During the past twenty-five years we have witnessed, both in the world and in the church, a deconstruction so radical that it has few parallels in history. In short, all of our major institutions – family, church, marriage, nation, and even the classics within literature, art, and music – have been in some way discredited. Virtually all of our cherished institutions and values have been shown to contain within them a certain racism, sexism, imperialism, cultural and historical bias, and a simple narrowness.
Liberals argue that this deconstruction is good. Conservatives argue that it is bad. The purpose of this reflection is not to argue either way. It is to suggest that, good or bad, it is now time to begin to rebuild. It is time for some reconstruction. Deconstruction must now give way to something further.
Put one way, it is time for reconstruction because there is no longer any enchantment left in the world; everything is undercut, explained away, rationalized away, cynically justified, and cynically pardoned. Put in a less abstract way, it is time for reconstruction because while we are very sophisticated, hermeneutically critical, and growing in sensitivity vis-a-vis racism, sexism, and the ecology, we are also growing steadily in a certain despondency and chaos.
Simply put, we are not a very happy generation. All of this criticism has left us with a certain hermeneutical purity, but it has also left us struggling for security, stability, and chastity, unable to give our children much, or anything, to believe in and unable to give our own selves much, or any, community. It has also left us struggling to experience any delight and enchantment in our lives. We are a little like the adolescent who can now point out his parents’ faults. He is less naive, and equally less happy, for knowing this.
With this in mind, allow me to submit a few principles for reconstruction. These principles do not suggest that it is illegitimate to do any more deconstruction or that one should close one’s mind to the real faults within our institutions. No. To commit oneself to reconstruction is not to make a vow of naivete. Nor is it to buy into that cheap upbeat attitude that would always put the best face on things, irrespective of what needs to be denied. Sound principles for reconstruction are, in the end, really tenets for a positive Christian criticism:
The type of criticism that leads to positive reconstruction is characterized by the following:
- It works more by affirming what it believes in than by affirming what it does not believe in.
- It is never elitist, nor arrogant. It does not consider the general populace ignorant and unenlightened.
- It criticizes the bad by the practice of the good.
- It knows that cynicism and resignation are too easy since they require no conversion, no commitment, and no attunement to divine providence.
- It accepts the real limits within community and does not make perfection the enemy of the good. It has a willingness to carry the dark side of things.
- It never, in the name of justice or orthodoxy, brackets the non-negotiable virtues of faith, hope, charity, and chastity, irrespective of urgency and cause.
- It does not divide the sincere from the sincere, the good from the good, the committed from the committed.
- It works off the premise that we hold within us two great worlds and two great wounds; the divine and the pagan, the wound of human nature and the wound of divine love.
- It has wide loyalties – heaven and earth, liberal and conservative, old and new, male and female, passion and purity, patriarchy and matriarchy, androgogy and pedagogy, rationality and emotion, the institution and the individual, social conscience and private morality.
- It never, for reasons of ideology or orthodoxy, denigrates beauty, colour, manners, and proper aesthetics.
- It is not afraid to kneel, to adore, to admit it own sin and helplessness.
- It takes its centre outside of human ego, outside of both the hurts and the glories of that ego.
- It takes its centre in the greatest of all events within human history: The fact that Christ has died, that Christ has risen, that Christ will come again.