Postmodernism is a term which describes a way that many people think
today. There has been a revolution in popular values over the last several
decades. No longer are people so ready to think in absolute terms. Postmodernism
arms us with a method of calling everything into question and promoting
a new cultural agenda. For some, this path promises great liberation
while for others it seems to lead to despair and nihilism. Something has
been happening in our culture. We should understand it.
We have all met people who believed that they knew the truth, that their
opinions were right and everyone else was wrong. They have great confidence
in their own powers of observation and rational thought, or perhaps their
own spiritual experiences. This has led them to claim that they know a
truth which applies generally to mankind as a whole, or at least to many
other people. Of course there are many such contradictory claims from different
people. How can we assess these claims?
One example of such a truth claim would be the Christian claim that
Jesus is the only way to God and that the Bible is absolutely the message
of God to us. Another would be the claim of modernist thinkers that through
science and technology humanity is on a path of upward progress which should
be pursued for its own sake. Another truth claim of some modernists would
be that science has disproved the existence of God or spirits and that
all such talk is nonsense.
In my view, we should acknowledge that our view of reality comes at
least in part through the influences of what we have perceived and heard.
Our senses and our reasoning alone do not give us a solid basis for declaring
that we know something to be true. We see this all the time in the area
of human relationships. Misunderstandings occur. What we thought someone
meant was not always what they understood that they were communicating.
Even in the realm of natural observation illusions can be created and the
mind fooled. How much more then in the complex fields of politics and religion
can errors of human judgment and cultural bias come in and influence the
perceptions of people!
Postmodernism, however, goes further than this. Postmodernism denies
the existence of an objective reality. Postmodernism postulates that reality
is in the mind of the beholder. To postmodernists, we create our own truth.
Every culture has its precepts and ways of looking at things. “Who are
we to judge another culture as wrong?”, say the postmodernists, “for are
we not conditioned by our own culture and language towards certain assumptions
and conclusions?” Postmodernists assume that the majority of people are
conditioned by the dominant western paradigm or way of looking at things
– which has served some groups well at the expense of others. In particular,
white heterosexual males have profited at the expense of women, homosexuals,
blacks, the disabled and other disadvantaged and minority groups. Postmodernists
often challenge views of the world which they consider as sexist, racist,
imperialist, fundamentalist or exploitative for whatever reasons, seeking
to show the equal validity of minority perceptions and cultures.
Postmodernist thinkers see all ‘concepts’ as a product of society. To
them, we invent concepts and coin words to further our own political
agendas – i.e. to get others to accept and ultimately bow to what we want.
These concepts and values are therefore merely ‘constructions’ of certain
self-interested groupings within society. But why should we accept someone
else imposing their views on us, we are asked? Surely there are equally
valid viewpoints coming from oppressed minority groups which should be
getting equal time! Why should the cultural paradigms of white males be
dominant, after all? The time has come for others to cast off their cultural
shackles and make their presence felt in the marketplace of ideas. We can
no longer put up with intolerance! The ideas of those who think that they
have some kind of objective truth or reality now need to be firmly suppressed!
Postmodernists believe that we create our own truth, and that society
creates us. Postmodernists do not believe that there is an objective truth
which is “out there” whether anyone believes in it or not. “../bible-studies/truth claims”
are viewed with suspicion – as tools with which one sub-culture seeks to
impose its values and morality on another. This is seen as
a very bad thing. To question or denigrate in any way the viewpoint of
another is seen as intolerance, arrogance and a bad thing.
Postmodern thought which began in the philosophy and literary departments
of our universities, has now spread its influence into the media, the legal
system, the education system, health care, religion, the entertainment
industry, the world of psychotherapy and the government. Things we
were taught to value, like ‘scientific progress’ and ‘economic development’,
have now been called into question. Such phrases are seen as social constructions
of those whose activities may be very oppressive to certain minority subcultures.
There is now the distinct possibility that our respective Constitutions
may be subjected to postmodern interpretation, allowing lawmakers to make
of them whatever they want! This could lead to some interesting possibilities.
Postmodernists believe that we are in a way imprisoned by our own language,
which has been determined outside of ourselves. It is believed that meaning
is a function of language, that without the word to express it, the concept
isn’t there. This helps to explain why a whole new politically correct
way of talking has been invented. By creating new words or assigning new
meanings to existing words, postmodernists hope to shape society in a way
more pleasing unto themselves.
