Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Case Against Reductionism

I am presently reading RUMORS of Another World, by Philip Yancey. It’s a book that my mom bought but didn’t like, so she gave it to my daughter, who didn’t have time to read so gave to me, which I put into my suitcase at the last minute before we left the states. Maybe it was Providence that I ended up with book; more likely it was sheer chance. That comment alone tells you why I like the book.

Yancey, McLaren, Lewis, Guinness are as much Christian philosophers as they are writers. Only McLaren comes out of the closet and declares he is a postmodernist, but the others are on the edge. It all comes down to definition of what is a postmodernist, but what they all have in common is their approach to the probing questions of the universe and the Creator of it all without coming to definitive conclusions. While they, in their own minds, have found plausible answers, in the end their arguments remain supposition. Writers, like Yancey, who has been a recovering fundamentalist for thirty years, reject the notion of easy believism for a more post-Enlightenment style that is more systematic and less reductionist.

Take the concept of sin as an example. Biological reductionist would suggest that bad behavior is the result of a malfunction of a genetic makeup. Psychologists contend that it’s due to emotional scarring through a dysfunctional family upbringing; sociologist might say the reason is because of a hostile social environment. Of course all of these may be true, in part, but blaming deviant behavior on the sugar content in Twinkies (as one convict claimed) is a more of a defense to avoid taking personal responsibility that recognizing the root cause.

Theological reductionism is the stuff that makes postmodernist cringe and Christian booksellers grin. Sin, according to those with the answers, is a result of not having enough faith, too little Bible study, not following proper study methods, a lack of submission (to God, husband or church), not having a positive attitude, withholding the tithe, following the fashions of the world, watching movies, listening to secular music, reading romance novels or, God help us, listening to someone who doesn’t declare “Thus saith the Lord.” One can jump through a thousand spiritual hoops or lifestyle modifications and, guess what, we will still sin. It’s not the devil that made us do it, we were not predestined to leave our spouse or cheat on our taxes, we made a conscious and deliberate decision. Why? Because we are sinners, we were born in sin. The depravity of man is one of the few theological reductionist views I hold, which runs contrary to the reductionism of science. However, like my biological DNA, the fact that I am born in sin cannot, does not, excuse me. “You know me, Lord, I’m just a sinner,” doesn’t give me a pass to be greedy, lustful, prideful or boastful.

Books like RUMORS remind me that this journey called life is both a process as well as discovery. If there were a magic formula to knowing God it would have been revealed by now. Yancey, and others like him, do not show us the way, they merely point the possible avenues. In this age of “give me the answers, not the questions,” such books may not satisfy, unless, like me, you have come to the realization that living with ambiguity is part of the God of mystery. It’s rumored there is another world. It’s rumored there is a greater power who is the architect of the universe and that designer seeks a relationship with His creation. I believe the rumor is true. I see in part, but not the whole. I’m intrigued with the mystery; I am not satisfied with the reductionism of others.