On Being & Knowing - A Response
The quip "epistemology is the new ontology" is catchy indeed.
But my question is this: can ontology ever be disentangled from epistemology?
They are not the same thing and the way we understand the nature of being definitely influences the way we understand knowing (the nature of knowledge) and vice-versa. It is telling that we often almost identify "the way we believe" with "the way we know".
The current zeitgeist is permeated by an implicit assumption: "the journey is the destination". This is the post-modern condition, where no absolutes exist and the self is the reference point of the universe, but this way of travelling is a restless endeavour and less than satisfying, if not despairing. If not destination (which might be considered unreachable), then at least direction is essential and I think the hunger for meaning exceeds that for means. So maybe the story is more important than the journey. Why are we even travelling? Maybe to find who we are?
There's little agreement on the ontological level: what is a human being? Is the answer to be found in a definition or in a story? My guess is that the biblical story, incomplete as it might be, as it unfolds, gives us enough hints and points towards elements of a definition, although the Bible is not a dictionary or a compendium of definitions; even if the Bible is not a list of definitions, but is essentially a story, knowledge can be derived from this story.
Without being a moral relativist, Jesus was post-modern avant la lettre, by claiming: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. The way, the truth, the life, all inseparable, no neat categories.
The Bible is full of counter-cultural - and relevant claims - with insights about the nature of reality and the nature of knowing. In God's understanding, believing is a tool for knowing and even for understanding. According to God's epistemology, spiritual things can only be understood once they are believed. And the more one believes, the better the understanding. Apparently faith is the essential epistemological method in the spiritual realm. If we start with faith, then we can develop perception, and even more, discernment (sometimes we perceive the spiritual reality, but we cannot discern the source of that perception). Discernment helps us identify the source and meaning of perception.
Consider Hebrews – in chapter eleven we read; “Now, faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”
Maybe instead of decrying the relativism and the lack of trust in structured knowledge specific to postmodernity, we should take it as an opportunity to challenge people to try this way. Instead of focusing always on persuading and convincing people, at an intellectual level of the nature of this reality, we could invite them to a relation. Once we advance in the relation, we expand our knowledge and understanding, but apparently God is not interested in giving people the information unless they are interested in the love adventure, so information and better understanding comes as a by-product for a follower of Jesus.