Friday, October 25, 2013

Either-Or, Both-And

a stream flows in the desert

Ten years ago I was going around giving lectures about the dawn of the "Postmodern Era," talking about the cultural "sea-change" that was taking place. While I still very much believe that we are in a major transition period, and that there is a major cultural shift in the way we look at the world (e.g., how we understand government, medicine, education, religion, how we use technology).  I have also concluded that a lot of things that were predicted about the "sea change" of the "postmodern era" have not yet come to fruition.

Back ten years ago sociologists and social commentators suggested that in the dawning "postmodern age, "either-or" thinking would be supplanted  by "both-and" thinking. An "either-or" mindset is narrow and myopic, the world is viewed in black and white -something is either true or it is false; it is either right or it is wrong.

A "both-and" vision sees the world from many different points of view. This kind of vision sees gray more than black and white.  

Ten years ago, the supposition was that as we became a culture of greater and greater diversity, people would be more likely so see the world through a "both-and" lens.  But I haven't actually seen this to be the case in today's society. 

It's now 2013, and from the way I see it,  more and more people are becoming increasingly rigid and myopic in their worldview. More and more people see the world as right and wrong, true and false, black and white, my way or the wrong way, "either-or."

We live in a world of FOX news and MSNBC, Tea Party Republicans and Liberal Democrats, pro-life, pro-choice, atheists and theists; everyone taking up a guarded position in their own defended "either-or" camps - each viewing the different others with suspicion and disdain.

As I see it, a perfect illustration of this prevailing "either -or" worldview can be found in the conversation about God and religion in today's culture.

I think about the numerous "either-or" positions about religion I have encountered over the past years, for example:

Either you believe in God, or you are an atheist. Either you are a religious person and value your relationship with a church and the religious institution, or you are not religious and have no use for the church or what the church teaches. Either you accept the teachings of the Bible, or you reject the Bible and turn instead to science as a means for understanding how the world works. 

When I think about how I see things, I confess that I do not accept any single one of these iron-clad, "either-or" propositions. In fact, I see something of the truth on both sides of the "either-or" scale. I see them as being "both-and."

I believe in God but I don't believe in a "deity;" some superhuman entity who snaps "his" fingers and creates and controls the world.  For me God is an unknowable mystery, an abiding Holy Presence, the energy of untamed love connecting every atom of the cosmos. I also know many atheists who, while not believing in God, believe in their own spiritual nature and engage in efforts to feed themselves spiritually.

I see myself as religious and I have been part of the church all my life. My dearest friends and closest relationships are with fellow believers, connected to the church.  I also find much of the religious institution to be tepid, lifeless and without passion, sometimes even harmful in helping people to grow spiritually. I find deep and faithful insight about my own spiritual path when I dialogue with people outside the Christian tradition, and some of the most deeply spiritual people I know wouldn't be caught dead inside a church. 

I hold the Bible in one hand and the claims of science in the other, and see them as complements to each other - merit in both. Science explains much of how the word works and has profoundly advanced the welfare of the human condition. However, science also recognizes (especially today) that much of the world is a vast mystery, and so I turn to the wise stories and beautiful poetry of the Bible to help me engage and encounter this awesome mystery of our human condition.

As we advance along in this cultural transition period and as we move forward in this time of great change and profound cultural diversity, I do not see how we can possibly even talk with one another if we continue to cling to those "either-or" lenses we so comfortably wear for seeing our world. The "either-or" lenses have become myopic and distorted. They prevent us from seeing the world with a clear and expansive vision.

We live in a time of "sea change," - a "both-and" era.

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  1. Cool blog. Interesting post. The either-or, black-white, yes-no trap can be traced back to Aristotle's Law of the Excluded Middle, which has not served Western Culture well, not for thousands of years...

    "Desert Retreat House" is going up on my blogroll at Cosmic Rapture (Right hand column, under heading of "Other Domains").

    masterymistery at
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    1. thanks for the comment and thanks for listing me