On Postmodern Leanings

My recent Facebook postings have created quite a stir (that’s professional talk for ‘ticked people off royally’).  Why, you ask?  Easy.  I’ve stopped believing the right things.  Adam and Eve may not have ever existed.  The Biblical Flood was local, not global.  The story of the Hebrew Bible is more important than its historical reliability (or lack thereof).  The responsible drinking of alcohol is not only permitted, but encouraged by the Bible.  And one of my most recent posts really ruffled some feathers, where I criticized a blog post that suggested that any lady who sees the movie Magic Mike should just stop calling herself a Christian.  That was a pretty interesting discussion, and I stand behind what I said…such ideas are legalist crap.

The question that lots of folks are wondering is how in the world did I get to these new positions? Truthfully, I’ve thought about them for some time.  Others are more recent developments.  But overall it involves two things: my approach to truth and my approach to the Bible.  Perhaps the easiest answer is that my view of things has evolved from a modernist view which is one of idealism, to a postmodernist view which is one that values subjectivity.   Recently my postmodern leanings have become clearer (an oxymoron, right?), and the more I write, the more you can hear the faint sound of modernist heads exploding all over the place.

I know what some of you are thinking; if I’m a postmodernist, then I just can’t believe in God or absolute truth.  I’m sure Francis Schaeffer and Ravi Zacharias quotes are rattling in some of your heads.  Well let me tell you a few things.  I still believe that God determines what Schaeffer called the “true Truth,” but my suspicions are that none of us can completely arrive at this Truth without messing it up somehow. (If the doctrine of depravity has taught me anything, it’s that humans are really good at messing things up!)  It’s not because the truth can’t be seen.  The truth shines brightly, but we are all pretty dim and easily distractible even with the Holy Spirit’s influence.

As a Christian, I’ve come to understand that God is former and keeper of Truth because he is the maker of reality.  But what is the “right” or “correct” perception of that reality?  How will I know when it is the right one?  I’ve come to understand that my personal perception of reality will always be biased, and no amount of study reveal truth perfectly.

When I was more of a modernist, I took a different approach.  I saw many things in life–especially theology–as a multiple choice test.  I strained hard to answer all of the questions correctly.  Sometimes it was easy:

Jesus of Nazareth was:

(A) a historical figure who was a good man and nothing more

(B) a fictional person invented by religious zealots

(C) the only begotten Son of God

(D) both B and C

Sometimes, I had a harder time with it:

What is the correct response to “you are to be holy, for I am holy”?

(A) Avoid all secular movies and books

(B) Stop seeing all R-rated movies

(C) Pray for forgiveness every time I think a dirty thought

(D) All of the above

(E) None of the above

I was confident that most of my answers were right.  The others, I just circled C and hoped for the best.  “We’ll know the answer one day” I said to myself.  That’s because I thought that God had a kind of divine answer key that he could show us so we’d see the indisputable answers to all our questions.  There is a divine answer key in the sky, and one day God will grade your test.  This wasn’t a salvation issue to me, I just wanted to be right!  Don’t we all?

What I’ve come to find out is that many of life’s questions are not multiple choice or even true/false, they are more like essay questions that take into account my own perspectives.  I can hit the target using my own words, with my own experiences, my own point of view.  I still need to answer the questions correctly, but the idea that I must get the answer either 100% right or I will get it 100% wrong doesn’t seem to be the right approach to me anymore.

But this black-and-white approach to all things is what I’m hearing from lots of folks.  It’s something I would like them to grow beyond.  My answers are different from theirs, so I am “wrong,”–my answers on life’s quizzes are incorrect based on their estimations.  And they get to their conclusions based on sheer logic?  I doubt it.  Humans are not robots that process raw information without bias.  I would even argue that God is biased.  As the most free being in the universe, this is really not a difficult idea to grasp.  But it would take time to develop, so we’ll leave that post for another day.

