Saturday, October 11, 2008

Of 3 Minds

Went to a Yom Kippur presentation last week and it got me thinking again about some philosophies that I've been trying to wrap my mind around for quite some time: Modernism, Post-modernism and the Hebraic mind-set. It's the whole world-view thing again. There are so many seminars on "World -View" but I have a beef with them. In essence, I see that they are advocating the Hellenistic, modern way of thinking, focusing on correct doctrine instead of correct living, getting "it" right, instead of getting Him. I'm on a quest to understand these world views better. I'm starting simply enough- with definitions.

Much of the following definitions about modernism and post-modernism was excerpted from Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed by Mary Klages. You can find the full document at

Modernism tends to present a fragmented view of human subjectivity and history (think of The Wasteland, for instance, or of Woolf's To the Lighthouse), but presents that fragmentation as something tragic, something to be lamented and mourned as a loss. Many modernist works try to uphold the idea that works of art can provide the unity, coherence, and meaning which has been lost in most of modern life; art will do what other human institutions fail to do. It is also considered an economic phase of capitalism that occurred from the late nineteenth century until the mid-twentieth century (about WWII); this phase, monopoly capitalism, is associated with electric and internal combustion motors, and with modernism. Modernity is fundamentally about order: about rationality and rationalization, creating order out of chaos. There is a stable, coherent, knowable self. This self is conscious, rational, autonomous, and universal--no physical conditions or differences substantially affect how this self operates. The modern mind-set believes that reason is the highest form of mental functioning and that the mode of knowing produced by the objective rational self is "science." Science provides universal truths about the world, the knowledge produced by science is "truth" and therefore eternal. Reason, or scientific inquiry is the ultimate judge of what is true, and therefore of what is right, and what is good or what is legal and ethical. The true will always be the same as the good and the right and the beautiful, there can be no conflict betweent what is true and what is right as science is neutral and objective. Language, or the mode of disseminating knowledge, must be rational also. What you see is what you get.

Postmodernism, in contrast, doesn't lament the idea of fragmentation, provisionality, or incoherence, but rather celebrates it. The world is meaningless? Let's just play with nonsense. This economic phase includes multinational or consumer capitalism (with the emphasis placed on marketing, selling, and consuming commodities, not on producing them), associated with nuclear and electronic technologies. Postmodernism would be the concept of virtual reality, a reality created by simulation, for which there is no original (think Sim Town). For postmodern societies, there are only surfaces, without depth; only signifiers, no signifiends. The idea of any stable or permanent reality disappears, and with it the idea that the signifiers point to. Words and agreements shift and change and become situational.

"Finally, postmodernism is concerned with questions of the organization of knowledge. In modern societies, knowledge was equated with science, and was contrasted to narrative; science was good knowledge, and narrative was bad, primitive, irrational (and thus associated with women, children, primitives, and insane people). Knowledge, however, was good for its own sake; one gained knowledge, via education, in order to be knowledgeable in general, to become an educated person. This is the ideal of the liberal arts education. In a postmodern society, however, knowledge becomes functional--you learn things, not to know them, but to use that knowledge" In this paradigm, the opposite of "knowledge" is not "ignorance," as it is the modern/humanist paradigm, but rather "noise," anything that cannot be categorized electronically. The questions that will ethically be asked by a post-modern society is what to do about the noise.

So I move on to the Hebraic Mindset. The following definitons are taking from"Hebraism and Hellenism" by Brian Knowles which you can find here:

*Everything blurs into everything else.
*Supernatural affects everything.
*Contextual or block thinking as opposed to linear,
*importance of community,
*values comes from place in heirarchy,
*security vs. freedom orientation,
*competition, as opposed to cooperation, is evil,
*the universe is God/tribe/man centered vs. man (self) centered,
*worth is derived from family relationships vs. money or material power or possession,
*God, rather than chance or science. causes everything in the universe,
*God, as opposed to man, rules everything, so relationship with God determines how things turn out.
*Power over others is structured by social patterns, as opposed to business, politics and human organizations and is ordained by God.
*The universe is filled with powerful spirit beings.
*Cyclical or spiraling time vs. linear time.
*Similar events constantly reoccur.
*History is an attempt to preserve significant truths in meaningful or memorable ways whether or not details are objective facts.
*we are oriented to events throughout history, as opposed to simply near events.
*Change is bad = destruction of traditions vs. change is good and equals progress.
*Universe created by God as opposed to chance.
*God gave man stewardship over his earthly creation.
*Accountability to God.
*Material goods are a measure of God’s blessing vs personal acheivement.
*Knowledge-based faith vs. blind faith.
*Time determined by content ("In the day that the Lord did…").

Heschel writes, "The Greeks learned in order to comprehend. The Hebrews learned in order to revere. The modern man learns in order to use" He goes on, "To the Jewish mind, the understanding of God is not achieved by referring to a Greek way to timeless qualitites of a Supreme Being, to ideas of goodness and perfection, but rather by sensing the living acts of His concern, to His dynamic attentiveness to man. We speak not of His goodness in general but of his compassion for the individual man in a particular situations. In other words, God is not "known" in the abstract, but in the specific situations into which He has asserted Himself. God is what He as revealed Himself to be, not what we have theorized Him to be."

I'm still at the grammar stage of understanding what all of this means, how it plays out in our relationshiops, jobs, bank accounts and homes. Having a better understanding of definitions has clarified some recent problems with collegues- we were coming at words, situations and relationships with a totally different mind-set and so our ability to understand and work with each other was compromised; and though I had assumed that as people of the same faith, we would hold the same values, it just isn't so. Our mind-set is where it's at.

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