Visual Paradoxes of Contemporary Faith-Light relations in Lumen Fidei

Would it be conceivable for someone to see as black everything that we see as white, and vice versa? (Wittgenstein, Remarks on Colour, II I 84)[1]

faith_wisdom_truth_light_by_shiasoul-d4sxf3l

The New Modernity in the Contemporary

Pope Francis, in his first Encyclical Letter on Faith Lumen Fidei, brings up faith’s light in the name of Jesus – amid resurrections and insurrections of “Pagan”, Hellenistic, “illusory” illuminations, postmodern and multicultural hybridity in “contemporary” culture, “ephemeral idolatries”, ideological and legal critiques to Church and Church scandals among the clergy, and the universal reality of “suffering”, “pain”, and “evil”[2], – to gain fortitude upon inheriting the visual prowess of faith.

This visual prowess adhered to in the name of curiosity and wonder and in the instinctive thirst for the light, for the vision of the truth, is the primary and special mechanism figured to capture the essence of one’s proclivity to live, assume power, in order to know the meaning of life.

Yet in the name of such mechanism also one might be confused to assume the license of satisfying wonder by all means, permissive of almost everything to the point of disintegrating natural moral prescriptions, taking the hints from humanity’s fall in the Genesis account (Gen 3: 1-24). Ironically it posts a question emitting a response of either succumbing to the natural tendency of seeking the truth or remaining subtle yet restricted against the itches of curiosity. Stacking above this irony is another one, which puts the question in the bigger picture, specifically the contemporary culture and the isms that govern it, where the question always becomes open-ended, and the identities, and even the terminologies, of  light and darkness coat themselves into shades of tautology, equivocality and even in univocal relations.

How paradoxical can the situation be, if not juxtaposed to the relative operations of one’s vision, which is, specified contextually as, blurry, confused, and autonomously free in the most tolerant sense of the term? Whereas a close examination of this delicate vision arises out of need, an analysis of this present modern culture would settle the contextual dilemma.

The framework departs from what Pope Francis calls “contemporary”. What is often denoted in this term is the era called postmodernity, the era succeeding modernity. It even spreads doubts as to whatever consciousness it provides, as in the other term called post-structuralism. It is important to notice this ‘post’ prefix since it hints on a dissatisfaction against what was once there. To clarify at least generically, post-structuralism is “a theoretical position in which the crisis of representation within the epistemological context is laid bare, while Postmodernism is a code name for a mood, a posture, or a style that developed over the last thirty years as a reaction against modernism.”[3] The arising situation calls for a critique, but it does not escape even postmodernity – a critique that pivoted the emergence of what is called new modernity. To make sense of this, Postmodernity is the era and Postmodernism is the consciousness[4], and that 2nd Modernity or New Modernity is not Postmodernity but to specify, Post-postmodernity, that is, the modernity after postmodernity. And the scorn, to which the weight of many criticisms was given, all pointed at the referent root-word ‘modernity’.

Philosophically, modernity was the era that transformed truth into meaning.[5] Meaning is a criterion that man, along with his reason, has ascribed to his worldview. Truth was well explicated in the pre-modern era, or in medieval times, because the centrality which dictates the consciousness at that time was God. It was evident since that was the core consciousness or, to give a picture using Foucault’s term, the episteme of that moment. Regarding the episteme Foucault says of it as the “total set of relations that unite, at a given period, the discursive practices that give rise to epistemological figures, sciences, and possibly formalized systems.”[6] The continuities and discontinuities then of a given set of relations in a certain era reflects much the consciousness and cultural constructs of a time, the scientific and political consensus in building a unified subjectivity akin to a community. Politics, which strives for that relationality in truth encounters, reaching back from the Ancient Greek’s agora, is where the main locus of consensus intimately intensified replete with its deliberations and regulations. To transform this truth into meaning then would take into account these deliberations into a highly subjectivized rationality, which flees away from the conditions on the ground and lifts up supra-regulations that promote and exaggerate an established ego of meaning, that is, meaning centered on man and his infallible reason (vividly clarified in the flourishing of the sciences).

