When I was a boy, like most boys, I watched cartoons. Because of some recent cogitations one particular cartoon keeps replaying in my head as an illustration for the nature of reality. In this cartoon one of the characters gives another one of the characters (I think it was Elmer and Bugs) several whaps over the head with a mallet (pretty standard cartoon fare here). The result of which is several lumps growing out where the mallet fell. At this point one of the characters pushes the lumps in only to find out that they come back out at another point on the head. You see the lumps can be pushed in but they don’t go away. They merely find expression someplace else.
I have become convinced that this is the nature of reality. Things don’t go away. Even when we try to make them go away they come out someplace else. Perhaps some examples will serve to clarify the point that I am making.
The most obvious example is somebody’s insistence that they are an A-theist. They proclaim that they have pushed God out of their reality. But have they really? Do they really operate without a God in their reality? Rather isn’t it the case that they have chosen instead to hide from themselves the fact that they are serving as their own God? The individual has ascended to the most high to take his position as the Almighty. The typical John in American practices Johnism, the typical American Becky practices Beckyism, the typical Andy in American practices Anydism while his American Wife Amanda practices Amandaism. A God concept hasn’t really gone away in their reality. They have pushed it in on one side only to fail to see how it has grown back up someplace else.
Another example of what I am trying to get at is the idea of Priests. A Priest is a person who represents the people to God. The Priest is the one who is in charge of making sin and guilt go away. Most Americans except for a few Catholics would tell you that the whole idea of ‘Priest’ is pass`e in our country. We have pushed that lump in and told ourselves that it is gone forever but I submit that we have failed to see it projecting in other places. We are just as consumed with Priests as any ancient culture that has ever been. The only difference is that we hide it from ourselves by not calling our modern Shamans ‘Priests,’ using instead words like Psychiatrist or Psychologist. We are our own gods but we find ourselves being uncomfortable with ourselves (that discomfort being our sin) and as a result we go to the Priests so that the sin and guilt of being uncomfortable with ourselves might be taken away.
Another example is predestination. Predestination can’t be effaced. Either we will submit to God’s predestination or we will try to create some other kind of predestination. In Aldous Huxley’s book, ‘Brave New World,’ we find the State having a category called ‘sociological predestinators.’ In our current culture we have school to work programs that are in essence an example of the State seeking to predestinate the future of the child. Another example is a kind of strong behaviorism that suggests that a person is completely controlled by their (predestinating) environment. Predestination is part of God’s reality and we will either submit to His teaching on the doctrine or fallen men will create bastard predestination.
Another example is imputation. Here is another word that would leave most people scratching their head if you asked them if imputation was an important concept. We Moderns think that we are done with imputation. We have pushed that lump in but again we have failed to see where it is now protruding. We no longer talk about our sins being imputed to Christ but without realizing it we are forever seeking to impute our sins someplace else. Since ours is a humanistic religion instead of having our sins imputed to Christ we seek to impute them to one another. Having rejected the Scapegoat that God provided in Christ we now spend our lives looking for other people and people groups to be our Scapegoats wherein we can impute our sins. We go to our Priests (the Shrinks) and we discover that the reason we cannot live with ourselves (our greatest sin that needs dealt with) is due to our parents or our environment or because of those minorities that are taking over everything and as a result we impute our sin of not liking ourselves to them. They must be the scapegoat. They become the one who must bear our sins, and so we impute our sins to them. Imputation is alive and well and will never go away. No matter how hard we push that lump in; it always comes out on the other side.
Another example that might be elucidated is religion in general. Many moderns would characterize themselves as irreligious, which is quite a religious characterization. I read an article this week by Richard Dawkins saying that we should get rid of religion. Is that possible or is that just another example of somebody trying to push the lump in on one side, lying to himself that it will not come out on the other side? Religion is the attempt to live in accord with the prevailing Deity. In false religion it is the attempt to manipulate the prevailing Deity. For modern man Religion is now politics. Not only individually but also corporately we are the Deity and the way to manipulate the Deity is to seize control of its control apparatus for our own varied humanistic machinations. As a result politics is the most vocal aspect of religion among many moderns.
