Tuesday, 17 June 2014

On Postmodernism

To say that truth cannot be known or that truth doesn't, at all, exist or that truth is not absolute or universal is to invariably give up on intellect and meaning. As the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb put it, "Postmodernism entices us with the siren call of liberation and creativity, but it may be an invitation to intellectual and moral suicide." [1] As soon as someone even suggests that truth is out of man's reach, and human reasoning and conscience futile, then the door is made open and the freeway paved for relativism of every sort. Professor Patricia Waugh states, "If modernism had tried to anchor in consciousness a centre which could no longer hold--the conscience of the heroic, socially alienated artist--postmodernism had shown us an even darker side of modernity and the aporias of the aesthetic. It had shown that there is nothing for consciousness to be anchored to: no universal ground of truth, justice, or reason, so that consciousness itself is thus "decentred," no longer origin, author, location of intentional agency but a function through which impersonal forces pass and intersect--Dover Beach displaced by an international airport lounge." [2] Without the capability to know truth, what validates one belief of reality over the alternative? Let's look at what is being claimed. "Truth cannot be known. There is no truth." It is a paradoxical statement that literally eats itself. But now let's, for a minute, talk the implications, the dangers of this line of thought. The possible implications of this lazy philosophy, which we've begun to witness, I find astounding. I'm convinced that it's in a postmodern worldview that you will find your StalinsWithout a true reference-point for meaning, humans will have the chance, in the guise of liberty, to fashion their own concept of reality, however heinous (if evil's even still a thing), without sensible conviction or rebuke. No person could assert the rightness of an idea or belief, much less persuade. What we have then, are decapitated birds coasting through the breeze of free love, guiltless hate, and relentless contradiction. 

Dr. D.A. Carson put it as I would, in his message on the Emergent Church and Postmodernism in the Church when saying that epistemology "is a tricky thing" [3]. Indeed it is. Yet the ball returns to the postmodernist's court. "We can know truth objectively, but we cannot objectively know truth.", Carson later said. We can know what truth is, but, of course, we cannot know all that there is to know about it. It's to say that knowledge should not be equated with certainty. After all, not all modernists are "dogmatic". Jesus did not allow for a postmodern worldview in John 14. Because I believe Him, I can believe in truth. I can believe that it's been revealed to us. I can believe that intellect is sufficient to discover and language capable to convey it. I can believe that there is a reference-point for meaning and morality. But if Jesus, after all, is a deceiver and a liar, then good is vapid of meaning, and meaning escapes itself. We no longer need to worry about inherent evil, nor inherent good, and dictators will be the least of our pains (If pain's even still a thing). Rhetoric will be the sword with which our society destroys itself. Aesthetics will be the idol we kiss as the world accomplishes all it can: cold, quiet death. 

[1] Gertrude Himmelfarb (b. 1922), U.S. historian. On Looking Into the Abyss, ch. 7 (1994).
[2] Patricia Waugh, British educator. "Stalemates? Feminists, Postmodernists and Unfinished Issues in Modern Aesthetics," The Politics of Pleasure: Aesthetics and Cultural Theory, ed. Stephen Regan, Open University Press (1992).
[3] The Emerging Church . Perf. DA Carson. YouTube, 2012. Film.
Other sources:
Postmodernism and Philosophy. Perf. Ravi Zacharias. Ligonier Ministries, 2007. Film.