Tuesday, November 18, 2003

The end of Postmodernism?

Well, I was trying to settle on something to take the time to bring up here when the new issue of Christianity Today arrived. I thumbed through it trying to decide what article to read first and see if there's any references to people I care about being heretics when I stumbled upon the Back Page where Charles Colson has an article. The Title is "The Postmodern Crackup; from soccer moms to college campuses, signs of the end" so I started here. After reading through the article I knew what we should start talking about again.

First, a quick summary of the article. The article starts with the premise that, while not yet dead, "there are signs that postmodernism is losing strength." These 'evidences' begin with a story of a professor at Brown University saying that he could no longer teach ethics, agreeing with Colson's premise that "without acknowledging moral truth, it's impossible for college's to teach ethics." The next evidence that PM is coming to an end is seen by the fact that on ly 39 percent of the young support legalized abortion. Also, while Americans are growing more supportive of homosexual rights, many Americans were not happy with the Supreme Court's Lawrence decision, the one that said that homosexual sex was not a crime. Finally, 'soccer moms' (quite possibly a bigoted title in and of itself) are more concerned today with "their kid's safety" instead of abortion rights, education, and civil liberties. While all of these 'evidences' are weak, it was with this particular one that I was first disappointed. If postmodernism is a concern for civil rights and good schools for kids, how is anyone not in favor? Regardless, Colson paints the fear of Mothers over a concern for these issues as an improvement in our culture. To make sense of these 'evidences' we have to understand Colson's presuppositions.

Of course, like everything else, this topic leads us right back to 9-11. "September 11...Was the beginning of the end for postmodern preeminence. People are beginning to realize postmodern presuppositions simply don't work. And what are those presuppositions? Postmodernists claim we can have no 'grand metanarrative' that makes sense of reality. Since there's no such thing as truth, all principles are merely personal preferences. As professor Ed Veith explains, the postmodernist claims that all you can do is try to impose your preferences on others before they impose theirs on you. But then came September 11, the day terrorists imposed their preferences, murdering 3,000 innocent Americans. If one's worldview is true, it has to conform to reality- to our real-life experiences. Post-9/11, few Americans could continue believing that there's no such thing as moral truth, no such thing as good and evil."

This extensive quote requires several comments. First, on Colson's 'sources' on Postmodernism. 'professor Ed Veith' Colson's source here on PM is from Liberty university, a place that would probably consider shooting a postmodernist if they ever knew one when they saw it. That being settled, let's move on to the presuppositions labeled here as PM. While I think that Colson's claim, particular that there is no truth as a PM presupposition, does not reflect even the majority of postmodernists, I will assume that he is correct. On what grounds can Colson assume that our culture was effected by 9-11 to reject these claims? While on first glance the response from 9-11 appeared to be an embracing of universal right and wrong. It is wrong to kill innocent people. This was the idea that we all supposedly got. I think that Colson is 100% wrong, that the response in American culture to 9-11 was incredibly postmodern. Let me explain..

If a PM presupposition is that moral principles are really preferences and all one can do is to impose our preferences on everyone else before they get to us (which, by the way is Nietzshean, not Post-modern) then the response by American culture was, primarily this very idea. If the moral lesson learned from 9-11 was that it is wrong in all times and all places to take innocent lives then what explains the support of the US response in Afghanistan and Iraq? While the deal with Iraq is quickly growing cold with culture, everyone thought that Afghanistan was a good idea. But in attacking Afghanistan we were not pursuing this newly learned universal principle that taking innocent life was wrong because the majority of the casualties in that war were not even Al-Queda members. In this activity we were, indeed, putting our particular preferences, that American lives not be taken, as right and forcing these things on others, mainly Afghanies.

Colson goes on to suggest that a modernist approach to Christianity is the answer for America as it 'gets over' postmodernism, a Christianity that is rational and defensible, true and reasonable. I'm unsure of this assumption, at least to some degree. Are people going to church and seeking out someone to reason them to faith or are they looking for a story to align themselves with? Is our culture, even in regards to view of faith, really returning to a modernist mindset?

Finally, then, and the point of this very long post, Colson moves on to the church. "It would be supreme irony-and a terrible tragedy-if we found ourselves slipping into postmodernity just when the broader culture has figured out it's a dead end...there are sings that the church is dumbing down, moving from a Word-driven message to an image and emotion-driven message. Note how many Christian radio stations have recently converted from talk and preaching to all music."

Colson marks the shift of the church from preaching and sermon based church to image/experience based church as an unfortunate step toward postmodernism, one that will apparently fail to reach a culture that is so adamantly returning to modernistic approaches of reason, debate, and argument. Colson, in effect, is telling all of you out there that the way your doing church is not only unbiblical but will be ineffective in ministry because culture is clearly returning to a modernist mindset.

Here's the questions to talk about: 1. Is Colson right? Is American culture (and apparently the world) turning away form Postmodern presuppositions and returning to the Modernist ideas of foundationalism and reason? 2. Is Colson right when he says that the church is unfortunately turning postmodern and thus will lose culture again? 3. How do we interact with Christians like Colson? Being that we're mostly postmodernish Christians pursuing some sort of ministry within the church, how does this work out in the end? Is Colson an oddity that will soon enough die off or can we be in conversation with these people?

There's some things to think about, Start talking!


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