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The “Why?” Cliché

In every generation, there are always clichés that seem to permeate its given ideologies. These clichés many times mean well, trying to promote some value, and are often (though not always) a reaction to previous generational ideologies and clichés.

Clichés reflect a simple insinuation of something more complex found in reality. Meant to induce thought, stir inspiration, and bring about reflection, clichés can be very helpful. They imply a great value within a narrative or ideology that deserves to be sought out. History has shown that clichés can be helpful in getting societies and cultures to operate around particular ideas, values and visions.

With its own clichés, the Church is no exception and oftentimes can be caught sharing clichés outside its normative theism; this current generation of Evangelicals is no different. I’ve experienced the following proverbial cliché a number of times and in a number of renditions:

The question “why?” is irrelevant in many circumstances insignificant (usually juxtaposed to other questions); it is often overestimated and over-pursued.

This particular cliché comes with certain cynicism, a jaded negativity and general distrust of the value of the mind (thinking or reasoning) – “thinking gets in the way.” So ideologically, in such an existentially-inclined culture, where values of aesthetics and experience are supreme knowledge, one can see why the question “why?” might take a backseat. Existentialism, even Christian existentialism, champions a society of too-much-thinking-not-enough-action kind of people. People now try to find essential worth through tasks rather than asks, which discredits the importance of the “why?” question. Though n response, one might ask “it gets in the way of what?” It seems that one wants answers, to know why.

Because of its cynical nature, this cliché could be categorized as reactionary from a previous generational ideology. The Church today is reacting to a generation that it believes engaged the mind at the expense of the heart. This cliché is a postmodernist reaction to a modernist generation. Although some legitimacy exists in this reaction, this cliché intrinsically fails.

The cliché itself presupposes a question: why is the question “why?” not relevant or significant. If we give the cliché the benefit of the doubt, then definitional statements are true without any argument or validation, because why doesn’t matter. It just is what you say it is. Logically contradictory propositions and fallacies should not even exist; all knowledge is equally relevant and contains only subjective authority. Philosophers would call this epistemological relativism. It’s clear this cliché cannot be given the benefit of the doubt. The cliché itself is a claim of objective and universal importance; therefore, not following its own claim.

Now let’s not give it the benefit of the doubt; logically it deserves a rebuttal. It seems there is some self-referential inconsistency here, stating that the “why?” question is irrelevant, insignificant, over-pursued, and overestimated is in fact giving reasons why for the “why?” cliché. So logically, any explanation (giving why’s) attempting to reduce the “why?” question only reveals the intrinsic natural existence of why. I would also argue that this intrinsic nature validates a primary role in the arena of questions. Put simply, “why?” establishes its own existence.

I realize the redundancy of Socrates statement, but it is ubiquitous: “the unexamined life is not a life worth living at all.” Essentially if you never ask the “why?” question, you choose a life and cultural milieu of anti-intellectualism. If “why?” is denied a primary position, then under an existentially-inclined culture, the “how?” question takes center stage. Although a question mark trails the word “how,” it’s not really a true question but rather an inquiry of instruction. “Why?” demands revelation of truth, justified knowledge, and something one can believe in. If we do not ask “why?” then we become parasitic on culture, and stupid parasites at that.

This isn’t anything new; books have been written about anti-intellectualism: Alan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind,” Mark Knoll’s “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” JP Moreland’s “Love Your God With All Your Mind.” JP Moreland says that it’s not that Christianity is found and left wanting, but that it has never truly been found. In other words, if we don’t ask the question “why?” then the comprehensiveness of Christianity will never be found by those searching.

I mentioned previously that a cliché’s purpose is to be inspirational; the “why?” cliché is often expressed to motivate people toward action, to reverse an anti-socialism or individualism that has plagued Evangelicalism. However, this cliché being intrinsically anti-intellectual will only fortify anti-socialism / individualism. Evangelicalism didn’t become anti-social because it chose not to participate in society; rather it’s unable to as a result of an anti-intellectual disposition.



One thought on “The “Why?” Cliché

  1. So… WHY am I reading this? The clarion call I hear is a need for change in the way we educate our young. Frankly, most of us, as parents or teachers, stamp out the “WHY” from the young because it’s tiresome. They soon learn to stop asking, just memorize the facts, fill in the blanks and get the grade. When dealing with our children, whether ina profession, as parents or volunteers, we need to encourage and challenge children to truly think and ask WHY in a constructive manner.

    Posted by Brian Paules | 05/03/2012, 10:36 AM

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