Simply put, I still believe in true Truth, but our ‘getting there’ is an imperfect process. We should be humble about our conclusions and consider carefully the conclusions of others.

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Categories: Postmodernism, Theology | 12 Comments

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12 thoughts on “On Postmodern Leanings

  1. Jim Aldridge

    I probably fall more into the class of a Scottish common sense realist than I would a postmodern, but even I would have to agree with your assessment that none of us can “arrive at absolute truth without messing it up somehow.” In essence, that is just an acknowledgement that we are all fallible, an affirmation that any orthodox Christian is compelled to make. All solid Christian thinkers should be prepared to admit that they do not and cannot have an exhaustive understanding of Truth with a “capital T.” The question then becomes whether or not it can at least be approximated. Can we get closer to it? Is it a constant? Or is it a moving target that varies from person to person?

    Part of this has to do with the nature of reality itself. Is there an objective reality that is constant regardless of the person who is observing or perceiving it? Orthodox Christianity’s answer to this is a resounding “Yes!” God is the ground of that reality.

    The other side of this issue has to do with the nature of the human mind and reason. Is there common epistemelogical ground? Is the manner in which we perceive or endeavor to apprehend that truth similar enough that if we were to interact meaningfully and honestly with one another in the pursuit of that truth, we would be drawn in the same direction, or are our individual perceptions of that truth and manners of interacting with that truth so dramatically different that it might as well be a moving target that varies from person to person?

    While I would readily admit that everyone perceives things differently up to a point, I would argue that those differences are not so dramatic that it makes a cooperative, meaningful search for that objective truth an impossibility for any two given people. I don’t know that postmodernists would come to that same conclusion. One of the things that unnerves me about the postmodern approach is that, in the discussion of any matter of truth and morality, this denial of common epistemelogical ground makes it possible for them to finish any good and healthy debate with the phrase, “Well, that’s YOUR opinion.” That’s not really an argument. Of course it’s my opinion, otherwise I would not have been espousing it otherwise. To me, its seems like more of an intellectual (or in some cases a moral) cop out. It’s a way of saying, “I’m getting weary of this discussion so let’s just terminate it indefinitely.” It’s okay if one feels that way, I would just rather them say it. Or it might be a substitute for, “You’re obviously and idiot because you seem unable to grasp my points.” Once again, just say it. Or perhaps it is a way of saying, “This is getting a bit uncomfortable for me, hitting a little close to home.” This is the hardest one to admit, but I think we have all been there. Just say it.

    I understand why post moderns feel this way. We Christians are notorious for pressing people to accept our views even if they have reached the “weary of this discussion,” “you’re an idiot,” or “this is uncomfortable” point. That is truly a shame and a disgrace, and we should be more respectful of people’s rights to hold an opinion and of their feelings than that. But just because everyone has an equal right to an opinion, it does not then follow that everyone’s opinion is equally right. Our arrogance and condescension in the way we deal with a culture with whom we disagree is cause for us to change how we deal with that culture, not cause to change our view of truth.

    Just my 2 cents.

  2. That’s just your opinion, Jim.

  3. …And that’s a good thing. I hope to address these concerns in other posts. But let me touch on one or two here.
    Postmodernism is a very, very big house with lots of rooms. I feel that lots of folks give it the brush-off without actually understanding it. I like logic and use it all of the time. It is a very helpful too, but the postmodernist knows that it can be used to oppress people, not just to disagree with them. Do people use the “That’s just your opinion” card as an excuse for laziness…yes. On the other hand, how many folks to you know just believe what they’re told without examining it for themselves? They trample on folks using terms and systems they learned but never really understood. People become gleefully oppressive in many cases.
    It seems to me that Grace is one of the biggest logic breakers of all. People must be punished, and God says “No”. It’s not logical, it’s not just, and it doesn’t make sense…and I’m so glad he does that.
    The truth is, these are postmodern/existential leanings, but I don’t know yet if I qualify as a full blown, card carrying pomo. But because we live in a postmodern culture, I think all of us are more postmodern than we think just because we all absorb cultural norms by default.

