I readily admit that the danger of my philosophical methodology is that I frequently engage an appropriation of social constructivism.
What I mean to say is that sometimes, I seem to argue that what is “true” is merely whatever a group of people say is “true.” It sounds as if I am saying that everything is relative or that what is “true” is merely a fancy set of words that people put together, but other than their arbitrary words, there is no reality to account for. That is social constructivism.
I apologize if what I argue comes across that way, because that isn’t what I believe. What I mean to communicate is that there is an actual reality behind the fancy set of words that are used to describe that reality. With mass media and extensive global inter-communication, more and more people are no longer convinced that the fancy words used by politicians, religious leaders, news broadcasts, and advertisers are true. There is a strong awareness by the public that the truth can be manipulated. When I use social constructivist theory, it is to argue that the words being manipulated are fake, not reality itself.
Take a parade for example.
I hate parades. I’ve never seen the point. I grew up with the opportunity to play video games and watch hi-tech thriller movies. Why would I want to watch a beauty queen who is trying to hide her illegitimate pregnancy drive by in a convertible? It’s boring and has no purpose.
Or so I thought.
Today is Chilean Independence day. I’ll just add that to the list of important cultural events that I have attended in countries without having any prior knowledge that I was going to attending an important cultural event.
It is a custom during Chilean Independence Day to get back to one’s roots. Most Chileans head out to the country, gather with family for a bar-b-ques, hang red, white, and blue bunting, and watch the village parade. I have to admit, I had a hard time trying to distinguish between Independence Day in Chile and Independence Day in the United States. I’m not sure, but that may prove part of my point. Gathering on July 4, or September 18 is a social construction determined by history and custom… the value of gathering with family is not.
Anyway, my point was that was making was about parades. I went to the village parade held in the town of Tunca Medio in the countryside of Chile today. Parades become much more interesting when you’re not used to elements that make up the parade. I am not personally used to folkalore dancers, cowboys, horses, fire-fighters, and hunting dogs march in a parade. It held my interest.
Parades are the epitome of a socially constructed reality. There is nothing natural about a parade. A parade is composed of a group of people, forced into an artificial line, at a socially agreed upon time, in which the people march to a contrived rhythm. As I was watching the parade however, I realized something. I used to think that parades were set up for the egotistical arrogance of the people in the parade. That isn’t the case at all. The parade is set up so that the people in the parade can present themselves, in an orderly fashion, to the dignitaries of the town, the mayor, the bishop, a visiting dignitary, or even just the villagers.
Before mass media, in which the same demonstration can be compiled into a five minute video (ahem!… also a socially constructed production), parades were the best way for the mayor, or the people of a town, to take account of the municipality. If the entire village tried to present themselves to the mayor without order, he would not be able to distinguish who was who, and what was what. Parades are a painfully human approach to accountability, but sometimes, a parade is the best thing that we have.
They establish an artificial order for a PURPOSE.
The cynics of today would like to point out other socially constructed realities (such as religion) and dismiss these social constructs as artificially generated lies. I don’t know why, but I have frequently thought about these cynical philosophers as I have knelt in churches across the world. I even thought of them today as I visited the small country church in Tunca Medio known as Señora de la Merced.
I’ll be honest for the sake of the secularist intellectual, there is no doubt that the Church has been influenced for 2,000 years by artificially generated social constructs. We who are believers in the Church call it, “The Work of the Holy Spirit,” but just for a minute, I’ll grant the cynic’s argument.
Religion is a just a man-made, artificial masquerade.
If that is true, then we have to account for something that drives secularist intellectual’s crazy. How does one account for the PURPOSE for which these constructs were developed? THE PURPOSE. THE PURPOSE. What do these practices signify? What is motivating them? Why would so many people follow? Either the religious people of the world are stupid, and the secular intellectuals of the world posses ALL the precious enlightenment of the universe, (which is rather arrogant of them I might say,) or they are missing the point.
I know that when I kneel down before the Eucharist during Adoration that there is a long history behind the practice that is largely artificial. It is not necessarily a “historically” accurate representation of the teaching of Jesus. It developed out of a philosophical understanding of the Eucharist that was not even suggested until the Church became fully incorporated in the patterns of thought indicative of North Germanic linguistics. Eucharistic Adoration descended from the guilt-ridden approaches to spirituality in which people were so sinful that they were unworthy to touch and receive Holy Communion (thank you St. Augustine). The people therefore thought that it was better to substitute to SEE Holy Communion than to RECEIVE Holy Communion. I know that Eucharistic Adoration is mixed with poorly catechized teaching in which Catholics think that Christ is PHYSICALLY present in the Eucharist rather than REALLY present in the PHYSICAL SIGN of the Eucharist (check your catechism… its in there). You can give me all the arguments that you want to tell me why Eucharistic Adoration is a false construct of religion, developed by human beings.
And I’ll just respond with a simple truth that I only realized today.
Parades have a purpose.
…and Eucharistic Adoration does as well.
If you want something that is obviously socially constructed, a parade fits the bill, but there is a purpose behind a parade that justifies its development and use, just as there is a strong purpose to the development and practice of Eucharistic Adoration. I don’t do it because of the social construct, just as a person doesn’t march in a parade just for the sake of marching. I pray before the Eucharist because of the purpose behind the construct.
A Muslim might pray differently than I do. A Buddhist as well. I might even be as bold as say that I disagree with the way they pray, but I cannot dismiss their practices just because they are artificially created, social constructs. I can’t do that because the verisimilitude of their practices are driven by a valid purpose, not by the cynics’ sneer.