I am going to make an argument here that we have now as a society encountered—for perhaps the first time in history—an “ontological crisis.” What do I mean? I mean a crisis about reality. Now I don’t believe this crisis is particularly influential for most ordinary people, nor for most subjects of investigation. A philosopher once said about George Berkeley’s idealism that he (Berkeley) should go out and “kick a stone” if he was a little skeptical of reality (by the way Berkeley was not skeptical of reality, only about how it was guaranteed). That’s true for most of us. We believe what we see, hear, smell, taste and touch is real. Moreover in most cases it is what it appears to be. “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is (almost always) a duck,” it has been said. For centuries this has been the case and in the Christian tradition, this has been true. Not to say we may not have problems in interpreting or defining what it is we see, hear, touch, etc. We may. But we do also take it as real and once we investigate it a little more, we know more accurately what it (whatever that “thing” is) is, and that it is really that.
But recently ontology (the study of reality) has come under fire. One of its enemies has been “social constructivism” (SC). SC can just mean that nurture plays a big role in making humans what they are—how they think and act, their environment. That isn’t altogether wrong, as long as we understand that nature is also crucial and precedes nurture. I am made in the image of God and I am also a sinner with a sin nature. I am also a particular kind of person, with an ontologically fixed gender and racial-ethnic makeup. I am also both a spiritual and a material being.
What the radical SC says however is that nurture is essentially all there is. So if I think I am of a particular gender, regardless of the biological facts, then I am now allowed, no, encouraged, to say that is how I feel and so that is what I am. This sounds like Bruce (aka Caitlyn) Jenner. Likewise if I think I am black (not African-American, but black), and I “identify” closely with that group, then I can say I am black. This social construction of reality is very disturbing. Objectivity of reality can tend to disappear,, lost in nothing but individual and subjective beliefs with no grounding in truth. Truth itself tends to then be undermined.
Who believes this sort of thing. Start with some modern and contemporary philosophers. I don’t think most of them actually believe what they write; they want to stir things up. They may well even have ulterior motives. But they do write about the SC. And they are serious in their writing. At the next level, social scientists of a liberal and non-Christian variety seem to accept these ideas, perhaps again as a means to their ends. Postmodern views have encouraged these ideas. Since there are no meta-narratives, then one cannot make objective statements about reality. Even groups can be dissolved into pure individualistic subjectivism. Finally advocates and cultural elites are very tempted to accept these ideas, though in their cases I am quite skeptical of motives. It may be used to promote their various agendas.
So where will it lead? I don’t know. I don’t even know whether this phenomenon will even persist. Iyt doesn’t do much good to say I identify with a stump, so I am a stump. Or that I identify with a genius, but I can’t seem to think or act like one—that’s a problem.
Christians must find their ontology about the universe, including humans, in special revelation. For example, God Himself defined male and female, not a whole series of sexes in between or beyond. God also created a diversity of racial groups—all made in the image of God and possessing dignity because of that fact. But to say I am of another group just because I think I am or identify with it, is dishonest and destroys truth in small but important increments. God distinguished between animals and humans. I can say I am a bird, but that cannot make it so. Reality is reality. When we deny it, we deny the God who made it as it is for good.