  4. Jim Aldridge

    The folks who just believe what they are told without examining it are, admittedly, guilty of the same arrogance and laziness. I make no excuses for such behavior, whether I find it in others or in myself. I know that there are people who gleefully oppress people, but I see that as more a function of pride, sin and fear than I do the natural and necessary result of their adherence to modernism or idealism. But once again… that is my opinion. (Insert annoying smiley face emoticon here to indicate the playful rather than snarky nature of that comment).

    And while there are aspects of grace that clearly do not conform to our standard of what “makes sense,” for example, “why would God choose to save me?” there are other aspects of it that seem to conform rigidly to a system of logic, for example, the fact that sin’s were not just “wiped away” but rather atoned for by the death of Christ so the demands of justice could be met. That being the case, I’m not sure that sure that the grace analogy holds up 100%. But once again… that’s just my opinion. (Please see above disclaimer)

  5. Yes. But that sacrificial system depends on an ancient cultural understanding of Torah. The lamb/goat will take the punishment. Without that backdrop, a modern American would have a lot of trouble with a scapegoat justice model. Furthermore, the Book of Jonah is the best example I can think of that throws a monkey wrench in all of the OT justice system. Jonah says “You should punish them!” but God says, “No, I don’t think I will.” Jonah goes nuts. God’s not acting according to Justice. God’s response, “I’ll do what I want, Jonah, just like I’ll do what I want with you. Aren’t you glad I show you mercy too?”

  6. I think that the idea of retributive justice is more basic and predates the Torah, even. The Torah indeed helps the community of faith understand how that retributive justice is a vital part of Gods redemptive plan in general, but I think it could be argued that concepts like morality, justice, and even atonement have been an integral part of every culture in recorded history. For instance, when my children were smaller, I explained the gospel by using an analogy that involved them breaking a window and one of their siblings volunteering to take their punishment and pay for the window. They could not yet fully understand Torah, but they understood justice and substitutionary atonement. Not only are they modern Americans, they were about 4 to 5 years old at the time. While this analogy would not work for someone who lived in a tribal culture and did not understand what a window was (there’s your subjectivism), there would be other illustrations one could draw from their cultural experience to make the same point (There’s my common epistemelogical ground).

    • Yes, but what I’m getting at is one person taking the punishment for another–capital punishment, even. That’s a scapegoat concept. Modern eyes don’t normally see that as justice.

  7. I realize we haven’t talked in a couple of years, but this topic intrigues me, and thus I am going to butt in.

    I’m rather interested in what context you have postmodern leanings. For someone of a roughly Christian neoplatonic worldview, the affirmation of man’s moral fallibility and his fallibility in knowledge are one and the same, and thus I see no problem in holding postmodern affinities–this is because God is the truth, and the source of all being, and hence knowledge, virtue, and sin are inseparably connected. If, however, one’s basic worldview is characterized by enlightenment philosophy, then any notion of “the truth” as a coherent, single thing, is out the window as soon as any kind of postmodernism enters the room. Truth cannot be propositional and one at the same time. Your example of multiple choice questions reveals that. Hence why Nietzsche said that there is no truth, yet assumed the existence of truths, in the plural. Additionally, saying “man is fallible with regard to actions” becomes an entirely different thing from saying “man is fallible with regard to knowledge,” because knowledge for the modern thinker is different than it is for, say Augustine or Pesudo-Dionysius.

    Hence, I’m curious. What positions do you hold with regard to metaphysics and epistemology? This will give me a much better understanding of the nature of your postmodern leanings.

