I have just had a piece published over on Threads, a follow-up to yesterday’s post about millennials and the Church. Within it I call the popular emphasis upon questioning among millennials into question:
Our questions reveal the terms within which we approach reality as our object of enquiry. The wrong questions force reality into ill-fitting frameworks of understanding. People who take the appropriateness of their questions for granted are people who presume the universal applicability of their terms of understanding, of their ways of perceiving and framing the world, not alert to the possibility that reality might only be rightly understood on quite different terms.
Above almost all else, gifted questioners need to be prepared to be questioned themselves. And it is at this point that I believe that Millennials face particular dangers. All too often, resistance to ‘predetermined answers’ can be a self-serving posture, designed to fend off anything that might make claims upon our loyalty and duty. With a ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ we can distrust and selectively ignore all external authorities that might seek our obedience. A posture of cynicism leads us to be sceptical of all supposed beauty, truth, or goodness that might call us to change.
Read the whole piece here.
A very important insight – to the point that asking the wrong question – typically by inverting the underlying assumptions – may render a question unanswerable.
(This is something I emphasize in my teaching of evolution – for example if you try to explain violence in modern society, you will probably get nowhere, while there are clear answers to such alternative formulations as why are men less violent in modern societies than in traditional societies? or why men are more violent than women? Similarly, it is mistaken (although common) to ask why step-parents are so much more likely to harm children in a family than are genetic parents – but the proper question is to understand why step parents spontaneously provide any care at all! (given they have no genetic stake in the child and that by supporting them they are promoting the genetic self interest of a rival other). *On the face of it*, step-parenting should be bred-out of humans by natural selection. There are theories as to why this has NOT happened, but that is what would be expected.)
The most basic of all badly-formed questions is to try and evaluate the truth of religion from atheist assumptions; when it is clear that humans are naturally and spontaneously religious, but atheism – by contrast – is an historically recent and geographically very restricted ideology, a microscopically tiny minority of humans have been atheist by assumption – thus it is atheism which need to be explained. Especially how atheism, having discarded and reversed so many foundational assumptions, can avoid being arbitrary in its claims and avoid being self-refuting in its lack of defensible foundations.
I would go so far as to say that badly-formed questions are the bane of modernity: the greatest source of confusion and wickedness in the world today. And of course this is no accident, because it serves the interest of those who wish to destroy existing institutions to raise and sustain formally-unanswerable questions against them. This is most effectively done by changing the framework of assumptions, and that is exactly what we see all around us.
Thanks for commenting, Bruce (and sorry that we weren’t able to meet up earlier).
Our failure to question the questions and give careful thought to the way that our enquiries are framed is one of the most consistent ways in which we can start to assume key elements of the foundation of errors that we intend to attack. This has been a constant danger in the history of the Church: the questions of the heretics (and all of their assumptions and priorities) can establish the terms for the articulation of orthodoxy. In each opposition to error, we risk swallowing a little.
Only found your blog yesterday but have found it a blessing, helpful and wonderfully provocative. Thank you for taking the time to write and share with others!
Your reflections on how we form questions connects with a long term interest of mine around questions and conversation.
Keep creating…questions worth asking,
Thanks for the encouragement, Mike! It is good to have you here.
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