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Postmodernism Course, Lesson 004

Free Bible Seminary Course On Postmodernism, Lesson 004

Christian culture is based on traditional values; subsequently there is always the tension between being a follower of Jesus and engaging in the popular culture. Modernism likes the order inherent in tradition, but chafes against tradition for tradition’s sake. Religion is perceived, for the most part, in opposition to science. Since the reality of the postmodernism culture is subjective, rules and boundaries may be rejected as meaningless, especially when inconvenient.

As an example, cheating is on the rise in educational institutions and in the job market. It is seen by many as necessary ‘to get ahead” and not a serious infraction. When the shoe is on the other foot, however, as when a competing job candidate lands a job because he embellished his resume, there is an indignant reaction from the losing candidate, due in part to the sudden realization that a wrong has been committed.

As for traditional religions, they are frequently viewed with suspicion by the postmodernist, and “fundamentalists” are seen as fanatical and downright dangerous. A fundamentalist may include anyone who is firm in their faith. Religions with a hierarchal structure are seen as the most oppressive. Many Christian beliefs, such as the concept of Hell, are rejected as intolerant. A subjective “spirituality” with few limits, such as with New Age religions, is seen as an attractive alternative. Atheism and existentialism are also more common among postmodernists.

This attitude towards religion, I feel, is understandable to some extent. Christianity tends to periodically gravitate towards rules and traditions, rather than focusing on being a follower of Christ. This is what Jesus warned against in Mark 7:8: "For you set aside the commandment of God, and hold tightly to the tradition of men…” (WEB). When this happens, the cold emptiness of dead faith drives away both the believer and the seeker. Hostility to religion is also fueled in part by lack of sound teaching of our youth, and negative media coverage of religion.

In my opinion, the increasingly negative attitude towards religion is motivated, to some degree, by the attempt to “follow your bliss“. This charge originated with Joseph Campbell, influential writer and teacher of mythology. According to the website for the Joseph Campbell Foundation, “bliss” comes from “ananda”, a Sanskrit word that can also mean “rapture”. It seems that originally, he was encouraging people to pursue their life’s passion, but “follow your bliss” has become an exhortation to live a hedonistic lifestyle, regardless of consequences. Through Campbell’s writings and interviews a fuzzy spiritualism is revealed, along with some hostility to Christianity. The hostility to Christianity may be necessary when “following bliss” because bliss is more readily attained when morality and reality are out of the picture. Harsh realities, in particular, are not good for bliss. I saw a somewhat comical example of this on TV, when a wife complained that her husband only sporadically worked (for beer) instead of trying to provide for her and their children. When confronted, he replied that he didn’t want to work fulltime because “it might harsh my mellow”. In other words, finding work and fulfilling his obligations would force him to face an uncomfortable, inconvenient, bliss-killing reality.

Summary of Culture and Worldviews

Christian:

Order is desirable

Traditional values

Desire not to be conformed to the popular culture – rather to transform the culture

Modern:

Order is rational and good

Tradition is stifling

Expression is healthy

Technology improves quality of life

Faith and science are opposed

Postmodern:

Rejection of rules & boundaries

Order is oppressive

Institutions are oppressive

Religion is dangerous

Find bliss

Diversity

Boundaries and Art

I didn’t want to spend much time on art, but in the past 30 years or so, there have been some important changes in art that have affected our culture and society (and vice versa). These changes range across the spectrum from simply what is mannerly to what is right and wrong. The most obvious change that I have observed, and one that drives many of the other changes, is in the erasing of boundaries seen particularly in the entertainment and news media. Celebrities have become art, or icons, and their appearance and actions are mimicked, especially by our youth. The increasing lack of restraint shown by the rich and famous numbs the mind while sending the message that “anything goes”.

As morality is being blurred in and by the media, reality is being blurred by the collage or bricolage of styles and historical periods. For example, a story about a fictional warrior might contain scenes from his purported historical era, but also have Druid characters and Babylonian goddesses who traditionally or historically existed in a different time and place. The result is a hodgepodge of unrelated characters, some historical, some fictional, existing in a historical land and time that never existed. History (truth) is just disregarded. This may not seem particularly important, but when you realize that children are raised on this type of entertainment, you see why they have difficulty sorting historical fact from fiction. Understanding the past is essential for understanding the present and the future. It’s been said that you have to remember where you’ve been to really know who you are, where you are, and where you‘re going. This has implications for nations as well as individuals.