  8. Well I’m figuring that stuff out, Josh.
    (It’s good to hear from you, by the way!)
    This last year represents a big transition for me, where new territory exists. You know a little about me before this transition–that I was someone willing to discuss virtually any option or interpretation. I still am. But my center of gravity regarding epistemology has shifted.
    I reject a platonic idealism. I formally thought that God sought to reveal himself through logic and revealed that logic throught the Bible and through nature. God encoded his truths in the system of logic, and only those who could decode that system could see the perfecct message–the ideal message.
    I still believe in those channels of God’s communication, but don’t think logic is the only way to arrive at his “truths.” Logic is important, and an aid to get us there but I’m finding that God uses the channels (Bible/nature) to speak to US, not to logic. Since logic is not relevant to many people (and they still become Christ followers) it seems the salvation experience is much more existential than we previously thought. I don’t know many people who would say they came to Christ because it just made sense. If they did, salvation really does have something to do with my own intellect, and I deserves some sort of recognition for my intellegence…but that opposes Paul’s description of it.
    That’s where I am so far.

  9. You don’t know me but you know my family well. My mom was actually who introduced me to one of your FB posts which, in turn, is what led me to your blog. First of all, I want to commend you for boldly professing your beliefs. The comments both here and on your FB page are evidence enough that speaking freely isn’t always well received. I, however, appreciate not only the shared information but the challenge you have presented me with. After reading your blog, I am more than a ltitle intrigued at some of the things you have said and have actually purchased a good majority of the books you’ve talked about. Amazon.com is wonderful for the curious mind. I am now waiting with great anticipation for these books to arrive. I always welcome a chance to challenge what I believe to be true. Worst case scenario, I am further convinced of my current position and beliefs. Best case scenario, I learn something new and realize my current beliefs could use a little adjusting. Either way, I’m eager to dive in.

  10. Mark Twain said he could run a good two months off of one compliment. I think your comments will have the same affect on me. Helping people grow and think for themselves is the main purpose behind my posts. I’m so glad you’re exploring these ideas with me!

  11. It took me a while to get back on this, mostly because I didn’t realize you had responded (I guess the response notification went to my spam folder or something).

    However, as to your comments on Platonism, I’m not sure that that is what Plato actually believed. I know that the “that’s not what he REALLY meant” argument has become overused, but I think it is not when it comes to premodern philosophers. Why? Because many contemporary philosophy professors are more interested in dismissing their views out of hand as, in short, retarded, so that they can get to the present, when we’ve finally started figuring things out, or however one wants to phrase it.

    I think that Plato is less concerned with logic and more concerned with knowledge. To achieve knowledge, he thinks rational discourse–which is distinct from logic–is extremely important, yet he does not make it the totality of his viewpoint. How does one know this? Because of his use of the dialogue. If one wanted to bash someone into submission, he would do something like Spinoza–make your argument using definitions, axioms, and propositions, doing all this under the impression that if someone disagreed with your conclusion, his head would explode. He would not make the dialogue, a genre based on ancient Greek dramas, his genre of choice, because the second you move from discursive prose to storytelling–which is, I think, what the dialogue basically is–you stop being “objective” in the sense that modern man thinks of it. Hence, the question “Is Hamlet true” is, to the modernist mind, a nonsensical question.

    The point of all this is to say that Plato is more concerned with knowledge of the forms in the same way one knows a friend, not knowledge in the way one knows that 2 and 2 make 4. To a Christian, this all should be easy. Christ is the truth, and knowledge of the truth is a personal knowledge. And in this context, one can be a postmodernist without being a heretic (if that is too strong a word, I apologize, but while you were off swimming the Thames, I was swimming the Tiber, and it has left an impression on how I view the world–it turns out to be a very odd way of viewing the world, as it happens, and myself from a year ago would probably hate myself now). In the context, however, where one still holds that truth is propositional, postmodernism leads to a rejection of truth as a whole.

    My reasons for all these stances are, of course, based on my exactingly close reading of The Little Prince. Which is my way of saying it would be difficult, albeit possible, for me to provide reasons for all these positions, and that I am rather lazy, too lazy to do so without being asked.

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