be reflected

b) That the location of the actual conference be somewhere outside of the suburbs and therefore more accessible to persons of color as well as whites. Since from the get-go, the idea was to host the conference in Pennsylvania, there are a myriad of choices in this regard. c) That its presenters specifically tackle issues that disproportionately affect non-whites, such as shooting, mass incarceration, poverty, etc.–all important issues of peacemaking, and since these issues will not be addressed until the dominant culture has skin in the game they must be taken seriously by the dominant white culture. d) That the demographics of those presenting as Keynote Speakers truly represent the vast diversity found in the larger Anabaptist movement in North America e) That these diverse presenters not be tokenized, but genuinely appreciated as expert speakers on the issues presented at the conference”

The original intent of the letter’s authors was to work to ensure that “the Anabaptist movement in North America is not dominated by white male hegemony and homogeneity.” What were the “acts of violence” advocated by the authors? Their desire: “we are encouraging all of those interested to respond to this email (and to disseminate it to friends and allies)” in order to place institutional pressure on Missio Alliance since it was claiming to speak for AnaBaptists in North America. These simple suggestions would be reasonable considering the fact that denominations such as Mennonite Church, USA’s Central District is committed to racial justice and celebrating cultural difference with events such as Black Mennonite Women Rock! and the Urban Anabaptist Ministry Symposium next month.

Progressive Christian Internet “Quitters” And Forced Teaming

When I look back on my socialization during Social Studies hour or Library Time, I think back to all the times I could hear, “Christopher Columbus did it for us. We did it! Yeah US!” (my apologies to the First Nations people and Leif Erickson) I remember all those times I was never allowed to ask, who is “we”, and why should I trust this “us”? I think back to learning about the Declaration Of Independence where the Founders wrote, “WE” hold these truths to be self-evident that ALL MEN are created equal. Who was this “we” and why should I trust “us”? The “WE” was and still is White men who own property, Christopher Columbus writ large. Some of the critical feedback I received from my first post in this series was that it was very America-centric in orientation. Having been told by a famous British theologian that all discussions pertaining to race have America at the center, I am familiar with this line of argument. This assumes that racism is not a problem in Western Europe. On the contrary, White Supremacy & Anti-Blackness is a global phenomenom and will always rely on a narrative of White Saviorship. It seems like Social Studies hour just isn’t for elementary students anymore:

Because my love for Social Studies grew into a love for Political Science, I became familiar with the term “hegemony.” Oppressive Institutions are fueled by oppressive mythologies plus practices. Part of what helped me as a kid to break out of accepting hegemonic forms of storytelling is to read the stories of the marginalized, the histories of First Nations peoples, biographies of renowned Black persons, and women. I had up until recently articulating the hegemonic mindset of the (actual) Progressive Christian Internet until I came across a post by my friend Sarah Moon: No, We’re Not On The Same Side, in which she talked about the notion of forced teaming. Forced Teaming is like political hegemony, but take place on primarily an interpersonal personal level. According to Moon, “Not everyone who uses forced teaming is intentionally trying to manipulate you, but that does not mean it is not a manipulative tactic that we should be careful to avoid using and be aware of when it is used on us.” In many ways, Political Hegemony and Forced Teaming intersect.

I gave the example of The Declaration of Independence earlier “We” hold these truths (whose truth? where was it presented?). The questioning of the “We,” “this universal US” is always the most dangerous questions. If you ask these hard questions, not only will you be labelled “rude,” but unloving, judgmental, angry, hypercritical, oversensitive. Whether it is Michelle Goldberg bemoaning the dark toxic twitter wars because her sense of sisterhood has been disrupted by those uppity Women of Color, or white male Christian bloggers having the sads because not all Christian feminists think alike, the forced teaming rhetoric of “We The Sisterhood of Feminists” or “We The Formerly Conservative Evangelicals Now Progressive Christians” facilitate the Columbusing of online discourse. OH MY GAWDZ, LOOK A BLACK TWITTER!

The injunction of RELATIONAL as an adjective to notions of justice and reconciliation is one of the ways that “Quitters” of the Progressive Christian Internet manipulate audiences and critics in favor of forced teaming online. From a Liberationist perspective, a Bottom-Up approach to online communities would first of all, be forth right about as well as affirming of the variations of human experiences rather than presuming THE ONE GENERAL HUMAN EXPERIENCE. This would also mean a commitment to honesty, a truthfulness that is not sugarcoated in the name of preserving personal brands. Indeed, such a view requires a taking of risks on the part of people of privilege. In order for more just relationships to take place both in the virtual world and real world, privileged persons must be informed of what are the barriers to them being considered trustworthy accomplices in the struggle for justice.

In the words of Austin Channing, “Diversity without justice is assimilation.”

In my third and final offering in this series, I will take a look at the Progressive Christian Internet and its approaches to Leadership.