sea-20.jpg

In the Encyclical Pope Francis says regarding modernity that the light of the Hellenes thought to erase the darkness of ignorance “might have been considered sufficient for societies of old, but was felt to be of no use for new times, for a humanity come of age, proud of its rationality and anxious to explore the future in novel ways.”[7] It is precisely in the preposterous idea that man must arrive at something irrefutable apart from reality that extreme rationalism arose, championed indubitably by Descartes in his “promise of absolute epistemic objectivity and ultimate foundations for knowledge from an ever more critical distance, as ideals which have run their course.”[8] In the modern culture, all political musings become structured by matters of equality[9] and identity, for it was a project of a politics of identity[10] – a purely egocentric identity – which centers on man and his inventions, yet alas, a centrality that bloats explosively to his end which paves way for a new horizon. Foucault remarks that “Man is an invention of recent date, and one perhaps nearing its end! and the end of man … is nothing more, and nothing less, than the unfolding of a space in which it is once more possible to think!”[11]  In the same line Nietzsche says that

In the Horizon of the Infinite – we have left the land and have gone to sea! We have demolished the bridges behind us, indeed, we have destroyed the very land behind us! … Woe, when you are assailed by homesickness for the land, as if there more freedom were to be found – and there is no ‘land’ any longer.[12]

This is what “novelty and adventure” is in the contemporary culture of permissiveness. The license of pure originality is celebrated when the old is absolutely torn apart, much as the cry of Balintawak wherein the beginning of a new and autonomous consciousness calls for a celebration. Postmodernity then, “which no longer caught up in the web of any ideology or system”[13], followed modernity. In this line Pope Francis drew the attention to the technological and empirical. He observes that “in contemporary culture, we often tend to consider the only real truth to be that of technology: truth is what we succeed in building and measuring by our scientific know-how, truth is what works and what makes life easier and more comfortable.”[14]  This regard on the concrete, on the empirical evidences, defined the way of living characterized by independence and comfort. In fact, following the vestige of inventions in modernity, some sociological theorists argued that it is not an issue of late modernism replacing postmodernism but only postmodernism in a new sense, that is, from Lyotard’s Report on Knowledge regarding postmodernism as a form of epistemological postmodernism, to what is coined as empirical postmodernism with its empirical mechanisms and continuing modern way of living.[15] What was once rational and ideal towards human freedom and creativity turned empirical and concrete with equal semblances of autonomous rationality. In postmodernity, Pope Francis says that “what we are left with is relativism, in which the question of universal truth — and ultimately this means the question of God — is no longer relevant.”[16] However, contrary to what may have been idealized as carefree and independent, the transition of modernity to postmodernity ironically did not provide that much comfort, instead it brought about differences in and through different global and local contexts patterned in the so called multiculturalism, which for the most part threatened the identity, security and safety of the way people live.  Robert Schreiter puts it succinctly:

The End of Postmodernity and Multiculturalism? While postmodern and multicultural may be useful descriptive terms for our experience when things are stable and can go relatively unquestioned, they do very little to interpret those experiences or to engage them constructively when we are perceived to be moving into a crisis… they did not of themselves have much explanatory power to help us interpret the world we live in, especially when that world became fundamentally unstable.  Nor did they suggest much by way of action to address that instability, other than affirmation of those same experiences they were intended to describe … postmodernity and multiculturalism have become less useful, especially for any analysis of the world we live in today [17]

