Phyllis Tickle against reality…

Well, I promised on Facebook and Twitter (I think) that I was painfully working through Phyllis Tickle’s The Great Emergence because apparently, some people have heard that the book is really good or makes some good points (or something along those lines).

It is true that there are true statements in the book, like “the boundary line between free time and boredom is not a clearcut one” (page 95) or “in 1453, the Ottoman Turks finally succeeded in capturing Constantinople” (page 47).  I’m not finished my reading (I have 3 pages left) and I still have to map out the logical argument of the book (for the sake of understanding it coherently), but I wanted to offer something in the form of a teaser to those who are waiting, because, well, I just couldn’t help myself.

Allow me to set up the quote.

Phyllis Tickle is a postmodern intellectual in the proper, academic sense.  She is aware of the academic philosophers and theologians (like Michael Foucault and Marcus Borg), has read them, and is a huge fan of their open philosophical war against Evangelical Christianity.  She overtly dismisses the concept of the meta-narrative and she actually openly dismisses the notion of objective truth.  She’s not the soft, squishy postmodern type that many Evangelicals are used to dealing with.  She’s not afraid to suggest that we’re stupid and aggressively attack the things that Evangelicals believe are core doctrine (like the virgin birth or the deity of Christ).  She has openly rejected the God of the Bible and thinks that the thing that Christians need to do most is to toss the Bible in the trash.

In the book, Tickle makes a long and nuanced argument against the Bible.  The book, in a general sense, is a 162 page attack on sola scriptura, the principle that the Bible is the only rule of faith and life.  In order to do so, Tickle has to attack the reformation and the Bible itself, and she doesn’t have much of a problem with modifying history or simply saying things that are anything but true.  In order for her readers to swallow that, she has to actually attack the concept of thinking in general, and the principles that underlie thought; namely logic itself.

No way?!?

Yes way.

Read and weep as she explains emergents and objective truth:

“Emergents, because they are postmodern, believe in paradox; or more correctly, they recognize the ubiquity of paradox and are not afraid of it. Instead , they see in its operative presence the tension where vitality lives.

To make that point, an emergent will quite offer the most simplistic of proof texts: X squared = 4, and that is a fact.  Since it is a fact, what is the value of X?  Quite clearly, X = 2…except, of course, X also quite clearly equals -2.  What is one to make of that contradiction, that impossibility, that paradox?

For starters, what we in the first world have made of it is the bulk of all the technology and gimmicks that render our lives so much more comfortable than otherwise would have been.  The point, in other words, is that logic is not worth nearly so much as the last five hundred years would have us believe.  It is, therefore, not to be trusted as an absolute, nor are its conclusions to be taken as truth just because they depend from logical thinking.   Very often, in fact, logic’s fallacies result from logic’s lack of a sufficient height or distance in its perspective.  That is, logic suffers from the fact that it is human, not divine, and suffers all the limitations of humanity, including being irrevocably contained in time and space.

By extension, meta-narrative is likewise to be distrusted, being as it is also a product of humanity’s human thinking and explaining.  Narrative, on the other hand, is the song of the vibrating network.  It is a spider’s web in its trembling, a single touch on one strand setting all others to resonating.  Narrative circumvents logic, speaking the truth of the people who have been and of whom we are.  Narrative speaks to the heart in order that the heart, so tutored, may direct and inform the mind.” (Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence, 160)

Let’s interact a tad.

  1.  I believe in paradox too.  I’ve heard of Hilbert’s hotel.  I enjoy explaining the concept to people who have never heard of it and watching their brains spring a leak.  I have no idea what the second statement (“tension where vitality lives”) means.  That happens a lot when reading Phyllis Tickle.
  2. Her example doesn’t exactly help her case since her example isn’t a paradox.  It’s a mathematical question where there are 2 right answers.  Much of what Tickle would think of as paradox is only so when veiled in ambiguity or given a surface examination.
  3. The answer to “What is one to make of that contradiction, that impossibility, that paradox?” is in the second paragraph.  Ignoring the first sentence of the 3rd paragraph (I have NO idea how consumerism relates to understanding paradoxes), her answer to embrace paradox and chuck logic out the window.

Why?  Let’s pay attention to what she says.

“…logic is not worth nearly so much as the last five hundred years would have us believe. It is, therefore, not to be trusted as an absolute, nor are its conclusions to be taken as truth just because they depend from logical thinking. Very often, in fact, logic’s fallacies result from logic’s lack of a sufficient height or distance in its perspective.  That is, logic suffers from the fact that it is human, not divine, and suffers all the limitations of humanity, including being irrevocably contained in time and space.”

