So much of the reality we live in is culturally constructed. Simply, things are the way they are because we have decided to make them so. In Communication as Culture, James Carey says it this way.
“Reality is not given, not humanly existent, independent of language and toward which language stands as a pale refraction. Rather, reality is brought into existence, is produced, by communication–by, in short, the construction, apprehension, and utilization of symbolic forms.
Under the sway of realism we ordinarily assume there is an order to existence that the human mind through some faculty may discover and describe. I am suggesting that reality is not there to discover in any significant detail…To put it colloquially, there are no lines of latitude and longitude in nature, but by overlaying the globe with this particular, though not exclusively correct, symbolic organization, order is imposed on spatial organization and certain, limited human purposes served.“
This particular miracle we perform daily and hourly–the miracle of producing reality and then living within and under the fact of our own productions–rests upon a particular quality of symbols: their ability to be both representations “of” and “for” reality.
– James Carey
God created us to build reality. In Genesis 2 we read,
“Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.“
God not only gave Adam a task, he actually waited “to see what (Adam) would name them.” And whatever decision Adam made was how the world was built: that was it’s name. The task for humankind in the garden is still our task today – to make order in the world, to co-create with God. I believe God is still looking on with anticipation, to see what they will make of the world.
We may disagree on the best way forward. In fact, we will most certainly disagree. Yet I believe we are one step ahead if can realize that what we decide is largely of our own making, that the world we inhabit is one we’re building. We decide, over time, what will be considered normal, what is required, who is in and who is out, what is liked and what is shunned. Our decisions, our actions, and even our silence contribute to constructing the reality we share. As much as we might like to think we’re just taking all our cues from scripture, even a simply analysis reveals we are so often just making it up as we go.
And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Scripture isn’t a textbook with an index of answers and procedures – though some try to force it to be. Whether we admit it or not, much of our world (the rules, the norms, the ways of life, the traditions, the expectations) is of our own making. This is true in church as much as outside it. Once we acknowledge that, we can move beyond Jimothy’s ignorant insistence that everything we’re doing is taken right from scripture.
Perhaps God has made us to choose and to build and construct our worlds. And that is an incredible responsibility with huge implications. We’re farther ahead if we can recognize that we are indeed choosing and building and then evaluate what we’ve made.
Is it scary to think that much of reality is built by human choices?
How does claiming a scriptural basis for human-made rules give power to those in charge?
What ways might we have decided to make reality other than what we’re living in?