Of course, these historical inaccuracies may also be due to ignorance. Since other boundaries are crumbling, such as those defining accuracy and reliability, ignorance may follow as a natural consequence. This was evident when, in 2004, CNN’s news website reported that the primary news source for 21% of young adults under 30 in the U.S. was The Daily Show, which is a parody of the news, or comedy! The executive producer of the show, Ben Karlin, could see the absurdity of this and felt that watching real news was necessary to be well informed. He based this on a Pew Research survey that showed that “people who regularly learned news from the comedy shows were less likely to know basic facts of the [Presidential] campaign.”

So-called documentaries like Fahrenheit 911, on the other hand, are no more than blatant propaganda. So, again, truth doesn’t matter and reality is being blurred. Combine this with the inability of children to think analytically, linearly, and critically, and you have a reality crisis!

Frederic Jameson believes this denial of history is due to a pathological inability to perceive time. He feels that this results from the constant media bombardment with images that have little relationship to one another. News happens quickly and frequently, and is promptly forgotten. He believes this has caused a distortion of time and history (and reality, I suspect).

As for boundaries in separating Christian culture from others, postmodernism may have paradoxically strengthened them. Rodney Clapp discusses postmodernism in his book A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Postmodern Society. He sees the Church as separated from contemporary culture, being instead “its own culture.” Since postmodernism, even more than modernism, rejects Christian thinking, there is now a more obvious difference between the Church and the world, which is as it should be: “Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Romans 12:2, WEB).

Summary of Boundaries and Worldviews

Christian

Distinction between God and created beings, man and angels, man and animals

Desire not to be conformed to the popular culture – rather to transform the culture

Different designs = different functions

Modern:

Boundaries necessary for order

Some boundaries should be challenged

Science and technology can remove boundaries

Postmodern:

Collage of styles, eras

Rejection of boundaries

Reality is an illusion

Inability to perceive time in a healthy manner

Mary Klages summarizes that

postmodern things are ‘a big jumbled mess‘ out of which order does not arise…a smorgasbord, as bricolage, as collage, or as pastiche: a seemingly random collection of events, actions, signifiers, or ideas which do not coalesce.” Her description of postmodern art/literature captures its characteristics: “… a blurring of distinctions between genres, so that poetry seems more documentary (as in T.S. Eliot or ee cummings) and prose seems more poetic (as in Woolf or Joyce).” She adds that there is “…emphasis on the destructured, decentered, dehumanized subject.” Comparing modernism to postmodernism, she states, “Postmodernism, in contrast, doesn’t lament the idea of fragmentation, provisionality, or incoherence, but rather celebrates that. The world is meaningless? Let’s not pretend that art can make meaning then, let’s just play with nonsense.” (Emphasis added).

If this doesn’t sound to you like there’s nothing there, as in the old fairytale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, read on

The criticism of Postmodernism as rhetorical gymnastics, which are ultimately meaningless, are demonstrated in the Sokal Affair, where Alan Sokal, a physicist, wrote a deliberately nonsensical article purportedly about interpreting physics and mathematics in terms of postmodern theory, which was nevertheless published by the Social Text, a journal which he and most of the scientific community considered as postmodernist. Interestingly, Social Text never acknowledged that the article’s publication was a mistake, but supported a counter-argument defending the "interpretative validity" of Sokal’s false article, despite the author’s rebuttal of his own article. (Wikipedia).

In “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, pride (or hubris to the postmodernist) and fear prevented anyone from telling the Emperor or the “tailors” that no one could actually see their wondrous cloth. It was the honest observation of a small child that finally triggered a reality check, exposing the scam. But alas, the damage was done: the tailors made off with a lot of ill-gotten money; the Emperor made a fool of himself; and his subjects lost respect for him. In the fairytale, this was the end of the story. In real life (yes, there is such a thing) there would probably have been disruptive, perhaps destabilizing consequences for the kingdom resulting from the Emperor’s inability to perceive reality.

Summary of Art and Worldviews

Christian:

Traditionally has glorified God and His Creation

Attempts at true representation

Modern:

Provocative

Expressive

Glorifies the individual

Strives for originality

Postmodern

Collages

Pastiche

No boundaries

About feelings

Nothing is original but copies

Postmodern Buzzwords 2

Bliss

Bricolage

Circular thinking/reasoning

Collage

Digitalization

Hubris

Income redistribution

Late capitalism

Linear thinking/reasoning

Pastiche

Rhizome

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  1. Thank you for sharing this knowledge.Indeed I agree with the words stated here as Christianity tends to periodically gravitate towards rules and traditions, rather than focusing on being a follower of Christ.It is true so we have given a name to this style of Christianity as “Christendom”.

    Romans 12:2 (New International Version)

    2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

    New International Version (NIV)

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