Let’s rephrase:

  1. Logic is not worth what history would teach us.
  2. Logic does not have sufficient height or distance in perspective
  3. Logic is a human construct.
  4. Logic suffers from human time and space limitations.
  5. Therefore logically, logic is untrustworthy.

That sure sounds like a logical argument against logical argument.

  1. Since logic is untrustworthy, “meta-narrative is likewise to be distrusted”.

Well, if her last point about the untrustworthiness of logic is true, then her conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow.  I actually have no reason to reject meta-narratives.  If her previous argument is false, then logic is trustworthy and meta-narrative is not to be distrusted.

Tickle rings the gong by leaping out of a moving car and using her body as the mallet.

  1. “Narrative circumvents logic”.  Nope. Sorry.  Argument *fail*.

I’m just wondering if Tickle could make an argument for the uselessness of logic without using logic?  Didn’t Cornelius Van Til say something about this sort of thing?

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call the liberal lobotomy. It’s when you have drowned so totally in your rejection of God/truth that you actually cannot think coherently anymore, and do things like trying to make a logical argument against the trustworthiness of logic.

I don’t know when the review will be done, or exactly how much interaction I’ll give, but that one quote should show you that Tickle isn’t just attacking Christianity; she’s attacking reality itself.

This reminds me of Ludwig Wittgenstein, where in his book On Certainty he argues with another philosopher about whether or not a tree objectively exists and is overheard by a passing man:

“I am sitting with a philosopher in the garden; he says again and again ‘I know that that’s a tree’, pointing to a tree that is near us. Someone else arrives and hears this, and I tell him: ‘This fellow isn’t insane. We are only doing philosophy.” (3/4/51 – .467)

Tickle isn’t insane.

She is only doing emergent church theology.

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “All Men Who Blog Are Liars” Unger


8 thoughts on “Phyllis Tickle against reality…

  1. From the looks of things Emergent Church Theology is just an adaptation of the Postmodern welstanshauung. There is nothing good coming from either of these movements. I feel as though I am fighting a similar fight to yours, just on a different front—mine being within the academy itself, specifically within the social sciences and humanities. Most disciplines I encounter within the university walls are infected with the types of vacuous ‘discourse’ that Tickle is attempting to contaminate the church with. From the lack of logical accumen and clear thinking to the outright dismissal of truth in any form, I say again: nothing good can come of this. Also I think I may have to borrow the term ‘liberal lobotomy’; it’s apt and excellently captures the probelms you see in Tickle’s work and I see in the liberal arts. Thanks for the post. It’s good to see there are still people willing to struggle and fight for truth.

    • Thanks for the comments Dusto.

      I’m interested in hearing more about the postmodern infection in the academy; I was given the impression from certain people in Philosophical circles that the postmodern hangover has, more or less, been slept off. Let’s just say that I’m a definite fan of guys like Alan Sokal, Jean Bricmont, Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt, but I definitely don’t follow the aftermath of the science wars or contemporary culture in the secular academy.

      I’d enjoy hearing more about the postmodern infection in the social sciences and humanities. Where exactly does it come up? Is it on specific topics? Is it soft vs. hard sciences?

      Feel free to use the phrase “liberal lobotomy”. I don’t know what else to call a logical argument against the trustworthiness of logic.

  2. When I speak of the humanities and social sciences as being infected with a po-mo ethos (if there can consistently be such a thing), I am mostly referring to more recent additions to the faculties, and to a lessor extent those disciplines with an established tradition and methodology. For example, history and historians are still doing history and believe that we can, to some extent, get a close understanding of what occurred in the past–even Marxist historians will agree that we can get close to the truth, even if it means having a certain way of interpreting what those events are. Or take my discipline, philosophy: you’re ‘philosophy circles’ are correct in asserting that po-mos are not taken as serious scholars in philosophy or the hard sciences. In philosophy we still may study some of the fore-fathers of post-modernism, like Foucault, Heidegger, or Freud, but we certainly don’t read them in the po-mo vein; rather, we look for important insights and questions that they ask. In my opinion, with the potential exception of Foucault, I don’t think the potential insights are worth the effort it takes to read the crap most of these guys write.

