Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mysticism, Liberalism, and Post Modernity

Yesterday, as I walked to get dinner on a clear and beautiful Fall evening, I found myself inexplicably musing on a tension that exists between my own strain of flagrant and unrepentant liberalism and the liberalism of post-modernity.

I'm unquestionably a liberal, by any meaningful definition of that term.   I think the first response that any sentient being needs to have to an encounter with the new or the different needs to be openness, consideration, and forbearance.   That leads me to be open to gays and lesbians, open to people of other faiths, and open to individuals of varying political philosophies.  It doesn't extend to tolerance of intolerance, violence, and hatred, of course, but otherwise, we cool.

Underlying that worldview is a rather fundamentally mystic view of the nature of existence.  I believe that all things are interconnected, that I and you and everything are woven together in ways that we understand only through a glass dimly.  That sense of interconnectedness is itself undergirded and founded on my Christian faith, as I see my Creator's work all around me, and the potential grace of the Nazarene and the light of the Spirit in every human being I encounter.

Here, though, if I am honest, I think my foundation for liberalism diverges from that of secular post-modernity.

As I grasp that worldview, the underlying assumption is that all meaning is socially-mediated or derived from particular individual contexts.  There is no "truth," at least not with a capital "T", beyond those truths that we fabricate for ourselves.  What is good is what we individually say is good, and it is not possible to make any assertion of the good that extends beyond individual preference.

Within the context of that radically individualistic and particularistic worldview, tolerance of other perspectives arises from the assertion that if no perspective is normative for all, then no perspective is invalid.   We must accept all perspectives, because our own is just ours.

While both can yield acceptance of the stranger, one is an ethos of separation and difference, another, the ethos of interconnectness and union.

This, I think, may be one of the more significant distinctives between being a progressive person of faith and a secular progressive.