Posted by: Shawn Ragan | February 7, 2009

Postmodernism

There is a movement happening throughout our country today that affects many facets of life…postmodernism.  There are several things that make up this approach to life, but I am only going to focus on one…the loss of an absolute truth, in essence, the loss of reality.

As I continue to study history, and the study of the study of history, this is a topic we have only begun to talk about…the postmodern approach to the study of history.  Basically, in this approach, one says the past really cannot be known, therefore no one’s opinion can really be right, therefore all opinions are equally valid interpretations of past events.

The problem with this is that real things actually did happen.  While it is true that two different people can look at the same evidence and come to different conclusions, they are still looking at evidence and trying to base their interpretation on actual events.  These things really did take place – there were real reasons why so-n-so did such-n-such, and it is possible to discover some of this.

From the postmodern perspective, though, this reality is lost in a world of opinion – one wherein each opinion is an equally valid idea, no matter if there is any real support for it or not.  Each view then become just another view, and they all have the same merit.

As a student of history, I find this terribly frightening in the field of history.  As a Christian, I find it horrifying in theology and the church.  This postmodern approach, which in reality (whether it intends to or not) denies there is a truth, and the denial of Truth is the denial of Christ Himself, who is the Truth.

This has come up several times is different ways…an elder at the church I pastored would tell people (in this strongly sola scriptura church of “just me, my Bible, and the Holy Spirit”) that if you accept one person’s opinion or writing outside of Holy Scripture, then you must accept all person’s opinions and writings.  Aside from being a logic fallacy, the idea fell over in many other ways.  First off, and this is something we have to come to terms with, all opinions are not equally valid.  Perhaps this is the Enlightenment ideals still pushing the equality of all in our culture – now to the point that everybody’s ideas are equally valid.  If so, I understand why some hold to it so vehemently.  But I will tell you plainly, if you have a serious medical condition, seek a doctor’s advice before you seek mine.  Don’t go see a butcher for a surgery, just because he thinks he knows how to use a knife.  You probably do not want to go to dentist to fix your car, just because he uses a plier type tool to pull teeth with.  Common sense shows that all ideas and opinions are not equal.  We can use some level discernment to know that the M.D.’s opinion is probably better than the CNA’s on a severe medical condition.

Yet people who insist on some level of logic and reason in other areas of there life can completely miss it in other areas.  I was recently asked to read a book, which purported to contain “church history” in it.  The author basically wrote that everybody, from apostolic times until now, has it all wrong.  Now he has come to show “the truth.”  To help support his argument, he tries to use “history.” (in this case I use that term lightly).  The history, according to him, uses no primary documents, and his secondary sources are contemporaries who are in the same movement as himself.  It is a heavily ‘footnoted’ (again, using the term lightly) book, but none of the footnotes offer any real evidence or support.  They are just dressing.  From a historical perspective, it is a simple case of “bad history.”  He does not offer a single bit of evidence to support his conclusions, and he outright ignores a plethora of evidence to the contrary.

So what?  I read the book, recognized it’s obvious shortcomings, and dismissed it.  So why mention it now, and what does this have to do with postmodernism?

Others will read that book, even knowing that there is no evidence to support what the author is saying – and in fact there is evidence to the contrary, and they will still accept it as a valid and possible interpretation (along with it’s presented application).  Enter postmodern thinking.  Two people can say two opposite things, but they are both “valid opinions.”  We decide things, not based on if it has any support, but if it can make sense to me.  We are being taught more and more to consider all ideas equally valid in our heavily pluralistic Western society, so much so that to say the opposite now sounds like someone is being intolerant.

One of the case studies we are covering for “bad history” in our study of history are those who say the holocaust never happened…at all…zilch…no Jews killed at all in concentration camps.  Evidence is twisted, easy explanations for seeming “inconsistencies” are ignored, all in all, it is simple deception.  The facts are overwhelming that there was in fact a holocaust during WWII.  So much so that it seems odd one could even deny it…yet they do, and people listen.  Most of us, maybe not all, would agree that that is absurd.  Yet to be a consistent postmodernist, wouldn’t one need to accept that as another “valid and possible interpretation?”

As strange as I find it in history, I am truly frightened by it in theology.  More and more people say that while Christ may have come and delivered some sort of truth or faith, that it must have been lost and really is unknowable…it is hidden, so every idea about is valid.  There are over 30,000 different Protestant denominations, and people will argue they are one church.  They hold not only inconsistent ideas about salvation and Jesus and God, they are often contradictory and mutually exclusive ideas about what salvation is, who Jesus Christ is (He cannot be pre-existent and not pre-existent, truly God and not God at all, truly man and not really a man), and God (modalism, Trinitarianism, and adoptionism are mutually exclusive ideas).  These are basic tenets of the Faith.  How we perceive these things define our Faith – even who are Faith is in.  If I worship the Holy Trinity, and you deny the Holy Trinity, how can one then say we worship the same God?  If you deny my God, and I worship something you see as false, how is it the same?

Because we live in an increasingly more postmodern and pluralistic society.  The sad thing is that when we make everything true, nothing is true.  All opinions are not equal and valid.  When we try to make them so, the only way to do so is to make them all equally bad.

Then we get to look at them all, and tailor make a faith for ourselves, in our own image, with the things we want, and we can even “interpret” reality to make it fit into our thoughts.  We can then align ourselves with people who hold the exact opposite beliefs and say we all believe the same thing.  That gives me a headache just writing it.

From a historical stance, we can be thankful for primary sources…that we can study the evidence and seek to find the truth of this or that…

From a religious stance, here is where I am thankful for the grounding and anchor of Orthodoxy…yes, I can read the “primary sources” comprised of the Holy Scriptures, as well as the history of the church since then…we have the writings of other Christians in the Apostolic Age, some mentioned in Scripture – the disciples of the Apostles.  We have the Church writings of every century from the 1st century to the 21st century…all with the consistent message of our Holy Christian Faith.  This greater Holy Tradition…spoken of in a positive light in Holy Scripture (see 2 Thess 2:15, among others)…helps us to stay away from ‘my own private interpretation’ and to instead look to the greatness of the Faith “received from the Apostles.”

There is real Truth, but that Truth is not found in opinions – or in the denial of reality or the denial of truth – it is found in the unchanging and consistent message of the Holy Faith, in the lives of the martyrs (Orthodoxy has been rightly called the “Church of the Martyrs”) and the Saints, in the Liturgies and prayers of the Church, and in the pinnacle of this Holy Tradition – Holy Scripture itself.  It is not our role to try to force the truth into our mold, nor is it to deny the truth by declaring everything equally true…we must seek out and find that which is true, the very Truth Himself.

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Responses

  1. I agree with much of what you say about history and historical evidence. You find such strange twistings of history as The da Vinci code and the books it is based on becoming best-sellers, when it is a very mediocre example of its genre.

    But it is precisely the certainties of modernity typified by Enlightenment thought that much postmodern thinking reacts against. And this creates opportunities for Orthodoxy, because Orthodoxy has not been affected by modernity to the same extend and in the same way as Wexstern Christianity.


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