Summary: Minding The Times: An Exposition On Postmodernism, Part 1
One might say the future is here --- and we might want to send it back for a refund. Having waited years and wondering at times whether mankind would even survive to see the day, the world now finds itself on the other side of a new millennium. In some ways, it is everything optimistic futurists dreamed of in terms of faster modes of transportation, improved forms of medicine and almost instantaneous global communication. However, one would hardly consider it the quaint but technologically sophisticated world of George Jetson whose most formidable challenges consisted of navigating Mr. Spacely’s fickle temper and making sure Rosie the robot maid stayed adequately oiled. Instead, inhabitants of the early twenty-first century worry if their children will even return home alive from school in the evening or how much longer they have until turbaned fanatics turn the accumulated glories of Western civilization into a smoldering atomic wasteland.
Somewhere along the highway leading from intentions to actuality society seems to have taken a wrong turn and gotten lost along the way. When finding oneself in unintended surroundings while road-tripping across the country, one pulls over to the shoulder of the road to look at a map to determine where one’s navigation went astray. Likewise, when a culture begins to display signs of being out of kilter, the time has come to examine the sociological roadmap in terms of the philosophies, beliefs, and ideas individuals use to live their lives and those in authority employ to oversee events.
The observer of intellectual trends might note the contradictory nature of today’s philosophical scene. For while proponents of the status quo purport to be characterized by a considerable latitude of conscience, such professed flexibility ultimately turns back on itself and bears down harshly upon any dissident daring to question the system’s most cherished assumptions. The prevailing outlook can be characterized as a pragmatic Postmodernism.
Postmodernism can be looked at as a worldview holding that truth as an objective overarching reality does not exist and is instead a subjective linguistic or conceptual construct adopted by an individual or group for the purposes of coping with existence. As such, no single explanatory narrative is superior to any other. In light of such characteristics, Postmodernism is pragmatic in the sense that ethical propositions are judged by how well they work rather than how they stand up to standards of right and wrong. Postmodernism is relativistic in that each propositional expositor is self-contained since it is inappropriate for an individual to judge someone else or another group by the standards to which he himself subscribes. James Sire notes in The Universe Next Door that to the Postmodernist the use of any one narrative as a metanarrative to which all other narratives must submit as to their authenticity is oppressive (181).
As is deducible from its very name, Postmodernism is more a response than a set of original insights. Sire argues, "For in the final analysis, Postmodernism is not ’post’ anything; it is the last move of the modern, the result of the modern taking its own commitments too seriously and seeing that they fail to stand the test of analysis (174)." In other words, Postmodernists are basically Modernists having grown tired of maintaining the illusion that things such as values still matter even when the issue of God does not. Therefore, one can gain significant understanding into the Postmodernist mindset by examining the outlook’s Modernist roots and where these systems ultimately diverge from one another.
As a derivative of it, Postmodernmism shares a number of assumptions with its cousin Modernism. Thomas Oden observes in Two Worlds: Notes On The Death Of Modernity In America & Russia that both outlooks embrace autonomous individualism, reductive naturalism, and absolute moral relativism (33-35). Both systems are naturalistic in the sense that in them all reality is reduced to and originates from physical components; nothing exists separate or independently of matter. As such, man is an autonomous being since, without God, man can rely only upon himself and his institutions to provide purpose, guidance, and meaning for his life. Since this is the case, all ethical and social thought is predicated on finite human understanding and therefore subject to revision in light of changing circumstances or the accumulation of additional data.
Even though the Modernists sought to set out on their own without holding God’s hand, many of them endeavored to maintain a system of behavioral standards and social norms reflective of the Judeo-Christian ones embedded in the cultural consciousness but now resting on an alternative foundation. Rather than seeing the niceties governing civilized conduct as arising from the character of God and discoverable through the study or application of His Holy Word, these courtesies were seen as coming about through the unfolding of trial and error, a process most akin to biological evolution. While most Evangelicals are aware of the links between Darwinism and Nazism and Communism (both vile forms of totalitarianism), most are not as cognizant of the links between this theory of origins and what many would consider stereotypical British traditionalism. Alister McGrath writes in Intellectuals Don’t Need God & Other Modern Myths, "Darwinism achieved popular success in England...because Darwin’s ideas happened to coincide with advanced Whig social thinking relative to matters of competition, free trade, and the natural superiority of the English middle class...Darwin’s science provided a foundation for Victorian liberalism (161)."