Thursday, October 06, 2005

Another guest blogger

Here's an e-mail from my New York buddy Candace, yet another person freshly back from Kazakhstan with an adopted kid. She's theologically rather liberal (in that respect like Jim), but I think quite Fact-oriented (in that respect like me), making for a very interesting third voice in the discussion. Here, with her kind permission, is her e-mail, and my response.

From Candace, to Kenny

I wrote a long comment last night [to this post] – that would have forced your friend, Alexandra – to withdraw your designation as the world’s longest blog commentator. ...continue reading... However, that comment got lost in cyberspace, which is just as well, since it was drafted after a very long day that concluded with too much wine. So, with luck, this comment will be both shorter and more coherent.

I think “therapy” is bothersome not because it implies sickness but because it connotes narcissism. “Fulfillment” is therefore at least as problematic. I certainly do not mean to suggest that there is something wrong with seeking mental health services, or that personal satisfaction is a bad thing. However, insisting that the liberal perspective is defined (and limited) by a focus on the Ego/I strikes me as wrong.

Indeed, if, as your CRHP buddy suggests, the function of the metaphor is to define the primary appeal of religion to various types of folks, a word that is more about Community/We would seem to me more descriptive of the liberal position. You know the Family of Man, It Takes a Village…., etc.

The problem, of course, is that I am not entirely convinced that the theological conservative is really looking for anything that different, i.e. aren’t we all seeking, at some level, meaning via a sense of belonging? So, perhaps we are talking about primary motivation.

And, if that is the case, it does seem to me fair to say that the liberal (in both the theological and civil senses) is willing to forego some rules/laws in order to maximize the sense of Community/We…. Or at any rate, to leave significant sets of decisions to individual discretion. In that formulation, the conservative believes that the liberal has left altogether too many decisions to individual discretion and that by so doing, the liberal has denied or ignored inherent Truths.

Which leads me to my final observation, we must be careful when we conflate Law and Truth. The liberal who asks, “whose truth?,” suggesting that truth is relative, is, I think missing the point. There can be only one Truth. Laws are an attempt to express and enforce aspects of the Truth as accepted by significant bodies of individuals. Laws may or may not succeed in that goal.

The truly interesting questions, therefore, are, Is Truth knowable? To the extent that it is, of what does it consist? And, which laws are necessary to its recognition? These are questions, it seems to this liberal, with which every individual is compelled to struggle, and that will certainly be answered differently by different individuals. The struggle itself, however, if it is to have validity, must be a process somewhat similar to scientific inquiry, i.e. a posing of questions, examination of facts, testing of hypotheses, and analysis of results.

Nobody is better on these issues (albeit in a civil context) than the brilliant conservative intellectual, Hadley Arkes. Although he reaches different conclusions than I do.

From Kenny, back to Candace


"There can be only one Truth." You Fact-oriented person, you. ;-)

Really and truly, you are so Fact-oriented, Science-oriented -- when I first named the metaphors (all of them except Family have gone through several different labels, by the way, as I try to find les mots perfectly justes) the "Fact" orientation started off as "Science." As you say, "The struggle itself, however, if it is to have validity, must be a process somewhat similar to scientific inquiry, i.e. a posing of questions, examination of facts, testing of hypotheses, and analysis of results." I couldn't agree more -- but then I'm also a Fact guy, that is, almost by definition a person who thinks that religious thought requires the same type of rigor and vigor that scientists bring to their passion for unraveling material causality. To a Fulfillment/Results-oriented person, "validity" is a completely different realm: what works for you?

You ask me why I'm a Christian, and I start giving historical evidence for the Resurrection. You ask my buddy Naj why he's a Muslim, and he starts giving you evidence of the Prophet's (peace be on him) holiness. But you ask half a dozen of my Results-oriented friends who were briefly Christians back in college why they are no longer Christians, and they don't say, "Because the evidence is against it." They say, "Look, I tried Christianity, and it just didn't work for me." For you (I think) and for me (I know), Candace, the validity of a religious opinion must ultimately be determined by the facts, by the truth, as best as we can establish it after an honest and careful examination. For a great many of my friends, by contrast, the validity of a religious opinion is determined by whether the perceived experiences resulting from holding the opinion have been / are expected to be satisfactory.

Really, please don't get "liberal/conservative" confused with "Fact/Results/Family" or whatever. You have liberal positions, but you communicate those positions in heavily Fact-oriented language -- which means I'll probably have more fun talking to you than to practically anybody else around, because there's nothing nicer (if one is a Fact-oriented person who loves learning new things) than a person who agrees that it's important to figure out the truth, yet completely disagrees with you about what the truth is...

In other words, you don't sound remotely like the countless people who've assured me that "there's no absolute truth in religion" and meant by that (not that this is necessarily what Jim means) "so we should all feel free to choose whichever set of religious beliefs suits our temperament 'cause it doesn't really matter what you believe anyway as long as you're sincere and it works for you." I think that you and I, if we were to uncover an area of religious disagreement, would both naturally say, "So what's the evidence?" The Results-oriented would be much more likely to say, "So what's the problem?" Or, if they are more to the extreme end of the Results spectrum, "So what's the point?" And the Family-oriented person would most likely say, "My People just don't look at it that way."