Indeed, “there are good reasons to wish for another kind of modernity, one not so arrogant, not so intent on forcing us to choose whether we are for it or against it.”[18] To this end, Schreiter sighted the acknowledgment of New Modernity and reintroduced it from “reflex modernity”, “new modernity”, or Scott Lash’s “second modernity”, which recently Beck describes as “new cosmopolitanism.[19]” “These are unsettling times” describes Fred Dallmayr in picturing the new era that Cosmopolitanism is today.[20] In this new way of seeing the present, the challenge is to seek integrity once again, somewhat a chain that will tie the ship back from a source. The wanderings of many people who call themselves postmodern lived terribly fragmented. There is loss in the sense of identity.  The New modernity is the struggle to be whole. Within these contemporary issues that Pope Francis mentioned, there lies a re-creation, a re-visualizing of the things experienced, things that sought to congest identity-formations. Over the last decades, the transition between these consciousness-es went so quickly[21] that it would be too surprising, perhaps confusing, to acknowledge which era does one belong, hence rendering relative standpoints. In this transition, truth, as the light of reason, also mutated rather rapidly. The Pope sketches the fact of “a massive amnesia in our contemporary world.”[22] It, however, not only meant the forgetting of the sense of source, but it also represents the many fabricated differences that in resisting to internalize, we ought to forget and do away with instead. The vision towards truth as the light paradoxically becomes incapable of illuminating; it confuses, and worse, darkens.

The Paradoxes in the Vision of Faith

From the outset, the contemporary situation settles in the unstable consciousness of our time. Within this frame, perspectives generate paradoxes, and seeing things, visualizing reality, can very much be an eyesore. The outline of the political and socio-cultural temporality laid beforehand was vital because it locates us to when and where we are now and how we should see things. A great deal of our vision and perspectives are affected by the situational instances that, as a corresponding light on an era, influence much our human condition.[23] Human vision, in its plasticity, changes over history and that artistic representation plays a significant role in effecting such transformations.[24] These artistic representations, seen in the concrete through architectures, antique or new, are indications that a thing has life; it has its own living meaning throughout time. The most concrete of these representations take the form of cultural and religious practices or rites performed in diverse manners and with corresponding meanings. Unfortunately, the loss of finding meaning and seeing through these practices affect especially, and without escape, religion.

That question of: “What is the social role of religion in contemporary society? What is religion about, sociologically, in modern times?”[25] Modern sociologists like Besecke re-echoed the pre-existing invisibility of religion in the Western European model, aware of the vast difference in the East where public religious art and architecture, much like ours in the parishes are visibly seen as reminders of a transcendent meaning in our everyday life. Besecke, however, analyzed the role of religion, especially in its invisibility in the Western world, as “societal conversations about transcendent meanings” wherein listening to them makes up “the public face of religious meaning in contemporary societies.”[26] In this line of thought hearing marked the essence of a face, a visual presentation of religion in its function. In the same light Pope Francis says that faith is both hearing and seeing.[27] This gives us a very sensible paradox, because the vision of faith points not only to sight but to hearing, through words. “Faith is not a private matter, a completely individualistic notion or a personal opinion: it comes from hearing, and it is meant to find expression in words and to be proclaimed.”[28]

owls

Notice that in the shift from the political to the personal, the visual prowess towards light also diverted from the light of reason to the light of faith. Such alteration happens because the anti-thesis provoked is external, that is, the suffering and fragmented cultural schema around us, which makes others skeptic and cynic. This too is a paradox. When “the light of autonomous reason is not enough to illumine the future [that] ultimately the future remains shadowy and fraught with fear of the unknown”, the light of faith is not an all-too alien light that sheens whenever reason puts its light off. Pope Francis notes that this sadly makes faith “a leap in the dark, to be taken in the absence of light, driven by blind emotion, or as a subjective light, capable perhaps of warming the heart and bringing personal consolation.”[29] It is not only a specific thing for Minerva’s owl as figured for the philosophers to see reason apart from the night’s twilight background, but, as it goes deeper into the abyss, it now relies on something that discloses itself even in the day, its eyes asleep but ever awake in the resonance of the day and the day’s end. When the philosopher closes its eyes to seek the truth, it does not mean that it also closes itself for the possibility of believing, for it only wishes to have faith, as a theologian would have to, for things that touch even in the domain of the invisible, of the impossible – of the cloaks of darkness! A philosopher is classically said to be a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat which is not there. Obviously it creates a lot of room for fiction, but if it should, the statement must continue with the theologian finding it, not however as another person distinctive of the former, but in the opening of one’s eyes of the faith, as the same person himself, the philosopher who becomes a theologian, who radically puts one’s reason into the realm of faith. The light of faith and the light of reason are paradoxically one in their complementarity. “Faith broadens the horizons of reason to shed greater light on the world which discloses itself to scientific investigation”, such that reason becomes “faith-filled”.[30] It is also true otherwise, that “faith without truth does not save; it does not provide a sure footing. It remains a beautiful story, the projection of our deep yearning for happiness, something capable of satisfying us to the extent that we are willing to deceive ourselves.”[31]