How about catechism? How many people do you know who have their children catechized into their religion? Most people would say that catechism is a relic from the past. Nobody does catechism anymore. Catechism is something religious extremists do. Yet, every time a child watches television, every time a child goes to school, every time a child reads a teen magazine, every time a child listens to the radio, every time a child reads a book, every time a child plays with play station II, they are being catechized into some religion. Catechism into ones religion hasn’t gone away. It is just that our religion of modernity is so close to our skin that we don’t even realize how it is we are constantly catechizing our children into the religion of modernity. Catechism is most effective when the children and the parents don’t even know they are being catechized. So you see, we push the lump of catechism in, and we tell ourselves it has gone away, but we fail to see where it has reappeared somewhere else on the old noggin of reality.
If you want to talk about systems of thought the same things applies. Take Communism as an example. Has it escaped dealing with God’s reality or as it instead just pushed the bump on one side of the head in only to find it protruding on the other side? Marx who said that ‘religion…is the opiate of the people,’ gave us a religion called Communism which has a doctrine of salvation that is a deliverance from the oppressive bourgeoisies masters. The Communist religion has its Messiah in the proletariat; its paradise in the classless society; its church in the party; and its Scriptures in the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and, for many years, Stalin. Marx and communism didn’t make the reality of religion go away. It only rearranged the pieces. Reality can’t go away.
This approach applies also too more micro examples as well I think. What I mean by that is sometimes you will hear people say things like . “We need to get rid of hate and intolerance.” If my premise is correct that is not possible. Hate and intolerance is a lump that never goes away. Pushed in on one side it will come up again on another side. Intolerance and hate in the right way can be a positive good. Intolerance and hate in the wrong way is a positive evil. Be assured, though, that every person you ever meet will have the category of intolerance and hate in their reality. It is not possible to get rid of hate and intolerance. The challenge for the Christian is to hate and not tolerate what God hates and doesn’t tolerate.
Nearer to home you will hear some Christians say that we no longer live under the law. They have supposedly gotten rid of ‘law’ from their reality. But is it a law that they are free from the law? Reality bites. Other Christians will say that they have gotten rid of tradition. Tradition is something that only Roman Catholics subscribe to. So, what they are saying is that it is their tradition to live without tradition? Reality bites again. They can keep pushing in those lumps all they want but those lumps just keep reappearing in other places.
All of us have the same reality. Reality and the categories or reality are unavoidable and inevitable. Martin Luther worked with the same reality that Karl Marx did. Margaret Sanger worked with the same reality as Fannie Crosby did. Milton Berle worked with the same reality as Mahatma Ghandi. We can neither increase it nor decrease it, nor change its categories. We can move the furniture around or push the lumps in but none of us get new furniture and all of us live with the same lumps. The trick is being able to get to the point of being able to see to the bottom of what is going on in how people arrange their reality furniture.
The challenge then for the Christian becomes to have our reality correspond to God’s reality. The way our reality gets messed up is when men start with themselves as their beginning premise as opposed to starting with the God of the Bible as their beginning premise. This was Eve’s mistake in the garden and it remains our mistake today. When men start from themselves they take God’s categories and turn them upside down and inside out. They don’t get different reality but they invert the reality that is by calling good, ‘evil’ and evil, ‘good.’ They call beautiful, ‘ugly’ and ugly ‘beautiful.’ They call true, ‘false’ and false, ‘true.’ They in essence call God a liar. But even in doing so they don’t get a different reality because real reality is immutable. The reality that is expressed by those who make themselves the determiner of all facts is a reality that is antithetical to the reality that the God of the Bible calls for but it is still working with the only reality that is.
Reality doesn’t go away.