The Mandorla (as Opposed to the Mandalorian)
In Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rosseau to Foucault, Dr. Hicks wants his reader to understand the dangers of postmodern thought and of its ends being nihilism, socialism and chaos, to name a few. Here I thought I was more postmodern than modern because of my Generation X affiliation, my love for the coffee scene and holding a tinge of uncertainty and mystery. But I had not considered seriously what Hicks purports to be these dangers here.
Hicks is a professor at Rockford University and his project is in part to remind society that ideas have consequences. And that to ignore, or worse, embrace postmodernism’s premises is costly. He breaks down the root system of the movement and critiques its greatest contributors. I found several of the charts in Explaining Postmodernism to be instructive. The Enlightenment Vision chart points to freedom, wealth, material goods, and health that would in turn lead to the ultimate pinnacle of happiness and progress. It was insightful, especially after going further and reading how he sees postmodernism attack (or redefine?) these very goals. There were several other tools gained, along with a much needed overview of the history and constructs of modernism and postmodernism.
This is such a mammoth topic and I wondered where to go with it. I wondered if mandorla may be a path for me to take? Last week with Dr. Lenard Sweet, he spent a good part of a day lecturing and pontificating about mandorla. It is the intersection of two equal circles, as shown below. It is the almond-shape space of overlap that can be seen in framing many medieval Christian artworks and has a rich, diverse historical background.
Dr. Sweet said multiple times, “Orthodoxy is paradox. If you are only hearing one thing, you aren’t hearing Jesus.” We need to hear the other side of the issue, coin or story, which feels like it is getting more difficult to do in our age.
Early Christianity used the mandorla to convey Jesus’ humanity and divinity. In my own journey, I see its use in a myriad of ways. Not the least is with action and contemplation. I think of Taylor’s assertion that the premodern Church “inhabited the tensions” within orthodoxy instead of resolving them like modernism attempted.They lived in the almond I guess you could say. It is not a watered-down syncretism but a way of holding and living in paradox.
So back to Hicks and the challenges of postmodernism. I may be stretching the limits of the mandorla metaphor but I wonder if there is a small application here. Are there contributions from both modernism and postmodernism that are worth considering and holding? To only give credence to one side would mean that we miss hearing the other. What does modernism say to Christians? What does it lack? The same should be considered from postmodernism.
As an example for me of the difficulties, I share one of Hicks’ contradictions from postmodernists:
They say that Western capitalist countries are cruel to their poorer members, subjugating them and getting rich off them, but they know very well that the poor in the West are far richer than the poor anywhere else, both in terms of material assets and the opportunities to improve their condition.
Are these kinds of statements right or wrong with one clear winner? Either choose modern or postmodern? Which group cares about the poor more? How can we hear from both sides? I know Hicks has a clear winner and motive in his writing but what of the thoughtful Christian leader living in this complex world? Is there a tension to hold here or must a side be chosen? Perhaps the danger too is if we choose to align or identify ourselves with either framework more so than the upside-down Kingdom of God. And increasing my self-awareness of areas this may be happening in my own life is proving challenging.
Somehow Jesus is “above” both of these philosophies and I cannot help but wonder how I can learn from each while keeping Jesus firmly in the center of my vision.
 Stephen R. C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (UK: Ockham’s Razor Publishing, 2011), 14-5.
 Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism, 13.
 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007), 31-3.
 Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism, 185.
8 responses to “The Mandorla (as Opposed to the Mandalorian)”
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Thank you for the beautiful mandora image Andrea. I love how our cohort conversations have evolved into trying to find the best concepts from multiple different “schools” of thought. The tool you describe helps us do that well.
Thanks so much for sharing the construct of the mandorla. I can see where it is so helpful in trying to live in the tension of both/and. Like you, I wonder if there are not elements of modernism and postmodernism that can be held together in tension? Why does it need to be either/or?
Love this. Tension is becoming my default answer for everything. It seems that at some point in our Christian faith we moved to seeing only one side of the coin or one circle. I think your research will bring this into view for contemporary leaders who need to learn the balance of rest and work.
Thank you for this perspective Andrea. Dr. Sweet has a longstanding influence on my desire to embrace the tension and the paradox. You drew out Hicks’ celebration of the Enlightenment as producing “progress and happiness”. Given his connection to the Atlas Society (working with the thought of Ayn Rand), these words are red flags to me—though they aren’t when used in other contexts. I can see these being quite dangerous when the gospel is shaped to celebrate these things. How have these ideas played out in the contexts you are looking at in your research? What ideas would you place in another circle to create a useful mandorla?
Jenn! Yes. I’m so glad you brought this up – not because I have a great answer but because I have the same caution and concern. This goal of progress and happiness is one of the things that I think Christians need to be wary of in the modernism project. There is something subtle about it that undermines the core of the Gospel I think. Thank you friend.
Exactly, Andrea! It seems many people just are not comfortable with tension and paradox and yet we find a much more comprehensive perspective by embracing both. My post had a similar thought. There is good in both lines of thought. I see it as creating something new to engage both arguments and tossing what doesn’t prove to be true, cling to what is good and reflect the image of our Creator who is infinitely beyond our neatly framed mindsets.
Andrea, I found your post so interesting because the image you displayed is also used to explain what is known as Boolean logic, where the “mandorla” represents AND, meaning it is the information found in both circles A and B. I guess that explains understanding both sides of the coin. Thank you for correlating this information with postmodernism and Christianity. This really is informative.
This is great, Andrea. I appreciate your consistent posture of learning. I think that much more often than not, there is something to be gained from both sides of an argument. I love Sweet’s call to mirror Jesus, and live in the tension. Thank you for the reminder, friend.