Thursday, June 16, 2005

Postmodernism and Christianity - A rant

Postmodernism is anathema to Christianity. It is time that progressive Christians said this clear and loud. Two good reasons for this protest spring to mind:

1. Postmodernism abandons truth.

One of the classic definitions of postmodernism is that it rejects all neta-narratives (a meta-narrative is an overarching story that makes sense of all other stories). This should immediately make Christians suspicious - for what is Christianity if not a meta-narrative!

But more than this, the abandonment of meta-narratives is a sign of the postmodern abandonment of truth. For postmodernism, truth is sidelined. (It's never actually rejected, as that would involve a new form of truth.) With truth sidelined, two things happen. Firt, you can pick your own truth; anything goes. And second, there is an absence of commitment to anything. If anything this second is more dangerous.

2. Money.

Jacques Derrida, one of the fathers of postmodernism, famously said that the writer cannot own the text. So a wag decided to test this and re-published Derrida's works without paying Derrida. Derrida sued for breech of copyright and won. So much for not owning the text!

Our financial system is anything but postmodern - it is not ironic, it has absolute standards and it very definately has a meta-narrative. While this is so, we do not live in a postmodern world. We cannot - postmodernism simply doesn't account for one of the key building blocks of the world.

If it were only a matter of bad description, then postmodernism would be incorrect but harmless. But the postmodern blindspot to the way in which money and the financial system work actually enables those espousing postmodernism to forget about it. Or to put it another way, postmodernism is another way for rich people to ignore poor people. How many postmodern theorists live in the developing world? Ever wondered why not? Postmodernism is blind to the fact that it is the affluence of the few that make it possible. Irony and choice depend on a material basis. The virtual world is parasitic on the material world.

So that's why I'm allergic to postmodernism. It's dangerous. Christians should have nothing to do with it.

Well, I did warn you it was a rant ...


Mark said...

Have you read Terry Eagleton's various critiques of postmodernism? I think you would enjoy them.

Rob said...

'Christians should have nothing to do with post-modernism'.

Simon while I understand, I think, what you are saying surely this last statement of yours is anathema to Christianity.

As Christians I think we are called to engage with the world. The world is post modern. Is it there, we are in it whether we like it or not.

Surely, then, Christians should have everything to do with it.

simon said...

Mark - thanks. I have read Terry Eagleton, and owe much to it (as you spotted).

Rob - My point is precisely that Christians need to engage with the world and that post-modernism is preventing them doing it by misdescribing the world and hiding the implications. You say that 'the world is postmodern ... whether we like it or not'. What I'm trying to say is that the world is not postmodern, however much people say it is.

Gareth said...

Having attempted to tackle postmodernism head-on and been injured as a result, I would agree with you - but give a warning in the process.

For postmodernists, the Truth of Christianity only exists because it is a functional construct; it has nothing that sets it apart from a paranoid delusion or a solipsistic fantasy. All these images, as far as the postmodernist is concerned, help the sufferer to function in the world and are therefore "true" because they create results. The validity of the results is immaterial; the fact that they bring fruit, good or bad, is sufficient.

So what postmodernism does above all else is give legitimacy to the fancies and prejudices of the thinker: to the postmodernism thought is truth, verification and correction is the destruction of truth.

This provides all postmodernism with the ultimate no-brainer of responses to criticisms: "You would think that, because you have been deluded by your prejudicial belief in a metanarrative."

Of course, what they really hate to hear is that the rejection of metanarratives is in itself a metanarrative...

Anonymous said...

I can only sadly witness to what Gareth has said. it was a long struggle bravely fought. It's the sidelining of truth that i think is dangerous, not trying to refute error and seek truth, resolving issues, but moving away from the questions altogether. saying that it doesn't matter, and avoiding issues. and that disengagment is fragmenting us from caring about each other.

When all the bus-stops along here were shot out last week, the attitudes I heard were just, "so what? the council will fix them." Eventually. meantime nobody else cared about the sheer volume of broken glass [I can tell you now, a simple bus shelter overfills two black-boxes] in places where children wait for buses to school and students cycle in from hall to college, no-one else would be seen sweeping the street to keep it safe for pedestrians. it was someone else's problem.

No-one can deny world poverty, what they can do is ignore it, take the line "So what, why tell me?"


Howard said...

But isn't it the case that the alternatives to post-Modernism are as anathema to Christianity as you say post-Modernism is?

Only by totally submitting ourselves to the Spirit can we each allow our own worldviews to be redeemed, and thus hope to live in our world with something to say.

Rob said...


You have lost me - why do you say the world is not post modern?

simon said...


The world is not postmodern because one of the basic features of it - the way in which we organise our money and economics - is not postmodern at all. It has an absolute set of standards and a clear commitment to a metanarrative (that of the market).

Because of this, attempts to describe the world as postmodern are at best wrong; and at worse they can serve to hide economic injustice.

Andy said...

Sorry to be coming on to this late, but I feel I have a few things to say on the matter.

It matters not one jot whether institutions (such as financial ones) have caught up with our "post-modern" world - the fact is that the wast majority of 'punters' out there (especially <30 of age) have a post-modern worldview - eg. that of a relativistic outlook on truth and an overall suspicion of those who proclaim meta-narratives.

We cannot dodge this, nor can we stand idly by and frown from a distance. Nor can we simply beckon residents of post-modernity out of their relativistic havens with a call to absolutes.

No, we must engage. Which means we must seek to be incarnate in their world, post-modernity and all. Only from within their culture and can we subvert it.

There is much in post-modernity that should be challenged, not least the 'tag' - but there is equally much that should be challenged about the "market" and other modernistic institutions.

But only from within can we exact change. Only from within.