Now, the remaining paradox in the vision of faith is its association to light. And the greatest paradox of light is its darkness, its underlying shadow behind. Certainly, “light is, we might say, actually something positive, but darkness is surely a privation.”[32] This is now the paradoxical schema of faith’s vision, when our eyes betray us, when our eyes become the sole culprits, when we still believe that light overwhelms darkness. Our eyes only show us the light but never the shadow. We have come to see the light, but the light always makes us grapple with it – it always appears unfathomable, it always appears dark! Every light stands indifferent towards its shadows, but in our age where many claim they have seen the light even to the point of assuming that they have found the true light, “faith came to be associated with darkness.”[33]

This association implies two things. First, is that light as “illusory”, arising from the contemporary perspective, does not really shine but confuses and darkens. The vision of faith in this sense becomes blind, something which we might be skeptic about. It illustrates that “no one lives as a total skeptic but skeptical philosophy trims our pretensions; no one lives as a perfect Stoic but Stoic reflections can increase our attachment to more ordinary virtues.”[34] Some of us might long to achieve perfection, with the danger of resulting to vanity, in hopes of becoming the star in the spotlight. But there’s a warning, as in the case of the advice to the painter, “You need some lessons…? … Yes, to learn not to paint so well”.[35] In other words, in this very spotlight lies the argument of what really perfection means. Our attitudes towards the light depends upon the intended object that is envisioned,  whether it wishes to present one’s self only on the privileged position on the spotlight of “fame” in society or in the ordinariness of dispositions which, even if no one sees, still tries to be a light to others. When confronted with the real light, every pretension is trimmed, and no perfection with regards to fame really matters. In this kind of illusory light close to darkness, Pope Francis cautions against the peril of “ephemeral idolatry”, as the “opposite of faith”. Idolatry leads to nowhere, it “does not offer a journey but rather a plethora of paths leading nowhere and forming a vast labyrinth.”[36] In his address to the community of the Pontifical Ecclesial Academy, he warns against the tendency of “careerism” which he states is a “form of leprosy”.  Idolatry especially directed towards the self is an angelic temptation which asks: must we wish to become Satan when we are already Lucifer?

Second, is that the light of faith never makes us forget the “sufferings of this world.”[37] The light of faith then never leaves its shadow. The eyes of faith never forgets the fact that before we emerge in the light, we are first born in the shadows, born inside the dark wombs of our origins. Faith can be forged, established, tested, and coalesced in the shadows. Figuratively it points to how Paul converts his “thorn in the flesh” as his strength under the sufficient grace of God (2 Cor. 12:7-10). The world of suffering blinded us of the other side of the picture. It has favored the faith that only stands in the light, pushing the shadows aside, pushing the values of sacrificial love aside. We should therefore darken the egoistic faith of these eyes, for they have only made us ill of their indolent servitudes to humanity, made us look successful at the front pages of society, and yet made us afraid of our own shadows. “Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey.”[38]

