Explaining the Rooster

I am happy to continue my discussion of what certainty means with Micah Neely. There is a lot of fundamental agreement here, but I believe a crucial application of this agreement has gone missing.

I entirely agree that when it comes to truth metaphor is all that is, that it is metaphor “all the way down.” The joke is told about the guy who believed the earth rested on the back of a giant turtle. When asked what the turtle was standing on, he replied, “another turtle.” When his interlocuter was about to ask him what that turtle was standing on, he was interrupted. “Look,” the fellow said. “It’s turtles all the way down.”

But because this seems (whether with turtles or with metaphors) fideistic, arbitrary and necessarily relativistic, I would prefer to say it is metaphor all the way up. In the beginning was the Metaphor, and the Metaphor was with God and the Metaphor was God. The Metaphor is the exact representation of the Thought. The holy Trinity is made up of Speaker, Spoken, and Interpretation, and there is no degradation of meaning anywhere. Metaphor is complicated, but it is not an endless swamp where meaning gets lost and search parties are futile.

The modernists and the postmodernists agree that metaphor is a barrier to certainty. This is their common blunder; this is the central mistake of our age (not to mention the previous one). The modernists are correct that certainty is possible (and necessary), and so they go off to find it (autonomously and idolatrously) somewhere else other than metaphor. The postmodernists are correct that everything is metaphorical, and so they (autonomously and idolatrously) accept the relativistic conclusion. But I detest both sets of idols, and the horses they rode in on.

I am completely with Lewis on this one. I have no problem with his recognition of metaphorical pervasiveness, so amen, and his essay on the poison of subjectivism is priceless, and amen again. In other words, affirmation of objective certainties is not modernism; it is Christian faith. And affirmation of metaphorical ubiquity is not postmodernism; it is Christian faith.

This is why I have a problem with appealing to Jamie Smith’s take on the whole business because, in my view, he gives away the store. Lewis does not. He is a safer guide, and on these questions of metaphor, truth, and objective reality, he is about the only safe guide.

Now I agree with Micah that certainty is not to be attaining by standing on the “scaffold of analytic philosophy and its presuppositions.” I certainly agree. Certainty is found in Jesus — but certainty is found.

Long before Descartes doubted his first doubt, Christians were being taught to talk a certain way, but they were taught to do so by faith. Christians today who talk naturally and readily in the language of assurance and certainty that is pervasive throughout the New Testament are routinely accused of latent modernism, or foundationalism, or something else they never heard of, when all they were doing is echoing the language that Christians have been repeating for millennia. If God didn’t want us talking this way, then why did He teach us to talk this way? This is just a small sampling — I could produce many more, and if even slightly provoked, would be happy to do so.

“That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:2-3).

Whatever that is, it is not a chastened epistemology. If knowledge, assurance, and certainty were gold coins, faithful Christians are Scrooge McDuck.

“To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs [tekmerion], being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).

After this the disciples did not fan out across the globe, overthrowing empires with their excitement about the probabilities.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand . . .” (Heb. 11:1-3a).

“These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John 5:13-15).

To talk this way is not to use the terms of the modernists. They stole these terms from us, even as they abandoned the only possible foundation for the right use of them — which is faith in Jesus. And by faith in Jesus, I do not mean a blind leap. I do not mean any port in a storm. I do not mean a cluster of commitments hung from the great Kantian sky hook. I mean knowledge and certainty the only way a creature can have such — as a gift from the gracious hand of God the Father.

I completely agree that the modernists are wrong, and that you can’t get certainty out of a can, processed at the Factories of Enlightenment. But I also rejoice that the postmodernists are every bit as silly, thinking not only that the can is empty, but also that the world is.

Now here I leave off my interaction with Micah, and cast my net far more broadly. This is why I care about these things so much.

Life is not a seminar classroom, where we can stroke our chins and grant certain points that merit further discussion. We have to go to war. We have to execute people. We have to excommunicate other people. We have to believe the climate change screechers, or we have to snort at them, preferably the latter. We have to make life and death decisions, and God wants us to do so faithfully.

And we should never forget that certainty is an inescapable reality — the human mind cannot function without it. This means that, in a relativistic era like ours, the certainties will be invisible to everybody, but every bit as mandatory. All civilizations know things, but the corrupt ones don’t know that they do. In our time, for example, even in our rootless time, we know that the slaughter of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook was wrong, and we are even teetering on the brink of knowing that what went on in Gosnell’s clinic was wrong. And, given the sorry excuse for an education we all received, such certainties, when they become visible and apparent, baffle and bewilder us.

So uncertainty is a luxury for the rich and rootless (and unchallenged), and when it grows pervasively throughout a culture, it only creates a deracinated sophistry that cannot even tell the difference between boys and girls. It reminds me of the old child’s joke — “What’s the difference between a mailbox and a hippopotomus?” “I don’t know.” “Well, I am sure not going to send you to mail any of my letters!”

We live in decadent times, one that thinks that the only difference between a bull, a steer, and a cow is whatever they all believe about themselves deep down, and we are even willing for the steer to decorate himself with feathers in a trans-species, transgressive, Q-like kind of way, with roostery effects, and we are prepared to call it good. Moreover, we are (as a society) certain enough about what we are doing to severely chastize any blogger (filled with H8 as he is, and whose name rhymes with Smug Wilson) who looks at this barnyard parade and laughs at the new rooster designations. He laughs despite the certainty of coercive penalties that could be applied.

And so this is the culture that wants me to listen to their philosophers to do some deep thinking about the ultimate nature of reality? Are you kidding me? These people still take Heidegger seriously, which sort of explains the rooster.

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