December 2, 2014

KIM | Face to Face With Faith

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By TERESA KIM

With each column published this semester, there also came a realization that I was actually unfit to talk about anything. I named my column Her Meneutics because I felt driven to lead a discourse about hermeneutics in a publication that was not really accustomed to discussing hermeneutics. The drive is still there, but the willingness to augment the realm of hermeneutics for The Daily Sun’s readership is not as eager as it once was. It’s hard — especially because hermeneutics can directly correlate itself with a discussion of faith and belief systems — a discussion that much of our generation, let alone The Daily Sun, tends to typically ignore. And so it goes.

Thus, I’ll spend the remainder of my last column of the semester in the very spirit of what this column was supposed to be about: hermeneutics. There are many definitions of hermeneutics as this area of study developed itself over time. But I’ll begin with Jacques Derrida’s definition when he coined the term “onto-hermeneutics,” which is the continuously unfolding continuity of understanding.

Let me assure you that this won’t be an academic discussion or paper by any means; we can all agree that we get enough of that within our ivy-covered confines. I approach this term, instead, with a Gladwell-ian goal. In other words, I’m no academic but a journalist with a keen desire to inform. And I hope that by picking up this or any edition of The Daily Sun, you are also in on the desire to be informed as well — not letting your education hinder you from receiving an education outside of the classroom.

At first, I was hesitant to talk about faith (and note that I say “faith” instead of “religion”). I’ve had a lot of people tell me that Christianity equaled Republicanism, leading me to be a lot less vocal about my faith. I am a Christian but I’m not Republican or any socio-political, Tea-party-loving manifestation of it. Nevertheless, university is a great time to reckon with your faith systems for there is no better time and space to discuss and think about them with your friends. And it was two years ago when a friend suggested that I read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, which led me to garner an intense curiosity of behavioral economics and social paradoxes.

This past summer I read Gladwell’s most recent work, David and Goliath. In the tradition of The Tipping Point before it, he continues to talk about paradoxes. But he talks about them within the context of our modern-day understanding of David and Goliath and other situations like it in which we see where our power and strength reside. What Gladwell asserts is that we fail to recognize the story of David and Goliath for what it actually is. Today, we use the story of David and Goliath as a modern-day metaphor to explain the hope of victory for the underdog. But, contrary to popular belief and mythology, Goliath was not at all the oppressive giant he has been advertised to be; instead, he suffered from all sorts of physical ailments, including near-blindness, putting David in a much better position for victory. So if David wasn’t truly an underdog, then what should we take from this story now?

The answer, according to Gladwell, is faith that endures a situation in which victory is improbable. The writer Joseph Epstein once admitted that he envied the deep, intelligent faith that certain people seemed to possess during life’s dark moments. He concluded, in his article in The Washington Monthly, “The Green- Monster,” “Faith envy is envy, alas, about which one can do nothing but quietly harbor it.” But faith isn’t the mystery that you make it out to be, Epstein. But it can be if you let it.

The problem with being unable to see and be faithful to a faith system is because we often found ourselves floating within a society that is faithful, instead, towards our many hierarchies. According to Freud’s theory of the “narcissism of minor differences,” we base our hierarchies on a constant struggle to set ourselves apart from others, legitimizing our own choices and careers over other choices and careers. Within a world of hierarchies, we turn our faith into a weapon, often labelled as “religion,” as we enter this hierarchical world of one-upmanship.

Consequently, this hierarchical scheme of restless living can’t help but see religion as a system possessed by the kin of the narrow-minded folk. But there are some things in life being worth narrow-minded about. Just as we go about selecting a career, home or a future spouse, your type of faith should be chosen with great, selective care.

The unfortunate thing about faith for our generation is that the American university system does not supply the average student with many courses on religious philosophy or theology to help get us to holistically and intelligently think about what kind of faith should anchor us through life. Instead, it submits to the world of hierarchies I spoke of earlier. So faith, like pleasure reading or other important, leisure activities, has to be daily tended to alongside our homework assignments, whatever this system of faith is. Especially during a period in which our campus thinks about suicide and self-inflicted injuries, I ask you all whether transcendent faith is really that mysterious or if we have just neglected its care.

Teresa Kim is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at tkim@cornellsun.com. Her Meneutics appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

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