The real paradox now appears from these two implications: the light of faith, though in contemporary times, appears illusory and dark, and though it accepts darkness, should never lead us to will darkness itself. “Faith does not dwell in shadow and gloom; it is a light for our darkness.”[39] In this light, our visual prowess envisions a participation in the seeing of our Lord,[40] the way Jesus, who became man, understands the light found in our actions towards Justice, but also the darkness found in our sinfulness, our weakness to long the Mercy and Grace of God. However, it is difficult to live in the light, for it creates, humanly speaking, a threat to one’s freedom, always caught with the omnipresent Lord gazing at us (Ps.139), always reminded of the everyday challenges our conscience dictates to us. As conclusion, then, may this vision of faith aid us in practicing the eyes of “seeing beyond”[41] and “constantly turning towards the Lord, [of whom] we discover a sure path which liberates us.”[42]

May these eyes from which we see remind us of Jesus, of our dignity, against the roaming influences of darkness, and the paradoxes underneath the vision of faith.

The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be! (Mt.6:22-23)


NOTES

[1] Confer. Broackes, Justin, Black and White and the Inverted Spectrum, The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 57, No. 227 (Apr., 2007), p. 161

[2] Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei, Encyclical Letter, 2013, 1, 2, 13, 25, 54, 56-57; cf. first public Mass at the 2013 World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

[3] Walshaw, Margaret, A Foucauldian Gaze on Gender Research: What Do You Do When Confronted with the Tunnel at the End of the Light?, Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, Vol. 32, No. 5 (Nov., 2001), 472.

[4] See Florentino Hornedo, The Condition of the Present: Postmodernity, The Thomasian Philosopher, (Manila: UST Publishing House: 2001), 103.

[5] Aldo Tassi, Modernity as the Transformation of Truth into Meaning, Readings in Philosophy of Man, Ateneo de Manila University, 1986, 17-29.

[6] Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge (and The Discourse on Language), trans. Sheridan Smith (New York: Pantheon Books: 1972) 191. He continues, “The episteme is neither a form of knowledge nor a type of rationality which, crossing the boundaries of the most varied sciences, manifests the sovereign unity of a subject, a spirit, or a period. It is the totality of relations that can be discovered for a given period, between the sciences when one analyzes them at the level of discursive regularities.”

[7] Lumen Fidei, 2 cf. Republic book VII. Trans. Jowett.

[8] Susan Bordo, The Flight to Objectivity, essays on Cartesianism and Culture, Albany, State University of New York Press: 1987, p.2

[9] Lumen Fidei, 54

[10] Joseph Natoli, A primer to Postmodernity, Blackwell, 1997, p.17.

[11] Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage Books, 1994) p. 387 and p.342.

[12] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann, New York: Vintage Books, 1974, 124

[13] Romualdo Abulad, Kant and Postmodernism? In On Postmodernism, (Manila: UST Publishing House: 2004), 57.

[14] Lumen Fidei, 25.

[15] Mirchandani, Rekha, Postmodernism and Sociology: From the Epistemological to the Empirical, Sociological Theory, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Mar., 2005), p  86-115

[16] Lumen Fidei 25

[17]Robert Schreiter,  A New Modernity: Living and Believing in an Unstable World. The 2005 Anthony Jordan Lectures Newman Theological College, Edmonton, Alberta: 2005, p. 9-10.

Cf. Ulrich Beck The Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (London: Sage, 1992).  The German original appeared in 1986.

[18] Kompridis, Nikolas, Normativizing Hybridity/ Neutralizing Culture, Political Theory, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Jun., 2005), 337.

[19] See Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens, and Scott Lash, Reflexive Modernization (Stanford: Standord University Press, 1994); Scott Lash, Another Modernity (London: Sage, 1999); Ulrich Beck, Der kosmopolitische Blick (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2004).

[20] Dallmayr, Fred, Cosmopolitanism: Moral and Political, Political Theory, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Jun., 2003), 421.

