Friday, January 27, 2012

Absolute Subjectivity

I've realized that my last couple of posts might have given the idea that I think that LGBTQ people who do believe that their homosexuality is caused by family dynamics are just “making it up,” that it's “all in their heads,” that it's a rather dull delusion being projected onto their experience. I wanted to be clear that this is not what I'm implying.

First, family dynamic stories are not boring, reductive or unhip by nature. Tenessee Williams, Robertson Davies, David Foster Wallace and countless other writers have produced absolutely fabulous, gripping stories out of family conflicts. These narratives are not only valid, they elucidate the core of archetypal meaning which is to be found in human relationships. They are a revelation of a truth that is much deeper than mere fact. As James Joyce so eloquently showed us, when a person has an experience of conflict within the family, and especially of the resolution or forgiveness of that conflict, this can be an epic adventure equal to the Odyssey or The Lord of the Rings. So long as the narrative is genuine, so long as it arises from the true experience of the subject, it has the capacity to be a manifestation of truth. These stories only become dull and uninspiring when they are subjected to formulaic constraints – when they cease to be a genuine expression of the individual personality, and they become the psychological equivalent of predictable Hollywood schlock.

More fundamentally, though, I would like to emphasize that subjective realities are not delusional or “untrue.” One of the great errors promulgated by the Enlightenment is the privileging of objective truth to the denigration of subjectivity. This notion of objectivity, which is exemplified by the dogma that the Earth goes around the Sun and not visa versa, rests on the assumption that more distance you have from a thing, the more accurate, reliable, verifiable and therefore true, your observations about it will be. This distance can be achieved through physical removal, psychological disinterestedness, intellectual abstraction or conditional controls (think of the kind of detachment from real life implied by controlled laboratory conditions.) The artifacts of the human interior, because they cannot be subjected to external verification or objective study, become increasingly suspect in such a scheme. They are trusted only in so far as they can be abstracted by psychological metanarratives, rationalized by statistical data gathering, or otherwise placed under artificial surveillance.

This kind of objectivism produced a kind of scientific totalitarianism – not only in the political order but in the order of knowledge itself: a totalizing metanarrative founded on the presumed superiority of objective observation. This metanarrative, which has formed the intellectual substrata of Western thought throughout the modern era, is profoundly at odds with Christianity. When the Church fulminated against the Copernicans, it was not because She was insisting on an inaccurate way of looking at the universe, but rather because She was trying to preserve a worldview which placed personality, not impersonality, at the centre of Knowledge. She was attempting to preserve humanity from the inhuman excesses of humanism.

What Christians believe in is not objectivity, but absolutism. We believe that truth really is true, but that it is vouchsafed not by disinterested objectivity, but by a profoundly interested Divine personality. All of the objects of scientific inquiry will pass away, but the person, his soul, his experience, his loves, his interests and his subjectivity will persist. It is the subject that God loves, the subject that is made in the image and likeness of God. Absolute truth is not “out there” but in here: the “Kingdom of God,” which is “within.” Verily, verily, God Himself is not an objective, abstract deity, but a communion of persons: a triune intersubjectivity possessed of free will, capable of loving, and hating, and experiencing. This God is not watching us from a distance, He is watching us from the Centre of the World, the Cross, through the eyes of a body which is the Body of the whole human race in time and throughout eternity. This absolute personality includes and verifies all of our little subjectivities, not by getting outside of them, by seeing with a more objective eye, but by getting inside of them, by becoming united to them.

These subjective truths are not judged according to the logic of objective science, but rather according to the logic of narrative. The Saints have “Lives,” that is, they have stories which vouchsafe their sanctity. God does not decide who will get into heaven by taking a statistical survey of the opinions of the neighbours, nor by adding up a utilitarian calculation of goods and evils committed in this life, or even by asking whether a person performed any scientifically verifiable miracles, but rather by examining the interior logic of the personality: whether it produced a story-shaped life, and whether the story that was lived conformed to the True story of the person of Christ.

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