We have all heard the word "post-modernism" brandished by everyone from professors to pastors to news commentators, but I suspect most of us have a difficult time getting a grip on what exactly the word is referring to. In his essay, The Critical Zone: Speculations on a Conceptual Zone for Postmodern Seekers, Wesley Hurd does us a good service by summarizing the central tenets of Postmodernism in three simple points, as follows:
- Truth, the way we used to think of it, is not possible. Finding "true" truth [as Francis Schaeffer referred to it] has always been a mythical holy grail of religion and philosophy. Objective truth has never been present and available to us.
- Real truth and real reality are therefore merely mental constructs; as linguistic signs and symbols, they are purely arbitrary. Those who wield cultural power control these signs and determine what gets taken for "truths" and "realities" (plural, for there are many).
- Given these realities we are left to understand that our sense of self -- who we are and what we are, along with what we believe -- is also a pure mental construction. There is no centered, individual person. There is only a subjectively pieced-together interpretation of a self. Individual identity and meaning are creatively constructed by the individual (subject) according to his or her own cultural taken-for-granteds, preferences, and desires.
Well. Even this short summary takes some thought to appreciate. I'm still amazed that there are people who think this way, albeit not always consciously, and I doubt that anyone actually lives their life fully consistent with these principles, principles which lead to nihilism and utter despair.
A news article today noted the death of the last American survivor of the sinking of the Titanic, Lillian Gertrud Asplund. I suspect she was not a postmodern. She was five when she lost her three brothers and her father; she recalled watching them go down with the ship. I wonder if there are people who actually believe that the story of the Titanic was a good movie, or an interesting story, but that it's impossible to know what actually happened. Or worse, that it doesn't really mean anything for us today.
Postmodernism makes a mockery of history, of remembrance. It merely mines it for stories to sell or is wielded by politicians and elites for images that will inspire and give them greater power. Under such a view, Os Guinness says that '[t]he past is no longer a heritage, but a debris-strewn ruin to be ransacked for bric-a-brac of beliefs that is as incoherent as it is inconsequential."
What Hurd says in his essay, in part, is that there are non-Christians who have been fed this lie and yet, almost instinctively, know that something is wrong with it. According to Hurd, these skeptics "are people who believe that their life experiences and thought processes do not confirm the 'orthodoxy' of postmodernism's radical version of relativism; postmodernism simply doesn't fit their lived experience nor does it adequately or satisfactorily explain their philosophical and worldview questions." According to Hurd, there are Christians in this same "conceptual zone" who, while believing the gospel, have difficulty relating to the church because they do not see it asking questions and dealing with the difficult issues of the faith. He believes the two groups can have a fruitful dialog in this conceptual space for seekers of truth.
People may talk this way, may even act to a certain extent like postmoderns, but when the party's over, when they lie alone in their beds at night or when they look in the mirror and see the aging they cannot stave off forever, they know that such a philosophy is inadequate to answer their deepest questions. And they ultimately know that the various pop philosophies and faddish spiritualities that are around do not answer their questions either. They need the Answer. Whether they are willing to accept an answer that deals realistically with their questions is another matter.