Friday, October 22, 2004
Remaining faithful by parting ways
I came across this little gem in an article on Derrida by James Smith: Derrida apparently believed that "remaining faithful to a thinker will require a certain break; being an authentic 'follower' will require that one part ways at some point, in the name of fidelity." This is beautifully ironic. To remain faithful you need to break away? To remain faithful you need to part ways? What does this mean? I think it means that a person who breaks new ground -- who sees the world differently -- who shifts our perceptions and moves our understanding forward and who genuinely is pushing us forward, does not want us to stand still. He or she would want their followers to continue on from the point where they have arrived and can go no further. Imagine, for example, if followers of Luther just stopped at the point where Luther had arrived in his thinking. Surely, Luther would have wanted those who followed him to push on into new territory, reformulating, discovering, questioning. If any of you have had the privilege of teaching others, you will know that one of the greatest pleasures is when a student has learned what they can from you and then pushes forward beyond where you have arrived. This is the greatest of honours -- that a student surpasses their teacher. Often, though, disciples freeze the teaching of their leaders into rigid dogma and start judging others on the basis of their 'orthodoxy'. Tradition takes over and prevents any new understandings. Truth becomes concretised and, because things change, may ultimately become 'untruth'. The Wikipedia defindes fundamentalism as 'a movement to return to more strict adherence to founding principles, usually in religion.' Fundamentalists, of any stripe, always want to insist that we return to a previous understanding or time -- usually defined by their understanding of the founding principles! But if we are to remain faithful to the great thinkers, we need to realise that we will always have more to learn (and unlearn). Our understanding of truth will always be growing and maturing. There will never come a time when we can stop and say I have made it; I know all there is to know. For Christians, to be a true follower of Christ, means we are not content to rest on tradition or orthodoxy. We must always be examining our beliefs in the light of new evidence, of new circumstances. This is one of the things that makes the journey of faith exciting and rewarding. It is not a matter of thinking for the sake of thinking. It is, instead, one of the ways we bring honour to the one we follow.