[21] This very quick transition situates for example the Chinese economy that since 1970’s still continues to rapidly rise out of the darkness, albeit it failed in operating its supposed Anglo-Saxon capitalism. Bramall, Chris, Out of the Darkness: Chinese Transition Paths, Modern China, Vol. 35, No. 4, Whither Chinese Reforms? Dialogues among Western and Chinese Scholars, II (Jul., 2009), p  439-449

[22] Lumen Fidei, 25

[23] Wohl, Robert, Heart of Darkness: Modernism and Its Historians, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 74, No. 3 (September 2002), p  573-621. Take for example the conclusion of Perry Anderson of Marshall Berman’s All That Is Solid Melts into Air that “modernism as a notion is the emptiest of all cultural categories. Unlike the terms Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Mannerist, Romantic or Neo-Classical, it designates no describable object in its own right at all; it is completely lacking in positive content . . . what is concealed beneath the label is a wide variety of very diverse—indeed incompatible— aesthetic practices: symbolism, constructivism, expressionism, surrealism. These, which do spell out specific programmes, were unified post hoc in a portmanteau concept whose only referent is the blank passage of time itself. There is no other aesthetic marker so vacant or vitiated.” This era and consciousness cannot really be do away with easily, even if most historians would admittedly see negatively of it, since it has to be the foundation, much less, a critique of how an ideally set avant-garde succumbs to folly and vainness.

[24] Carroll, Noël, Modernity and the Plasticity of Perception, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 59, No. 1 (Winter, 2001), 11.

[25] Besecke, Kelly, Seeing Invisible Religion: Religion as a Societal Conversation about Transcendent Meaning, Sociological Theory, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Jun., 2005),  194

[26] Ibid.,

[27] Lumen Fidei, 29-31

[28] Lumen Fidei, 22

[29] Lumen Fidei, 3

[30] Lumen Fidei, 34, 27

[31] Lumen Fidei, 24

[32] Broackes, Justin, Black and White and the Inverted Spectrum, 169.

[33] Lumen Fidei, 3.

[34] Sabl, Andrew, Noble Infirmity: Love of Fame in Hume, Political Theory, Vol. 34, No. 5 (Oct., 2006), 563.

See. Hume, David, Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, New York : Hafner, 1969.

[35] Sertillanges, A.G. O.P The intellectual Life (Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods), Trans. Mary Ryan. (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press: 1987), xxiv.

[36] Lumen Fidei, 13.

[37] Lumen Fidei, 57. Cf. In some instances, the darkness of ill and near-death situations, whether passive or active, as in the tuberculosis-related death of Kajii Motojirō or the suicidal act of Akutagawa Ryunosuke, has powerfully opened their eyes to a grander appreciation of nature, a vision only achieved in the darkest of darkness. Dodd, Stephen, Darkness Transformed: Illness in the Work of Kajii Motojirō, Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Winter, 2007), 67, 84.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Lumen Fidei, 4.

[40] Lumen Fidei, 18.

[41] ‘Seeing beyond’ situates for example our visualizing in the factors behind the scenes, explicit in the booming enterprise of porn industry that strategically hides the feminine in oppression, behind satirical scenes of visual satisfaction, which in effect influences and attracts more women especially in the lessening of value against moral norms . The harm in pornography remains invisible because of the Media, lawyers, writers, and politicians who make it appear that porn is a form of feminist freedom. The irony lingers: “the harm is invisible because of the smile, because women are made to smile; women aren’t just made to do the sex acts. They are made to smile while they do them.” http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/WarZoneChaptIVF1.html. Some contentions had risen against the banning of porn by women themselves with the claim of their freedom to express themselves. Conf. http://www.isil.org/resources/lit/banning-porn.html; and http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/mcelroy_17_4.html or http://www.wendymcelroy.com/freeinqu.htm.

[42] Lumen Fidei, 13.

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