Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Strikes & Balls: Postmodern Confusion

Three umpires are having drinks after a game, and they launch into a philosophical discussion about their profession:
Umpire #1 -- "There's balls and strikes, and I call 'em the way they are."
Umpire #2 -- "There's balls and strikes, and I call 'em the way I see 'em."
Umpire #3 -- "They ain't nothin' 'till I call 'em."

Umpire #1 is thoroughly modern in his disposition. He appears to believe that he has unhindered access to reality as it truly is. Pure objectivity. #2 is more modest -- he seems to accept the existence of an objective reality, but he realizes that his apprehension of it is less than infallible. He does his best to make good calls, but gets it wrong sometimes. #3 has taken the dive into the postmodern pool. He has abandoned the idea of an objective reality that exists independently of his own ideas and perceptions. "Strikes" and "balls" aren't "out there" somewhere, waiting to be discovered. They are given entrance into the world in virtue of my act of naming them as such. I.e., I create them.

Many Christians today are embracing the perspective of umpire #3 out of a frustration with our natural limitations when it comes to knowledge. We want to know the truth about the world, and yet we feel that much of what we believe is uncertain. Even the so-called "experts" -- theologians, philosophers, etc. -- can't seem to agree on any of the big questions. So what do we do? We throw up our arms in epistemological aggravation and conclude that it just doesn’t matter. We turn our attention to other, seemingly higher considerations: love, justice, community, obedience.

While I wholeheartedly celebrate the new-found awareness of such issues (concern for community, the poor) among evangelicals, I wonder if we have adopted a false dichotomy. Do we really have to punt objective truth in order to build community and serve the poor? Is resignation the best response to frustration? Just because we are confused and uncertain about the big questions, does that mean we should give up? Does that mean that the truth is unimportant?

Postmodern Christians have made the leap from the epistemological problem of uncertainty about objective truth to the metaphysical conclusion that there is no objective truth. This is a mistake. We can detach from our obsession with absolute certainty and dogmatism without cutting the life-line of truth. I can affirm that there are objective truths in the world while at the same time affirming that I’m not sure what they are!

What is my point? Simply this – I propose that we adopt the position of umpire #2 rather than #3. Let us continue to affirm, in the tradition of the church fathers and the great medieval saints, (1) that truth is objective and (2) that we humbly seek God’s leading in discovering that truth, acknowledging our own fallibility.


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11:17 AM  
Blogger jpe said...

Actually, the postmodern ump would say this: there's no such thing as a ball and a strike without a set of discursive rules that establish the boundaries of strike/ball.

And that's an accurate picture of baseball. There's no such thing as an "objective strike" floating around heaven. If the rules committee gets together and shifts the strikezone down to the ankles, then that determines what a strike will be.

Score one for postmodernism.

8:26 PM  
Blogger chris said...

Good insight jpe (can't remember if I know who you are). I think you're taking the parable too far. You're absolutely right about "balls" and "strikes" being artifacts. However, the parable uses those concepts as symbols or parallels for things we would consider objectively real. For instance, God, the world, objective moral values, etc. These are not artifacts (in my view), meaning, they exist independently of our language or descriptions of them. "Strikes" do not share this ontological status.

10:51 PM  

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