Monday, November 2, 2009

Either/Or

In his comments on my October 26 posting, DHJ (whom I still do not know who is for sure) made reference to Kierkegaard and either/or thinking. I immediately took notice of that comment both because of my interest in Kierkegaard stretching back nearly fifty years and also because of my generally being an advocate of both/and thinking.

Kierkegaard's first book was titled (in Danish) Enten -- Eller (1843), translated into English as Either/Or. But that book is not about either/or thinking; rather, it is about living either the aesthetic/ethical life or the religious life. The choice one is forced to make in that regard is related to Jesus' words, "‘No one can serve two masters; . . . You cannot serve God and wealth" (NRSV). Jesus was stating the necessity of an either/or choice, and that, I think, was the same sort of thing Kierkegaard was doing.

It is interesting that Kierkegaard, who wrote Either/Or, is the philosopher/theologian who most widely used the concept, and the word, paradox in his serious writings. I know he used that word a lot, for my doctoral dissertation was "The Meaning of Paradox: A Study of the Use of the Word 'Paradox' in Contemporary Theological and Philosophical Writings with Special Reference to Søren Kierkegaard." Paradox is very much about both/and thinking, and in general I heartily espouse that kind of thinking over either/or thinking, as was DHJ in his comments.

There are situations, though, in which both/and is not a possibility. We must choose either/or. Where we stand on issues of aggression, oppression, discrimination, and the like are of the latter type. It has been said that one is either on the side of the oppressor or the side of the oppressed. That is most probably true. Some fences can't be straddled.

By what he wrote in his comments on my blog postings and said in our discussion at lunch last week, Chris Thompson seemed to think I was "aiding and abetting" (not his words) the oppressors in my second and third postings about Columbus. That was not my intention. If that seemed to be what I was saying, I apologize. I want always to be on the side of the oppressed and not on the side of the oppressor. In many ways I probably am on the side of the oppressor just by being a white American male. But that is the way I was born, not a choice I made.

I did choose, though, to be a follower of Jesus, and as such I want to live, and I try to live as much as possible, in solidarity with those who are oppressed, including the Native Americans who have been grossly mistreated in multifarious ways since the time of Columbus.

1 comment:

  1. I have to admit that Kierkegaard bothers me. Bothers me the way great writers can. Perhaps if I read him today, instead of decades ago in college, I would be more generous!

    The core of that bother was in what he called "the leap of faith." That bothered me. Some years later my wife got a book from a friend that had been used at a class in a conservative mega-church. My wife was bothered that her friend read it, and had me check it out. Well, I could see how church elders could misuse "The Normal Christian Life" by Watchman Nee, but I was delighted to find in it my long sought answer to Kierkegaard. Nee said that life was like a biscuit, made to be broken. The woman pouring out her costly jar of ointment on Jesus' feet was the model of Christian faith. I have seen leaps of faith, but I have lived broken biscuits.

    God speaks in both/and. Man speaks in either/or. We see this in the Old Testament, where God is the source of both good and evil, even as He speaks all those great "ands" in the first chapter of the KJV Genesis. We are the ones dividing up the either/ors so that we can try to understand our world. And then our either/ors lead us into paradox. Why does light behave like both a wave and a particle? Why is Jesus Christ both man and god? Why are our strengths and weaknesses often the same thing? Why did Jesus tell us two completely different messages in the parable of the talents, and why did I get busted for talking about it after Sunday School? OK, the last one is not a paradox, just one of my broken biscuits. And, before I wander off into evolutionary biology, I will call it quits!

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