Issue 90 / November - December 2012
From Modernity to Post Modernity: The Importance of Faith in a Changing World
Juan Fernando Lucio
In his essay Postmodern Knowledge, French philosopher, Jean Francois Lyotard defined post modernism as the series of changes in the way we view culture, literature and science since the end of the nineteenth century as a result of rapid technological, social and economic transformations. These transformations in the fields of arts, philosophy and science have challenged the very foundations of what used to be called reality, time and space, man and knowledge.
Today we seem to accept that "reality is a construct" made up of meaning and values, a moment in the life of human consciousness, both at the individual and social level. The dynamic character of what we call "reality" has implications on our understanding of culture, science and man.
Culture is now understood as the set of symbols and values that constitute the virtual horizon that validates the reasonableness of human actions. By the same token, the principles of science are as valid as the arrival of other principles that revolutionize the preceding ones. Science no longer seeks necessary laws but rather the best available explanations about the universe that is today understood as open, dynamic and evolving.
Man is seen as a unity in tension, holder of a polymorphic consciousness that shapes his understanding according to a set of unconscious and preconscious processes that determine his intentions and decisions. He is known to also possess a consciousness with an unrestricted desire to know and a criterion allowing him to examine himself as he examines reality around him, simultaneously. This unrestricted desire to know leads him to an unrestricted objective: being.
This new way of viewing our own universe has two important implications: the acceptance of diversity and the forward looking mentality of man in almost every aspect of life. The forward looking character of man is associated with dramatic breakthroughs in science and the challenge of important paradigms of humanity, including the fact that this is the first time in history where human inventions and life styles can even extinguish all life on the planet.
In relation to diversity, post-modernity tends to be more colorful, heterogeneous, ecological and multi-religious than modernity. And in relation to looking into the future, the construction of things like a global civilization seem to form part of the feasible horizon to man.
Throughout human history, two things have characterized what is new: a process of simultaneous unity and conflict with what already exists, and the fact that the new state of being is not necessarily better than its predecessor. Post modernity is united with modernity in the sense that it requires the preservation of the critical spirit of the Enlightenment. However, the two eras are separated in the criticism of what can be called the "superstitions of modernity", namely that future solutions lie only in the application of ever growing doses of science and technology, and in the repression of religious instinct and of religion in general.
There is no guarantee that this new era we are calling post-modernity will be better than the previous one. The future that opens before us can be one of a "clash of civilizations" or a time where future generations will acknowledge as an era of global splendor. The fact of the matter is that we have already left the modern "comfort zone" a long time ago. We are on a trip into the unknown and depending on how well we are equipped for this journey, we stand a better or worse chance of arriving at a safe harbor.
As with any journey, regardless of how well or how little of it we know, it is important to understand what the destination might be. We have already said that the destination of post-modernity is in the quest for meaning and being. And the reason is simple: modernism was based on progress as a paradigm and the supremacy of man over himself and nature. That is, human intelligence promised to liberate us from political oppression, provide a higher standard of living, and attain "perfection" in every field of life through the application of human mastery over knowledge, science, and technology.
Modernity appeared as a reaction to the backward looking world of the Renaissance. Post modernity in contrast, is a quest for meaning. This quest is not a return to the past and starts with achievements of human consciousness that are worth preserving, like the fight for justice, freedom and equality, and against intellectual and religious obscurantism. This quest is making a special impact on re-signifying paradigms and conquests of modernity. All over the world, thousands of people are modifying their understanding about democracy, technological progress, high standard of living and reason.
This important process of soul-searching in our times is taking place amidst spiritually-mindful people all over the world. For them, the times we live in are not the "end of history." On the contrary, self complacency with the so-called achievements of modernity in science and communication underscores the importance of social justice, care for the planet and transcendence as pillars of a new world, since this cannot be the end of history so long as there are wars, hunger and injustice.
As the chances for economic and political systems to be radically transformed are high today, spiritually-mindful people will play a very large role in this transformation. The main reason for this is that truly spiritually-mindful people have little to no expectation in the so-called "comfort zones" because they always live to balance between what they know and the expectation of a world that has been promised to them by God. Whatever the culture he or she may have been born into, the seeker of the Truth is sensitive to the emerging probabilities where the human condition can be improved and they opt for them.
In this unconditional commitment for dynamic love lies the freedom of the spiritually-mindful person. This love is not only limited to the act of knowing but also to the act of choosing. He or she knows that unless action is undertaken, the elements that constitute a new world will never come to be. In the ethic to permanently destabilize his or her own self with already acquired ideas about the world, religion and culture, in thought and action, is implied the contribution of spiritually-mindful people to the world that is opening before us today.
A caveat however is that believers do not seem to be united across religions and cultures. Despite progress in communication, increased religious dialogue and an openness to alterity, there is little concerted interfaith action. Yet, this will only change in time if spiritually-mindful people can adequately identify and correct the many biases existing in every belief structure that in the name of God, have kept separation and strife amongst religions.
Human consciousness today is in need of an active and meaningful recognition of religious diversity. For some religions like Islam, such recognition has been established since its foundation, but has not been always followed in some regions and times in history. The same applies for Eastern philosophies and religions that have focused particularly on the discovery of God inside the heart of man. However regarding Christianity, which has only after 1965 recognized that salvation is possible outside of the Church, there is still a lot of progress to be made.
In the new world that is opening before us, it is probable that religions will not live side by side to each other in a juxtaposed manner as they do today. Instead, growing numbers of people will be able to make a clear distinction between the diverse manifestations of the names of God, and the way in which they have been interpreted and communicated. They will be more aware about the things that unite religions than the ones that separate them.
This will ultimately enrich all of them. There is a lot to be learned in the religious sense from the Arab Spring in the Middle East or from the many types of theologies that have evolved out of Vatican II all over the word or from the many teachings of Eastern beliefs. It is time for spiritually-inclined people all over the world to raise their heads and watch what their brothers from other religions are doing, inspired by the spirit of love and mercy. These people should speak to one another as this can only contribute to make the quality of their faith grow stronger.
All religions have prophets and saints that stand as a common heritage of humanity. Today, there are many people in every religion whose devotion, love of God and mankind, and heroism should be known and praised by all. They have a series of qualities important to the present quest into post modernity: they teach us that it is necessary to leave the "comfort zone" advertised by many worldly powers, they set the example in terms of the authenticity of their actions and they inspire us to transform ourselves from the inside as a precondition to make changes on the outside possible and meaningful.
In synthesis, a new world is emerging in a dialectics of many powerful forces: economic, political, military, scientific and social. A new force is required in the process: a divine spiritual guidance. This force that is depended on by millions of spiritually-mindful people is crucial, for they are in a privileged position to stand their ground on the basis of the authenticity of the process. They have not only evolved interested patterns of knowing and deciding, but by the nature of their belief, they seek a disinterested desire to know which is aimed at an unrestrictive objective, which is the finality of mankind as it unfolds into the universe of being.
Juan Fernando Lucio, a former adviser to presidential candidate Sergio Fajardo in Colombia, has advised on peace and reconciliation issues and done extensive research on the foundations of interfaith dialogue. He is currently an independent consultant and does research on the topic of liberation in contemporary religious thought.