    OK, back on topic. The infectious regions of the academy are new disciplines like gender (men, women, gay, lesbian, add whatever you want to interpret as “gender” here) studies, sociology to some extent, cultural studies, critical theory, much of psychology (most of the good psychology has gone to cog-sci), and even a lot of English departments are adding critical theory to their repertoire. It is also creeping up in some Religious Studies programs. My Mother just received her social work degree, and even there, as soon as the discussion turned from normative to theoretical, the po-mo way is firmly established as correct.

    Where I think the problem lies, and the big difference between say philosophy and po-mo, is that with the former there is a recognized and established tradition that all students must acknowledge and pay respects to. We cannot get away without at least respecting the fact that many ideas have been rehashed throughout the ages. As Whitehead wrote, ‘All philosophy is just a footnote to Plato.’ And while this may be a bit overstated, it does reveal a fundamental aspect of the discipline: you cannot be considered an expert if you, at least, don’t acknowledge some of the history and development of whatever it is one is discussing. Po-mos, however, do not think that we can ever know the intention behind the words in a text (a la Derrida (barf)), and thus everyone is an expert on whatever topic, and ALL opinions are equally valid as long as they fit in with the po-mo ethos, which can be characterized by making problems where there are none (the catch phrase is “problematize;” if you see this word, red flags should be raised). Thus, if I want to discuss the history of neo-con politics and look back to Machiavelli and Locke for some potential insight, po-mos will read the text in whatever way suited their fancy. You may have heard the expression “Queering (add whatever topic you want here).” This is a perfect example. We must read Locke as a gay person, and then see what we can learn from the text in this way:

    “Locke wasn’t really writing about private property and personal liberty, he was writing about the sexual oppression he felt from his cultural surroundings and wanted to establish a politic that allowed him to practice what he would like, as he would like. In the same way as the homosexuals have struggled to have liberty in the 20th century, so to does Locke seek to establish sexual freedom.”

    Now this is obviously an ABSURD interpretation of Locke! However, I wouldn’t be surprised to find something like this is a cultural studies class.

    To me the worst part of this trend echos what Ravi once said: “A culture isn’t established in the congress (or parliament in our case), but in the lecture halls of the previous generation.” Well, I think we are starting to see po-mos establishing themselves in society and eventually we’re going to see the rotten fruits of their labours. It’s already happening. Your difficulties with Tickle and the Emergent Church is a prime example.

    Anyway, I hope this clarifies what I meant. Again, the hard sciences and firmly established traditions are more immune to the movement, but post-modernism is certainly alive and flourishing in the academy halls.

    • Thanks for the insight Dusto. I was thinking tonight that I owed you a response for a comment, but I’m not sure if this is the comment. I’ll keep searching through my archives.

      I know of a fellow in Denver who did his PhD in philosophy and did a few “religious studies” credit classes at a local seminary (Iliff Seminary). They were “queering” Paul and talking about how Paul was so outspoken about homosexuality because he was himself gay and trying to convince himself that he was heterosexual, a la Ted Haggard.

      The po-mo ethos and deconstruction of texts is so self-referentially incoherent that it’s hard to take serious. Reasoning about this stuff with po-mo Christians who take this stuff serious is akin to going to a UFO convention and trying to talk sense to the guy wearing the Star Trek uniform, holding a gallon of hand sanitizer.

      Basically impossible.

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  4. You assert about Phyllis Tickle that “and she doesn’t have much of a problem with modifying history or simply saying things that are anything but true.” and go on to state that she openly attacks “and does not herself [believe] core doctrine (like the virgin birth or the deity of Christ).” That is patently and objectlvely false. She absolutely held to both of those truths. Correct your misstatement and then APOLOGIZE for your arrogant remark about those you are mourning her death being “psedoChristians.” I don’t know who you think you are but God does. You and all the others whom you don’t know but whom you judge and vilify. I certainly did not always agree with Phyllis, but to spew that specious lie on the day after her death is outrageous. As a believer in Holy Scripture surely you know that Jesus taught that YOU will be accountable for every word.

    • Uh, no she didn’t.

      If you want to prove me wrong, give me some sort of quote or reference where she affirms the historic orthodox position regarding the deity of Christ or the Virgin Birth.

      I’m not going to apologize for something that is factually correct, unless the factuality of my statements can be objectively challenged.

      Having a temper tantrum doesn’t prove anything…and the post was written in 2011.

      The fact that you missed that rather glaring detail suggests you didn’t read my writing too carefully and makes me wonder how much of Tickle you’ve actually read or understood.

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