Science itself has been a target of postmodernistic thinking. Modernistic
philosophies – those which reject the existence of God and express great
confidence in the reasoning powers of mankind, and the empirical scientific
method – have been undermined in recent times by postmodernistic deconstructionist
arguments. It does no good to expose logical contradictions in the postmodern
assumptions. For now, in our postmodern world, logic itself is seen as
a mere social construct! Reason, logic and the scientific method, it is
argued, are all merely constructs of certain philosophers – just one
way of looking at the world. And who is to say that their way is
any more valid than the way of, let’s say, a native American shaman or
medicine man? Who are we to pompously declare that the Zen Buddhist’s penchant
for the illogical as a path to enlightment is somehow wrong? Indeed, if
there is no God to lay down absolutes, as modernists would affirm, then
who defines for society what is right or wrong? Should we even try
to change things in other cultures that we don’t agree with?
Let’s face facts. As postmodernists point out, our perceptions do not
necessarily correspond to objective reality. The mind can be fooled. How
could we know that our thinking patterns are reliable? Why this confidence
in the activity of our own brains – if indeed the brain is just a complicated
product of mindless evolutionary forces? What reason do we have to suppose
that our perceptions – our ways of thinking, are better than those
of anyone else? These questions are difficult to answer unless we somehow
can believe that a faithful God has given us some kind of access to reality
The rise of postmodernism explains why it is now intellectually and
culturally fashionable to defend groupings of people who were previously
regarded by society as aberrant, perverted, weird or part of the lunatic
fringe. Only a few decades ago homosexuality was regarded by the majority
as dirty and disgusting. But now a new morality has been established –
and to question the validity of such behaviour is regarded as politically
incorrect, narrow-minded, repressive, hateful, abusive, hypocritical …
the list could go on and on. There are now pressure groups seeking to mold
public opinion on many issues.
In the postmodern mind, any kind of propaganda that can be constructed
to advocate ‘politically correct’ positions is seen as OK. This is because
the postmodernist no longer believes in the existence of objective truth.
History can be re-written and remodelled according to the desires of the
postmodern social activist. This new perspective of history thus created
cannot, by the rules of postmodernism, be judged to be inferior to another
perspective. Who are we to judge the viewpoint of another?
The ‘Evil’ of Fundamentalism
Of course, not everyone is willing to go along with the postmodernist
agenda. Perhaps the most stubborn and recalcitrant of these are fundamentalist
Christians – those who believe in the existence of a God who dares to tell
others what to do and believe! Postmodernists can accept any god or God
(or goddess) as long as this being takes his place obediently within the
grid that postmodernist philosophers would assign to it. That is to say,
this god may not be intolerant of other viewpoints, may not be politically
incorrect and must recognise that it is just one of the many variants that
may figure in the private world of humanity today. Any claims to supreme
authority are unacceptable, and woe betide any god or goddess who dares
to question this axiom of postmodern philosophers!
Post-modernists decry cultural imperialism and Eurocentric points of
view. For this reason, the activity of Christian missionaries is seen as
particularly bad. Christian missionaries come along with the full intention
of persuading people of other cultures to accept their ways and believe
as they do. They ‘arrogantly’ push their views onto others. Any resulting
conflict is therefore seen as chiefly the responsibilty of the missionaries,
who have invaded the culture of another.
Postmodernists feel they have the right to deconstruct the Bible and
make it say whatever they want it to say. After all, everyone is entitled
to their own interpretation, are they not? For postmodernists, any text,
including the Bible, is simply a cultural construction of a bygone era.
It can therefore be changed to support whatever the analyst wants it to
Thawing the Dogmatism of Postmodernism
Postmodernism says that all truth claims can be deconstructed. Is postmodernism
itself subject to deconstruction?
Postmodernism says we should tolerate everything. Even intolerance?
Postmodernism says we should not impose our viewpoints on others. Should
fundamentalists be corrected to see things from a more postmodern perspective?
Is this an imposition? Is this arrogant?
Postmodernism says that objective reality does not exist, that reality
is created. Is this aboslutely true or only relatively true?
Postmodernism says we must not exploit women. We must also respect black
cultures. Should we respect African cultures that mistreat women, or should
we seek to persuade them to treat women better?
Postmodernism argues for academic freedom. Are we free in academic circles
to reject postmodern ideas and come up with other ones that exclude them.
Or is this not allowed?
Postmodernism says it is arrogant to judge another religion as wrong
or inferior. Are religions that do this kind of thing wrong or inferior
in any way?
Many situations and questions can be imagined in which it
is impossible to be ‘politically correct’.
Ultimately, if postmodernism is to be accepted, any kind of nonsense
has to be given equal time. We are going to end up with a bunch of militant
activists making up stories to justify their agendas, hating each other
and fighting one another. Having been ‘freed’ from the concept of truth
and a loving personal God to whom we are accountable, we become enslaved
to the totalistic dogmas of postmodernism itself. Instead of feeling acceptance
we will feel more isolated from one another, and we will have no real way
of knowing if we are hearing others or truly being heard.