Tuesday, January 06, 2009

a universal dual

I have been struggling for three years or more to escape from one universe into another. Wandering and flailing in the dark, gathering snatches of truth from rumor and hearsay, leaving the familiar paths of habit--catchphrases and methods--and striking out into the woods after this or that light or landmark.

When I say universe I'm speaking of a universe of meaning: familiar symbols, habits, and assumptions that fix the stars and horizons that make up the mental furniture of daily life. Human beings exist in a meaning universe more directly than the physical one. Ask the reductionist-materalist how difficult it is to truly cleave to the "nothing but" of things and then watch them realize that this, too--this arrival at the bare whatness of objects in the physical universe is just another shaping of the mental universe of meaning. That's the double-edge of Kant's great divide: even the scientist is a phenomenologist.

I didn't furiously start and break into the forest chasing after a new universe. You don't realize you've left a path until it is long behind you. It starts with tiny deviations. "Look at that over there!" Then a quick investigation to get a better view. Soon you've left the trail behind.

The first steps were quite simple: the resolution that matter is not of itself a sinful thing. The body too can hope. An eschatological lean toward the Postmillenial end of Amillenialsm. A strict habit of avoiding material notions about godself so that the triune being is not a thing among things. A denial of the present-day urge to use the doctrine of providence as a divining rod. A realization that it is modernity that values authenticity, this baptized in "God has a plan for my life" (the kingdom of God recruits worshipers for God's sake, not for the sake of a realization of one's inner you.) Leaving Anabaptist traditions behind and joining an Episcopal church. These all taken together slowly lead away from that universe that others have called the enchanted universe.

Just naming the darn thing took years. The enchanted universe--yes! I've blogged about this before. This is the universe in which the Christianity of my youth dwells. Naming the other universe has taken nearly as much time. I'm an alien and a stranger to it after all. Moving in large rooms by candlelight. Nothing is familiar. This is the sacramental universe.

I've not fully arrived in the latter. And so much of the habits of mind and the phrases that go with being a Christian go with the former, it has been an odd process of sorting it all out. The brits have pants but call them trousers. Both universes have the word "worship" but mean very different things. It is a repatriation.

Here are a few things I've discovered: One fundamental difference between the two is the way each understands the relationship between God and the world. The god of the enchanted universe is far away, though invoked and expected in the smallest parts of daily life with great fervency. Matter in the enchanted universe is hopeless, the world will burn up and the soul will one day put aside the body and go on to a better realm. The god of the sacramental universe is astonishingly close, though far less invoked and expected in daily life. One expects laterally, the way that plants grow or time flows in unnoticeable continuity that evades the most intense awareness. Matter has hope, the world will be redeemed and transformed, and human beings will go into the new creation as embodied persons, transformed, yes, but still human beings. The eschatologies are different, and so is the drama. Warfare characterizes the former; wonder the latter--at least in my experience.

The way religion and science relate to one another is also very different depending on which universe you inhabit. In the former, science is a helpful maker of comforts but is not allowed to say anything of real importance. In the latter, science is taken seriously. It is not embraced, but it becomes a partner in dialogue. If one is a Christian coming up in an enchanted universe, the only option available if you take the scientific route is to put things in tight boxes, otherwise there is no motivation to engage in the mental and physical rigor of scientific investigation. If one grows up in a sacramental universe, there is a great deal of motivation to pursue the sciences, perhaps more motivation than if one grows up an agnostic.

At any rate, the doctrine of revelation is far different in the two universes. In an enchanted universe, revelation is immanent and pregnant in all things, what is necessary are the keys to its discovery. It is personal, and so God is personal. In a sacramental universe, revelation is restricted to word and sacrament: and perhaps even to word through sacrament (word governed by sacrament). It is largely impersonal, though one's person is caught up in the story. God became a person, and so what is confessed is a God in three persons. The self is wholly at the center of the enchanted universe; God's redemptive purpose at the center of the sacramental one. Faith is also differently understood. In the former faith is a Kierkegaardian leap full of the will and human drama; in the latter it is a signpost planted by the Holy Spirit sticking stubbornly from one's own rocky heart, sometimes a beacon but most times a nuisance.

; ; ;