The myth of postmodernism

Ask nearly anyone who claims to know the current trends, and they’ll tell you that we now live in a postmodern world.  Ask them what that means, and you’ll hear things like, “there are now no objective standards for truth” or “postmodernism is a rejection of the metanarrative.”  As I have mentioned in a prior post, postmodernism is hated and feared by theologians and scientists alike, as it undermines what is foundational for both: modern reason.  I do not claim to be an expert on the subject, though I have been reading and thinking about it for a good number of years.  What I have concluded so far is that not all of postmodernist thought is bad, not all postmodern thought is good, and it is for the most part not so much a departure from modernism as it is a neo-modernism.

First, postmodernism is a critique of certain aspects of modernism, which is badly needed. Modernism as a worldview is extremely narrow-minded, arrogant, anti-historical, and egocentric, if that term can be applied to a worldview. Modernism is constructed in such a way that in its own eyes, it can’t fail. One of its main errors is its faith in progress, that the evolution of society – and of man – is necessarily positive, and that every day in every way, we are getting better and better. More knowledge is always good, in spite of what Adam and Eve discovered. While imaging that we are rational to the utmost, and depending almost exclusively on man’s ability to reason, this belief in necessary progress is not itself based on reason.  Modernism, in many ways, is a fraud, and those calling themselves postmodern have found it out.  In spite of the incredible “progress” of technology, the average white-collar American works more hour per week than 30 years ago, and stress-related illnesses are on a rapid rise. Progress?

Postmodernism challenges the lie that everything is okay.  It also challenges the lie that everything fits into nice, neat boxes. Postmodernism recognizes that spirituality is important.  It challenges the scientific hold on truth, as well as religion’s hold on it. Postmodernism recognizes that what moderns accepted as a rule “was more of a guideline.” However, it has also adopted the same anti-historical arrogance; while it often pays homage to the past, it assumes that postmodernism is better. It has not thrown out all of modernism, just what it doesn’t like. Postmoderns, for example, are more addicted to modern technology than anyone. Apple is perhaps the first large postmodern corporation, and its product line it tailored specifically to that target market, using good old-fashioned modern marketing techniques. Do postmoderns rise up in rebellion?  Not in the least; in fact, the “Mac Guy” has become an icon.

William Lane Craig is the first author I have found who agrees with my conclusions. In a recent article in Christianity Today, he writes:

The idea that we live in a postmodern culture is a myth. In fact, a postmodern culture is an impossibility; it would be utterly unlivable. People are not relativistic when it comes to matters of science, engineering, and technology; rather, they are relativistic and pluralistic in matters of religion and ethics. But, of course, that’s not postmodernism; that’s modernism! That’s just old-line verificationism, which held that anything you can’t prove with your five senses is a matter of personal taste. We live in a culture that remains deeply modernist.

Otherwise, how do we make sense of the popularity of the New Atheism? Dawkins and his ilk are indelibly modernist and even scientistic in their approach. On the postmodernist reading of contemporary culture, their books should have fallen like water on a stone. Instead, people lap them up eagerly, convinced that religious belief is folly.

Is there a need for a true post-modernism?  Perhaps.  Or, perhaps what we need is rather a rediscovery of pre-modernism, a loosening of our anti-historical attitudes and the misplaced faith in progress. I’m not suggesting we give up the internet or stop thinking logically; I am, in fact, quite attached to many of the accomplishments of modern technology, as well as modern logic, which has its place.  However, I do think we need to recover some of what was lost in the iconoclasm of the “Enlightenment” in order to put modernism into some kind of context.  This, I think, is what is being attempted by much of postmodernism, but at the moment it still seems too egocentric – and modern – to be any more than just a new expression of modernism.

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