A Hyper-Realistic Journey

A great quote from my recent reading:

The religious heart or frame of mind is not “realist,” because it is not satisfied with the reality that is all around it. Nor is it antirealist, because it is not trying to substitute fabrications for reality; rather, it is what I would call “hyper-realist,” in search of the real beyond the real, the hyper, the über or au-dèla, the beyond, in search of the event that stirs within things that will exceed our present horizons. In this sense, religion is, in the very best and deepest sense, so much “hype.”

We also are wont to think of life as an adventure. But a genuine adventure means venturing out into the unknown, where no one knows the way and we are not sure whose steps to follow. (Here comes the dose of postmodern truth, which will send my friends on the Right rushing for the doors.) are we not all a little “lost,” like the people who crash-landed on the island in Lost, looking for clues about where they are and frightened by the mysterious things going on around them? Is that not a figure of our lives? Are we not like people following an obscure clue, on the tracks, on the trail, in the trace of something-we-are-not-sure-what? Are not those who write about spiritual journeys sometimes a little too assured about where they are going and how to get there? There are, after all, two ways to be on the way: the first, in which one knows the way and the task is to get there (which certainly can be hard enough), and the second, in which one must, like an explorer, find the way. In the latter and, I am inclined to think, more postmodern situation, one is always a little lost, where being lost and being on the way, far from excluding each other, mutually imply each other. That is what I mean by giving the spiritual journey some postmodern teeth. I agree this is a little unnerving, but I do not agree that it is “relativism.” Rather, it is what I just called “hyper-realism.”

– John D. Caputo, What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, 39.

4 responses to “A Hyper-Realistic Journey”

  1. hi matt

    good quote to post, here are two thoughts.

    “Are not those who write about spiritual journeys sometimes a little too assured about where they are going and how to get there?”

    frickin beautiful line, thats the temptation right there. that when someone tells you that you have something to say, you say, “shit, i better sound sure!”

    but i think the rest of the caputo’s thought steps a bit into the same pile that he’s advising against. as with much emergent literature, much of his language seems to imply a brash “swimg the pendulum to the other side” mentality. though this may be the fruit of our actions regardless, we still must seek for it not to be so.

    He sees ‘being on a journey’ and ‘being a little lost’ as a happy combo, but this leaves out something different like a humble but confident proclamation of the gospel, as we know it, as we have experienced it, with the joy we have and the suffering we have.

    frankly i don’t like when a thinker pretends to be either smarter or more stupid than he or she actually is; it’s demeaning to the spiritual capabilities and deficiencies of humankind.

  2. Ah, some nice strong opinions! Lovely.

    Here’s a couple of rejoinders: 1) I’d hardly call this an “emergent” book – Caputo’s much too liberal for most of them, even if they might read this. This book’s in a series “The Church and Postmodern Culture” which is being written by Christian postmodern philosophers. Undoubtedly the series is popular amongst emergent-types, and they had Caputo at their conference this last year, but I listened to the sessions and he made them very uncomfortable.

    2) You’d have to see the journey-lost connection in the larger context of what he’s saying. His notion of being lost is an epistemological point – we’re never completely sure of where (or who) we are. This is a negative focus which doesn’t preclude positive proclamation, even if it makes it hard. When isn’t it?

  3. Solid dialogue, boys. This is our great challenge – the language of tolerance and unknowing is packed with meaning for Christians – because of the Scriptures.

    Even the message of Jesus is not ultimately built on “unknowing” and being “lost, wandering in this fragile world.” It feels like lovely language to me as an artist, even as a renegade philosopher, but I can’t make Jesus or the texts in my image. Rather, we are faced with a great deal of confidence in this man. This God-man seems to “know,” and his hyper-realism does not seem to sway him from “knowing” statements (albeit laced with metaphor, story, poetry and hidden or overt grace).

    Now, today, the Church has overstepped it’s bounds once again in history, and embraced arrogance and absolut-ism and baptized it as holy. Bad Church. Very bad.

    This must be counter-acted with myriad expressions of epistemological uncertainty. I.e. We are a part of the gang, part of the human race. You’re right; we don’t exactly “know” either. Oops. We came on a bit strong there, didn’t we? Please forgive us, and accept these tokens as our restitution….

    However, a humble declaration of the gospel is exactly a “knowing” that cannot or should not (with historical or textual integrity) be overlaid with the cultural movements of our age. It is not a knowing that dispenses with, or transcends, another’s knowing. Rather, it is a humble declaration that certain things can be known, and thus we choose to live “this way” or “that way.” The health of that “way” may be seen through some indicators human beings generally regard as healthy. Loving outcomes, changed behavior, sacrificial lifestyles, humanity as community, etc.

    My contention would never be that you or I are always right in our knowing – rather, we are in integrity in acting out a form of knowing. In this case, the knowing of love, the encounter with an invisible God who somehow “fills us with an inexpressible joy,” and many other forms of knowing.

    As a father and a husband, as a worker and a contributor in the world, I must act on faith incessantly as a human being. We all do, atheist or otherwise. I must “know” and therefore “act” on a daily basis, humble hyper-realism and all.

    However, to continually say “I don’t really Know if my wife loves me” while I do my daily duties may satisfy the zeitgeist, but it won’t make me a healthy spouse. I must “know” to a large degree, trust in such possibility bordering on probability (bordering on fact, science-minded friends), and make some active assumptions.

    The Church should soften on it’s Knows, of course. It’s fair repentance, and even restitution for our brashness (again, historical process, Scope’s monkey trial repercussions still lingering in our day) for us to go quite silent and lovingly serve.

    However, the hyper-realism of “unknowing” can be a tragic affair, though philosophically energizing, and seemingly humble and human of us.

    Today, I will have to “know,” be “known,” and embrace the great cloud we still cannot see through with either these fleshy orbs tethered in our skull or the grey matter in our noggins.

    The spirit must act in faith, and in the case of love and goodness (another discussion), live in some form of “knowing.” We are lost in the epistemological sense, yes. We are also found and home in the same sense, albeit unperceived by the many – often us.

    The knowing of love, and the expression of such knowing, might be the best restitution we can offer a world at which we have barked, at our worst, for a few thousand years.

    Tolerance is not the primary message of Jesus, I must say. It may be primary for Christians of an age, but we’re working too hard to make it his central message. “The Kingdom of heaven is among you;” this is the central message.

    It feels like somebody Knew something to me. We are not him, though, and humility, based on a hyper-realism, is indeed fitting for this mortal life.

  4. Dan, thanks for the lovely comment. At its best postmodernism is a negative condition that opens the door for the very kind of positive knowing that you’re talking about here: a knowing-through-love, a knowing-by-faith. Postmodernism has, destroyed the hegemony of knowing-by-certainity, and the sooner we get that idolatry out of the way, the sooner we are freed to know in love and faith.Favorite line: Bad Church. Very bad. ;)

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