Postmodernism; forget about it

by Brian 7. May 2010 01:03

Here’s a great true story by apologist Ravi Zacharias: I remember lecturing at Ohio State University, one of the largest universities in this country. I was minutes away from beginning my lecture, and my host was driving me past a new building called the Wexner Center for the Performing Arts. He said, “This is America’s first postmodern building.” I was startled for a moment and I said, “What is a postmodern building?” He said, “Well, the architect said he designed this building with no design in mind. When the architect was asked, “Why?” he said; “If life itself is capricious, why should our buildings have any design and any meaning?” So he has pillars with no purpose. He has stairways going nowhere...” I said, “So his argument was, if life has no purpose and design, why should our buildings have any design?” He said, “That is correct.” I said, “Did he do the same with the foundation?”

Postmodernism is one of those faddish words which when expounded sounds interesting on the surface but is conflicted and inconsistent at its core. We rarely hear mention of it in secular outlets, but it is a common topic in Christian media and in our churches. The Christian is told we live in a “postmodern culture,” and I for one used to believe this. I say “used to” because for the most part, it’s not true.

What is postmodernism? Put simply, it is the period after modernism. It typically manifests as a rejection of enlightenment thinking and epistemological realism. The postmodernist claims no one has a privileged perspective on reality. Even if there is objective truth, we don't have a good grasp of it. Of course theists recognize God's privileged position of knowing in an absolute and objective way. Yet that may have little impact on the postmodern attitude: favoring dialog over monologue; personal-belief over doctrine and the rejection of classifications and generalizations. The secular postmodern perspective encourages us to keep belief to ourselves. Facts of course are okay to share.

There is good reason to reject the strict rationalism of modernity. Belief in some cases is warranted even though it is not empirically verifiable or passes the criteria of the evidentialist. So in a way, we can appreciate the postmodern perspective even if it throws the baby out with the bathwater. But I'm not sure it matters much; American culture is predominately modern, not postmodern. If it were not for the airtime it receives in the institutional church, I doubt you would hear much about postmodernism. It is true we face epistemological-relativism in our culture, but in my opinion, this is a symptom of other causes – primarily the value-fact dichotomy permeating western worldview. When we consider America as a secular nation, it is not just a matter of separating the religious life from political life. In America, we tend to separate our faith from all other aspects of our lives. The world of values and the world of facts are treated as distinct realms, like two stories in a house as Francis Schaeffer described. The following lists depict the contemporary dichotomy in our culture:

Bottom Floor

Top Floor

Rational

Non-rational

Science

Religion

Facts

Values

Monday thru Saturday

Sunday

Business

Church

Objective

Subjective

Non-relative

Relative

 

So when we think of the postmodern building, we immediately recognize how ridiculous a random and capricious foundation is even if some think the stairways are clever. Americans often apply the same selectivity to epistemological relativism. Very few people act like postmodernists when it comes to business, facts and the products of Science. But start talking about top-floor matters and all of sudden you hear statements like “all truth is relative” and “your truth works for you but not for me,” etc. But this attitude is not because we have moved beyond modernity. In fact we are likely becoming more modern as scientism grows and the bottom floor swallows up more and more of our spheres of interest. If you assemble a panel consisting of a scientist, Hollywood starlet and a pastor; which one will the American public attribute the most credibility to on nearly every issue (even top-floor issues?) It usually won’t be the pastor. Many think the scientist is in a privileged position – and this is not postmodernism, it’s modernism.

Postmodernism isn't nearly the concern modernism and the fact-value dichotomy appear to be. The institutional church is not helping matters either. Those churches continuing an anti-intellectual tradition will further drive the wedge between fact and value, separating the two stories. By ministering as postmodernists (more interested in experience than truth) it will firmly encamp itself in the top story. As the bottom floor grows under scientism, the top floor and Christian truth claims will become less relevant.

I believe as Christians we should move towards freethinking premodernism! As premodernists; we have an integrated worldview of facts and values, all on the same floor. We recognize a rational God who has revealed himself in Creation (Psalm 19, Rom 1:20) has not left us without a witness. Our reasoning faculties are designed by God to obtain true belief where positions of knowing vary - some being privileged. We appreciate the limits of rationality while not being anti-intellectual. Good science and true faith lead to knowledge about the same reality, the same world. As epistemological realists we recognize truth and reality are independent of our opinions and can be revealed and discovered. As freethinkers, we work through the challenges of a meaningful worldview and adopt a minimalist doctrine of faith. This leaves room for growth (Phil 2:12-13, Mat 7:7) and maximizes our evangelistic opportunities in a world that has greatly separated the two floors.

blog comments powered by Disqus

About the author

I am a Christian, husband, father of two daughters, an owner of ISC, lead architect of MapDotNet, armchair apologist and philosopher, writer of hand-crafted electronic music, and a kid around anything that flies (rockets, planes, copters, boomerangs, hot air baloons, lawn furniture)

On Facebook
On GoodReads