A Bit of Perspective

Here’s Wednesday’s post, as promised. By the way, you can expect the posts to be in the late evening.

Anyway, here’s the meat of the thing.

Postmodernism has been the great bogey of late twentieth century and early twenty-first century conservative Christianity. What exactly postmodernism is has been the subject of great debate, especially among the postmodernists, because most of them are academics and enjoy arguing over these sorts of things.

As near as this layman in the field can tell, postmodernism holds that there is no objective moral truth and that the objective truth about events and motivations is unknowable. The reason for the former is that there is no transcendent authority over man. The reason for the latter is that everyone has their own narrative of how things happened, and that the winners wrote and write the history books. It should be noted that it is tacitly understood among postmodernists that if anything is written by a white Christian male it is automatically more wrong than just about any other narrative available. The sad part is that I’m only half-joking about that.

Anyway, for postmodernists everything that is said has some kind of bias behind it. Language becomes a vehicle for oppression, and the truth is rendered unknowable by the fact that we must put it into words, and good luck communicating with anyone.

This, of course, was and is a direct challenge to theologically conservative Christianity, which is based around claims of absolute truth provided by a book written three thousand to two thousand years ago and has, for the past thousand years or so, been run primarily by white males, although this is changing as Christianity’s center moves further southward. In the meantime, while Christianity was largely gutted by modernism, it still remained the dominant cultural paradigm for the area that saw the rise of postmodernism—the West. This was, of course, intolerable to the postmodernists. As a result of these two factors, their assault upon Christianity began well-nigh immediately. Discussion of the details will have to wait for another day.

That those assaulted would react was a given. The reactions tended to one of two forms. The first was to laager up and defend against all vestiges of postmodern thought, which was a bad idea, because there was some gold to be found amidst the dreck. As an example, the postmodern insistence on the importance of language might have some useful insights into the constant wrangling over creeds during the early days of the church.

The second was worse—wholesale capitulation. This was performed by the same groups who’d let themselves be swept along by modernism in the twentieth century and romanticism in the nineteenth, namely the mainline Protestants and liberal Catholics. The result was a shift to a Christianity with no real claim to understanding anything about eternity, a catastrophic decision.

However, both reactions were two sides of the same coin in that each saw in postmodernism something new that would change everything, either for worse or for better.

They were, and are, both wrong. As it is written in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun, and postmodernism is no different. Essentially, it’s a retread of Romanticism with more boring writing. Emphasis on feelings over objective truth? Check. Noble savage idea? Check. Anti-organized religion? Check. Nature worship? Check. Glorification of youth? Check. Modernism, by the way, was a retread of the Enlightenment, in its emphasis on civilization, attempts to reduce the behavior of man to scientific principles, and favoring of cold reality over feelings.

That’s all it is, and it will fade away, just as romanticism did, and will eventually be resurrected after a time, in a cycle that that will last until the end of time. Remember this, and do not fear rumors of new philosophies, for by now, they are all simply retreads of previous theories.

Walk in the Word, instead.

Lowell Van Ness


One thought on “A Bit of Perspective

  1. This is indeed nothing completely new, as similar emotive cultural tendencies have been going on even longer. What you are describing sounds like the Apollonian-Dionysian cultural swing that has been going on at least since the Greeks and probably further. Thinking back to a class lecture I attended, I remember the story going something like this: The Apollonians– noble, intellectual, pure, worshipping Reason– created works of art that were perfectly formed and contemplative. The Dionysians were passionate, expressive, active, and emphasized the sensory, even sensual, enjoyment of life. Their artwork was not static, but moving, both literally and metaphorically. It portrayed pain and particulars of the world rather than the Platonic forms. The swing occured because both sides saw the necessity of some aspect of reality, but they over-emphasized some particular aspect of that reality (not too different from the postmodern emphasis on language now, hmm?). A more complete understanding would have solved their problem, one combining both the Apollonian desire for ideals and the Dionysian desire for particulars. “What might a proper relation of universal ideals and particulars look like?” is the question I’ll leave on the table for now. What cannot stand, however, is a philosophy without any metanarratives– without any universals.

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