By Scott Keith –
I try my best not to hate postmodernism. No, I do. Nonetheless, I hate postmodernism. I don’t hate it because of its proposed relativism, so to speak. I hate it because at its core I think that it tends to destroy our view of history, kill our heroes and make God nothing but a personal felt need.
To be sure, postmodern thought has made some positive contributions to academia and society. I think it is a good thing that arbitrary societal norms, that have no basis in an actual ethic, are discarded as irrelevant. I think the idea that we should all critically evaluate our own prejudices, preconceptions, and a priori assumptions prior to making grand statements is a positive move. Take for instance the antiquated idea that America is the greatest country in all of human history. While I may love America (questionable most days), and you may love America (probably true for most of the readers of the Jagged Word), this does not necessarily mean that, in an objective sense, America is the greatest country in all of human history. It is not relativistic to ask a person making such a claim to check their patriotic baggage at the door prior to having an honest conversation regarding the history of the world or western civilizations. I also think that there is a lot of value that gleans from examining one’s own personal meta-narrative, over and against always seeking a correlation to a grand narrative. Too many times we seek Truth before knowing the truth.
So what is the issue? The issue is the tendency to only seek the “truth” and never seek the “Truth.” It’s a pendulum issue. And in the case of our current “meta-narrative,” we have allowed the pendulum to swing too far to the side of abandoning some great concepts. History is an excellent example. Every idea has a history and that history, to some degree, is discoverable. The fear, I think, of the postmodern thinker is that by saying any history is discoverable, I am saying something similar to 2+2=4. History is empirical in nature, which is always probable and never “True”, like math. It is true in the sense that a certain degree of probability can lead me to say that in the year 1492 Columbus sailed from Spain and landed in San Salvador, Bahamas. This data is open to further evidence. Someday we might find evidence that suggests that he landed further north or south of that locale. This data would not make my statement untrue; it would mean that some of the information was slightly inaccurate. The meaning though, is true. Columbus sailed to the new world in 1492. Often because the individual pieces of data move, the postmodern thinker would say that history in itself is relative because the perspective of the person writing the history, which is true, always taints it. This realization is, again, one of the positive contributions of postmodern thought. This does not mean that history is to be discarded. Rather history should be seen for what it is; empirical information open to more data being inputted at any moment.
This same fear can lead the postmodern thinker to dethrone every hero.
Heroes, you see are people in history, or myth I suppose, who once did great things that we can admire and emulate. But if history is bunk, so then are heroes.
Take Columbus for example. He was once so much a hero that I would receive a day off of school to celebrate his great accomplishments. Now he is a villain who raped, plundered, brought disease, and murdered native peoples. Not to sound like a postmodernist here, but may I ask the question: can’t both statements be true? All heroes, save for one, are flawed because they are human. Columbus is no exception. He did horrible things, yet he was a brave discoverer and voyager. No, he probably was not the first European to step foot on American soil, but he was the one who started the flood that would eventually become American colonization. He was not, especially by our standards, ethical, but he seems to have suffered the burden of his lack of moralistic forethought. So should he be a hero? He, like all heroes, should be revered with cautious scrutiny, but in some way revered nonetheless. What will happen when we have dethroned every hero? Where will we stop? Moses, defied God, yet lead God’s people to the Promised Land. Abraham made some questionable decisions regarding his wife, on multiple occasions, yet he is called the father of many nations. King David was a murder, yet he was said to be a man after God’s own heart. Heroes; Yes! Flawed, though they are their bravery and leadership can be cautiously admired.
And finally we have come to it. That is the true reason to hate postmodernism. To the postmodernist, God is not a thing to be seen as true or True, or even False or false. God seems to have become a comforting convenience. The modern God seems to resemble an all-powerful manservant, as on Downton Abbey. He is good if you like being cared for in that sort of way, but the really progressive people know that having a manservant is too much a part of the old world to be truly respected. And I agree. If God is a convenient butler, only there to serve me in times of Earthly need, then who needs him at all? Not me. I’m way too progressive to need anything like that. Rather God is in Christ reconciling sinners, True sinners, to Himself. There is the hitch. True sinners need reconciling, not dressing in the morning and feeding at dinner. A true sinner is someone who knows their own history, sees earthly heroes as the shadows they are, and looks to a God become man as the only hope for the Truth of their situation. The Truth is that they are dead. Their own meta-narrative and the grand narrative will tell them the same thing. In this world, there is only death. In Christ, there is life. We need history and heroes because God has given those things to us to point to Christ. We oughtn’t to be so quick to give up the shadows of Truth God has given us out of hand.