|EXPLORING CHRISTIANITY - TRUTH||
LIFE AFTER DEATHChristianity's Hope & Challenge.
Postmodernism is the term used by sociologists and others to describe a way of thinking that has become very pervasive in the Western world over the last generation. It is an approach to reality that is having a significant effect on literature, theatre, art, education, psychotherapy, law, science, architecture, the study of history and people's view of religion. Some significant writers who have promoted postmodernism are de Man, Geoffrey Hartman, Harold Bloom, J. Hillis Miller, Jean-Francois Lytard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Richard Rorty. Its origins are found in the philosophies of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Marx and Freud. On some points, particularly its attitude to truth, it is similar to New Age thinking. As a way of thinking it can hardly be described as a "worldview", as one of its tenets is that there is no longer any one big story that is able to make sense of our little stories. In other words, "worldviews" are out!
We all create our own reality. God tends to be ignored. Should he (she, it?) exist, he certainly has nothing to say about what we should believe or how we should behave.
Truth and reason
There is no absolute truth. New Age guru Shirley MacLaine holds a typical postmodern perspective. In Out on a Limb she asks David, her spiritual guide, if he believes in reincarnation. He replies, "It's true if you believe it and that goes for anything." As Wheaten College professor Roger Lundin explains in The Culture of Interpretation, in postmodernism "all principles are preferences - and only preferences." As a result, "they are nothing but masks for the will to power." Postmodernism is distrustful of all authority and dogmatism. It often recasts the Enlightenment's sacred cows of reason and science as tools of oppression. Feminist scholar Sandra Harding complains that science embodies a male-centred view that is "culturally coercive".
Emotions, feelings, intuition, reflection, magic, myth, and mystical experience are now centre stage. "I know" has been replaced by "I feel". There is a blurring of the difference between ourselves and the real world out there.
The postmodern aversion to truth is well expressed by Allan Bloom in The Closing of the American Mind:
The danger...is not error but intolerance. Relativism is necessary to openness; and this is the virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years has dedicated itself to [teaching]. Openness - and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and the various ways of life and kinds of human beings - is the great insight of our times. The true believer is the real danger. The study of history and of culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism and chauvinism. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think that you are right at all.
Sigmund Freud had described this outcome with glaring precision nearly one hundred years ago:
Fundamentally, we only find what we need and only see what we want to see. We have no other possibility. Since the criterion for truth - correspondence with the external world - is absent, it is entirely a matter of indifference what opinions we adopt. All of them are equally true and equally false. And no one has the right to accuse anyone else of error.
Someone has said that we have now moved from the conviction that everyone has a right to his own opinions, to the notion that every opinion is equally right!
Postmodernism does not rule out religion as did modernism, with its emphasis on human reason. However, the religions that are approved are very different from Christianity. You may believe what you want to. Go for what makes you feel good. Religion is cafeteria style. You choose what you like from what is spread in front of you, and put a meal together that suits your taste. There are strong links with paganism.
All moral values are relative. Each person or culture develops their own moral values. The important question is not "Is it right?" but "What will it do for me?" There is a strong emphasis on the fact that we are shaped by our culture, and a consequent diminishing of personal responsibility.
Tolerance of other views is one of the pillars of postmodernism. However, there is one group of people to whom this tolerance is not extended, those who believe truth to be important! This intolerance is especially directed to those who think others might be wrong. Postmodern analyst Frederick Turner, for instance, in The Future of the Gods: Notes Towards a Postmodern Religion, calls for tolerance and syncretism (mixing different religions together). Yet, in the same article he calls evangelical Christianity a "junk religion"!
There is a strong emphasis on individualism. In the American court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in justifying the abortion licence, the court declared that it is up to each individual to determine "the concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."
There is much rewriting of history. What really happened is either unknowable or unimportant. A sad symptom of this is seen in a survey indicating that 33% of Americans subscribed to the view that the Holocaust, the killing of six million Jews by the Nazis during World War II, may never have happened.
A good summary of postmodern thinking is given by Os Guinness in Fit Bodies, Fat Minds:
Where modernism was a manifesto of human self-confidence and self-congratulation, postmodernism is a confession of modesty, if not despair. There is no truth, only truths. There are no principles, only preferences. There is no grand reason, only reasons. There is no privileged civilization, only a multiple of cultures, beliefs, periods, and styles. There is no grand narrative of human progress, only countless stories of where people and their cultures are now. There is no simple reality or any grand objectivity of universal, detached knowledge, only a ceaseless representation of everything in terms of everything else. In sum, postmodernism...is an extreme form of relativism.
William Dever, in an excellent article in Near Eastern Archeology on some writer's approach to history, and archeology in particular, says:
Such "post modern" thinking has affected nearly all disciplines since [about] 1950, both in the natural and social sciences, to such an extent that it is now taken for granted as the reigning paradigm.