Thursday, February 01, 2007,2:56 PM
Questions, Epistemology, and late night TV
Last night Mike and I stayed up way too late watching one of those history channel programs (we have TiVo, so there really is no need to stay up late, it was just that interesting). This one was called Exodus Decoded. Unlike most of those type shows, I thought this one was well done and was worth a viewing. Basically the show examined extra-biblical evidence for the exodus. What I liked about it was that it took a "big picture" interdisciplinary approach to the topic. The show presented some fascinating interpretations and evidences for the Exodus. I don't want to get into all those now (but it really was intriguing maybe I'll comment on it later), but instead comment on what it got me thinking about. These thoughts are also sparked from the conversation about Ruth's virtue over at Swinging from the Vine.

My question is - why are we so afraid to really question everything? Why when approaching theology or history do we set boundaries and assumptions that cannot be changed or questioned before we turn to actual research? For example, for those who believe miracles are impossible the exodus could never have occurred because it involves miraculous events. Or because we have to hold to a certain dating system for all the rest of our theology to fall into place, these facts and dates over here must be thrown out because they conflict with our presumed ideas. Or because we want to hold Ruth up as a female role model (and since we define role models as chaste/virtuous women) there is no room to even explore the question of whether Ruth had sex with Boaz when she spent the night with him at his "feet." Or because I work in X field and you work in Y field we can't get together and share ideas and perhaps come up with a holistic understanding of things. Or because one belongs to a different religion (Islam) and doesn't want to strengthen another religion (Judaism/Christianity) any researchers looking into Jewish history are forbidden from doing research in our country. And yes these are vaguely stated, but it really bugs me when knowledge is stifled because people are too afraid or too prejudiced.

I know I make assumptions, you have to in order to progress in understanding. One needs to assume that the possibility of the exodus story having happened is a valid possibility in order to start looking for evidence that it did happen. There are also things that I have questioned and have chosen to believe in (like the existence of God) that become the basis for how I look at other aspects of life. But I still concede the necessity to be allowed to question those basic assumptions. My views on a lot of things have drastically changed in the last 10 years. Why? Because the pastor at my old church convinced me that it was okay to question my pre-trib/pre-mil views. I realized that true understanding requires everything to be open to being questioned (which eventually led to my being forced out of that very church). And yes, new ideas that I have formed can also be questioned (but no, to all the people who assume that I am "liberal" because I haven't thought through things, I doubt I will return to where I have already been). But it scares me when I see people claiming that we can't "go there" or that certain topics are off limits or that certain facts must be ignored - how is this intellectual honesty?? (and yes, I'm sure I scare some people as well with my assumptions...)

What are people afraid of? Do people still hold to foundationalist epistemology - question one thing and the whole structure crumbles? Are we just afraid of anything new or different? Will we lose our funding, our prestige, or our job? Are to just too comfortable to care? Are any or all of these things more important than the pursuit of truth?

I'm frustrated when I encounter resistance to questioning (as I'm sure some feel about me). I'm frustrated when I don't have the knowledge or the resources to pursue my questioning fully. I'm frustrated with my stupidity and lack of training to engage in dialogue in certain fields. I know I should just deal with it and do what I can, but there are some days when it just build up...

So sorry for the postmodernish incoherent rant. This has just been on my mind all day and I had to get it out.

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posted by Julie at 2:56 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 2/02/2007 05:06:00 AM, Blogger Pastor Astor

    I believe your frustration is good, at the same time, I don't think we ever can approach anything without presuppositions, and generally I found it more honest when they are stated up front. I don't like it when I can decode the presuppositions in the text, but the author denies to have them, and even worse when the author is unaware of them.

    On the other hand, the field of epistemology has swelled out to enormous proportions in the last couple of decades - in the area of theology to the point where many theologians never leave that field to venture into theology at all.

  • At 2/02/2007 12:03:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Yes, I think acknowledging that we have those presuppositions makes what we say more acceptable. And by acknowledging them, it is a step closer to humbly admitting we might be wrong.

  • At 2/03/2007 09:08:00 AM, Blogger Nancy

    Julie: You hit the nail on the head with the assumption that "fear" is the basis for such closed-mindedness regarding exploration and questioning. I imagine that the thoughts/beliefs/perceptions associated with the fear is unique to the individual resisting such exploration.

    What I love are the folks who say they welcome questions and wrestling but then react with fear and admonishment when someone comes up with an issue they are struggling with.

    Maybe it is just basic to our nature to resist change. The fear is often about worries as to what the change will bring to our lives...will they get more difficult, less managable some how?

    Finally, it may reflect the shakiness of one's faith or the discomfort certain people experience with ambiguity. Everything must fit neatly together in order to believe and if something comes up that challenges what one believes, they think they have to throw it all away. None of it is true. That all-or-nothing thinking causes trouble at every turn.

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