27 March 2006

Evidence that demands a verdict?

Travis Stanley, who commented on an earlier posting in this blog, has an interesting blog himself, and one of his postings, on Asking questions in theology set me thinking, especially at the point where he mentions the "Evidentiary" aproach to Christian witness.

There's been a great deal of talk of "inculturation" and "contextualisation" in my field (missiology), but one of the things that few people comment on is how Western Christianity has been inculturated into the worldview and mindset of modernity, and I think that the "evidentialism" Travis Stanley speaks of is part of that.

John Ralston Saul in his book Voltaire's bastards: the dictatorship of Reason in the West makes the point that at the core of the dictatorship of Reason was the idea that to every question there must be an answer, and that this notion led directly to the totalitarianism of the 20th century. If there is an answer to every question, then torture is justified. Hitler's Gestapo, Stalin's KGB, and Vorster's Security Police were justified in torturing people when questioning them.

As an Orthodox Christian, I was interested in the comment of one Anglican who visited our parish: the problem with the Orthodox Church, she said, was that "it never experienced the Enlightenment." Well, there's something in that, though it wasn't for lack of "enlighteners" who sought to impose it -- from Peter the Great to the Bolsheviks.

Someone else commented that the Eastern Church was not influenced by Aquinas; its methodology is different from that of the West. Not only did it not experience the Enlightenment, it did not experience much of those other two pillars of modernity, the Renaissance and Reformation. So the Orthodox Church tends to have a premodern outlook.

But if culture, at least in places, is moving from modernity to postmodernity, however gradually, and in fits and starts, the "evidentiary" approach will not be of much use. And I have a suspicion that so-called "Islamic fundamentalism" is also a manifestation of modernity. Early modern Europe was characterised by witch hunts; nowadays people like to call witch hunts "medieval", but that is anachronistic. The witch hunts happened in a society that was on the cusp of modernity and premodernity. And it is in societies similarly caught between modernity and premodernity in Africa today that witch hunts ore common today.

And the same kind of mentality is emerging in Islam, as people in Islamic countries are really trying to come to grips with the worldview of modernity.

And one also sees the same kind of mentality emerging in Orthodoxy as well. At an Orthodox mission conference I attended about 10 years ago, Francis Schaeffer, a prominent convert to Orthodoxy from American evangelicalism, called for a kulturkampf. His paper was a sustained attack on certain aspects of contemporary American culture, though without much Orthodox theological backing. He called for "an Orthodoxy with teeth."

A Russian bishop who was present, speaking through an interpreter, responded, You call for an Orthodoxy with teeth, but are you sure that the people you want to bite will not grow bigger teeth and turn round and bite you? We have people in Russia who talk like you. They were in the KGB, and now that they have become Orthodox they think that they can use the same methods they used in the KGB to make people Orthodox. We call them "Orthodox Bolsheviks".

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