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The Fall, the Transcendentals, and “Things” (Pt. 3)
October 23, 2014 richardstevenpark

The Fall, the Transcendentals, and “Things” (Pt. 3)

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In the third and final post in this series, I shall discuss the doctrine of Total Depravity and the sociological notion of reification, and how each of these ideas relate the Christian doctrine of the Fall.

Simply put, the doctrine of Total Depravity suggests that, on this side of eternity, humanity will never be as good as it could be since “evil contaminates everything”;[1] at the same time, we must keep in mind that presence of divine grace, coupled with the work of divine redemption, means that humanity will never be as evil either. In the words of Augustine, the city of God and the city of man “are entangled together in this world [saeculum]” until the final judgment at the eschaton.[2] Or, as Jesus describes it, there are both wheat and tares in a given field, and until the “harvest [at] the end of the age” (Mt. 13.39), we will not know which is which. We must take seriously the depravity of humanity – and therefore not negotiate with terrorists, for example – while also recognizing and thanking God for the presence of divine “common grace” which keeps the universe and history running.

This discussion about the wheat and the tares, the city of God and the city of man, brings me to the notion of reification. The point here is that, given the reality of a fallen world, when we set out to redeem it with GTB, we would do well to recognize the sociological impact made by certain instances of GTB (or its opposite: evil, falsehood, and degradation [EFD]). In layperson’s terms, what in the world are we talking about here? Well, let’s define our terms.

To reify (Ltn. rēs = thing) an object means to perceive a given human construction or cultural phenomenon as a bare fact or nonnegotiable aspect of reality. For example, whether we enter into a government building (or an entire political system for that matter!) or encounter the game of baseball (or even the baseball itself!), and if we perceive the building or the baseball as something more than a human construction which exists as a function of a collective recognition that it exists, then we reify that object.[3] To put simply (if roughly): acting as if some social-cultural (or political) object is unchangeable or nearly so is to reify that object. Some examples may help.

When one is purchasing food at the grocery store (rather than simply walking away with it); when a basketball player draws a foul; when a Nazi officer claims to have been “just taking orders” – in all these instances of cultural-social life, a process of reification is taking place (some more fatal than others of course). Grocery stores, basketball games, and military operations all require a degree of reification in order to exist and function the way they do. Arguably, every single human society engenders and encounters reification.[4] This discussion seems fine and fairly trivial, even if unusual. So what does it have to do with the doctrine of the Fall, and of thinking theologically through the whole of life? The answer has largely to do with media.

Because media – whether the new, social media, or traditional forms such as radio, theatre, news broadcasts – because they have a particular immediacy about them, we tend to reify what is being communicated, especially when they are emotionally charged.[5] This isn’t to say, however, that all reification is evil; certainly not: buying (healthy) food at the store is usually good and necessary. What I am suggesting is that media tends to reify ways of thinking (worldviews) into one’s mind and more broadly into culture; so when it comes to redeeming the world for Christ’s glory and our good, it is crucial to create cultural goods which exhibit and exude GTB.

By the way, not all non-Christian music falls under the curse of EFD. In other words, not all so-called secular music is profane: there is often something redemptive (to greater or lesser degrees) in secular songs. To restate what was said earlier: truth – and beauty and goodness – is to be found wherever God’s grace has allocated it; and his grace is allocated throughout the universe. Again drawing on Augustine: “[L]et every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to its Master.”[6]

So, in conclusion, I would like to point out three Rs which are important to keep in mind when considering the sociological explanations and effects of a given social phenomenon or artifact: viz., the way in which certain media not only reflect a given culture, but also reinforce the perceived values and views of that culture, and in turn reify these perceptions as reality.

I hope that this blog series has been helpful to you not only by way of insight but also by way of inspiring you to live out the theology we believe.

[1] Plantinga, Engaging God’s World, 60

[2] See Augustine, The City of God, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Marcus Dods (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1886 [ca. A.D. 416-422]), Bk. 16, Ch. 26; Bk. 1, Ch. 35.

[3] Berger defines reification as: “Reification is the apprehension of the products of human activity as if they were something else than human products—such as facts of nature, results of cosmic laws, or manifestations of divine will” in Peter Berger, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (Garden City: Doubleday, 1966), 33.

[4]  For an excellent treatment of reification from a philosophical point of view, see John Searle, Making the Social World: the Structure of Human Civilization (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2010).

[5] To note, traditional media (songs and films) tends to have a greater tendency toward reification than new media mainly because the former are uni-directional whereas the latter are interactive.

[6] St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Bk. 2, Ch. 18, Sec. 28.

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