But really, of the three families of metaphors, one envisions religion as having principally to do with the objective facts; one envisions religion as having primarily to do with getting the desired results; and one envisions religion as being mostly a matter of loyalty and relationships. And you tell different narratives, with different words or (more confusingly) with identical words but with radically different connotations, based on which of those three angles you come at religion from.

I really HAVE to get a good post written on this instead of this disorganized ad hoc stuff I'm doing...very sorry that you're having to work out what I'm trying to get at with so little help from me.


UPDATE: It would perhaps help to draw a comparison to the love languages. If you are a woman whose love language is quality time, and your husband washes the dishes for you one night when you're tired (acts of service), you will be grateful. If you stop and think about, you may even recognize that it's a sign that he loves you. But it will not make you feel loved and cherished. And when somebody starts talking about "love," you will, without even thinking about it, envision spending time in deep conversation with your beloved, rather than envisioning the two of you doing nice things for each other. You like and want gifts; you like and want help; but when somebody says "love" you default to an internal narrative of time spent intimately together.

In the same way, most of the people who will tell you that there is no absolute truth in religion or that you ought not legislate morality for other people, will turn right around and condemn you for being "intolerant" or "racist" for all the world as though intolerance and racism were really immoral for everybody; and obviously they are proceeding from a set of factual assumptions (they assume, for example, that either there is no God or else that God won't sent you to hell for getting your opinions about him wrong). And they certainly will want to see religion contribute to the richness of their family life, and they generally think it's a good thing to honor one's own cultural heritage. But still, when they turn their attention to religion, they drop by default into a narrative of "getting good results."

Fact-oriented people certainly want to find fulfillment in religion and generally value family; but their first and most basic question is, "What are the facts?" The other elements are real and valued -- but secondary.

And finally Family/Culture-oriented people, again, certainly have things they believe that are true, and they certainly would like to find personal fulfillment. But when they turn their attention to religion, they subconsciously by default switch to a loyalty-driven, place-in-the-community-driven narrative. Four words: Fiddler on the Roof. Can you imagine Tevya dancing around the village singing, "T-ru-oooooo-th...T-r-ruth! [Ba-da-bump, bump, bump] T-r-ruth!" He certainly believes that the things his tradition teaches him are true. But it's tradition, not factuality, that stirs his blood and shapes how he responds emotionally to his religion (and, since his religion is so bound up with family, to his daughters as well).

So, on a topic such as choosing whether or not to be Christian:

If what seems to you to be the most important question is, "Did Jesus really rise from the dead, or not?" then that puts you into the Fact-oriented camp. If what seems to you to be the most important question is, "Does Christianity work for me?" or (if you're a utilitarian altruist), "Is Christianity good for our society?" or "Can I be comfortable with Christian beliefs?" then that makes you Fulfillment/Results-oriented. And if you respond to the question of your choice of religion by saying, "I can't be a Christian because I'm Jewish / I ought to be Muslim because I'm an ethnic Kazakh / any Pole who loves Poland obviously has to be Catholic / I'll get baptized as Greek Orthodox and send my kids to Greek school because my wife's family cares so much about their identity as Greeks and I want to show my respect for their heritage," then that makes you Family/Culture-oriented.


At 10:01 PM, Blogger Jim r said...


I am beginning to see your point about fact vs (as you now call it) Results oriented. Candace, welcome to the conversation. I will still object to the term Truth, but that will be for another post. I think I object to it because it implies that the opposite is fiction.

As your Results oriented speaker, I will also disagree that only the fact people will ask what is your evidence. In actuality, I will also ask what is your evidence. And, again in another post, I will write about what knowledge is. I agree with Candace that we are all looking for meaning. In a very honest way, we are all looking for what will get us into a good afterlife. Christians, Jews and Muslims call this Heaven. All of this leads us to what we believe to be what will get us there.

I think all three of us agree, there are certain Truths to our religion. For most Christians, it is that Christ Died, Christ is Risen, and Christ Will come again. The real questions become how do we get to Heaven.

Candace says that the liberal, or results oriented, will interpret some of these on their own. I think I hear you say that the Fact oriented will use scriptural evidence, as well as other evidence found to be testable, and verifiable.

This I can live with as interpretations.

I still think the rules/laws aspect needs to be reviewed more. Where do the commandments and rules fit into this model? I have always believed the conservative is much more rule oriented - you must behave exactly this way to get to heaven, and therefore more intolerant. Where the liberal is a little more interpretive with the rules, and therefore more willing to call out the intolerance, and more unwilling to have morality legislated. Where does the hierarchy of rules fit the Fact oriented?

I still have some thinking to do about this.

Jim R

At 11:05 AM, Blogger Jim r said...

Food for thought - another set of paradigms. Probably one more comparable to Liberal vs conservative. I do see some, but little cross over to the metaphors we are discussing.

(sorry I don't know how to put in a link without the actual url)

At 11:19 AM, Blogger Ken Pierce said...


To post an actual link:

First you start a link tag: < followed by the letter a followed by a space and then href="[link goes here]">. Then you type whatever you want to appear inside it -- say, "another set of paradigms". Then you put another < and then /a> to close the tag.

Now, if I actually type that, it'll do the link instead of showing you the HTML -- so, in the next line, pretend that ~ is really <.

So you type:

~a href="">another set of paradigms~/a>

And you get:

another set of paradigms


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