Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Those PoFolks at PoMo...

Little did I know the commotion my What is PoMo? post would generate. Kevin at Blogbandit followed Joe at EO’s link to my post and wrote a response. Kevin was underwhelmed at Joe’s characterization of my post being a “devastating critique” of postmodernism. Kevin lists the conclusions I came up with: 1) McLaren and Livingstone appear to be solid, mature, well-grounded Christians. I’ve found their material to have solid teaching. 2) PoMo adherents, with regards to Christianity, not only want to avoid being defined… they relish in the apparent fact that theirs is a complex psyche. McLaren, in particular, complains that PoMos don’t really believe in anything as stupid as moral relativism. This leads in to conclusion #3… 3) The issue of PoMo Christianity may be as simple as people not being able to live consistent to their Worldview. 4) The general populace of the PoMo movement don’t seem to be listening to the likes of McLaren and Livingstone. He then states, “Point #1 I fully agree with. Point #4 has no support whatsoever - his defense is a restatement of his prior conclusion. It's hard to really debate that except by saying I disagree, I think many are listening to McLaren. Point #3 is really an extension of his real discussion on conclusion two, but this is how Rusty defends claim three:” and then quotes me, "McLaren attempts to tell us that Post Moderns do not really believe in moral relativism. Yet a short search on Google showed otherwise. His claims that those who make such radical statements are simply fanatics falls short. But his claim that Post Moderns do not really believe in moral relativism rings true." He then states, “The problem is that he jumps from talking about Christians trying to adapt to our post-modern culture to talking about "Post Moderns" in general. Comparing Derrida or Rorty to Brian McLaren seems a little odd. McLaren never suggests a wholesale acceptance of postmodern philosophy - simply that, like it or not, we're in a post-modern world and Christianity must adapt or die.” (emphasis added) I should interject here that Joe at EO has updated his post with a comment that, in my opinion, is right on the money. He states that the issue may be a matter not only of defining the terms used, but of also understanding that the Emergent Church has “baptized” the term postmodernism. Ideas have consequences. This is probably the biggest issue I have with the Em-church movement. As I see it, they have latched onto the term postmodernism and, believing they have “baptized” it, now consider it applicable to Christianity. But there’s that little problem of ideas having consequences. Take naturalism. The idea that nature is all there is, all there was, and all there ever will be. It follows, therefore, that everything we experience is due to either one of, or a combination of, the laws of physics and chance. Christian philosophers immediately pounce on that idea as having the consequence of no such thing as morality. Indeed, even some adherents of naturalism will, rightfully so, admit to that being a logical conclusion of their position. Those few naturalists are being logically consistent with their philosophy. Yet most people who hold to naturalism, as with my Carl Sagan example, cannot consistently hold to the consequences of their philosophical worldview. Yet this example applies only to those who claim to be full fledged naturalists. Are there those that try to combine the Christian Worldview with naturalism? As a matter of fact, there are. Let’s take a Christian who, for whatever reason, decides to hold to a portion of the worldview of naturalism. He doesn’t accept the conclusions of nature being all there is and he certainly doesn’t accept the conclusion of the non-existence of morality. But he does believe that God, in His infinite wisdom, chose to use the process of Evolution to give us the wonderfully diverse biological world we see today. This person is referred to as a Theistic Evolutionist. A term which I consider to be an oxymoron. Let me quote Bill Dembski, from Intelligent Design , “For the Darwinian establishment the “theism” in theistic evolution is superfluous. For the hard-core naturalist, theistic evolution at best includes God as an unnecessary rider in an otherwise purely naturalistic account of life… Not to put too fine a point on it, the Darwinian establishment views theistic evolution as a weak-kneed sycophant that desperately wants the respectability that comes with being a full-blooded Darwinist but refuses to follow the logic of Darwinism through to the end.” (emphasis added) The problem for the Theistic Evolutionists is that, apart from their own little world, nobody else believes in the definitions of the philosophy they hold to. Their attempts to sidle up to the aspects of Darwinism they like fail because they do not follow their logic through to its conclusion. Therefore, my complaint with PoMo Christianity is that, like Theistic Evolution, it is a contradiction in terms. PoMo is a bankrupt philosophy that cannot be lived out to its logical end. Attempting to grab portions of it that are appealing and / or attempting to redefine the term and then attaching those aspects to Christianity is not only dangerous, it is ultimately self-defeating. Consider Phillip Johnson’s analysis in Reason in the Balance . “…When I describe postmodernism or deconstruction or radical feminism to nonuniversity groups, many listeners are tempted to make the mistake of disregarding the whole business as harmless academic claptrap… Ways of thinking that seem very strange at first, however, may have their roots in more fundamental ideas that are widely accepted in the general culture. People often do not understand the full implications of what they have been taught to believe. Claptrap or not, ideas have consequences… The stage has been set for this reversal by academic theories about textual interpretation and the nature of truth. Hence it is worth paying attention to how truth is viewed in academia.” (emphasis added) Thus, I do not consider it a far cry to read the statements of Dr. Mary Klages as indicative of postmodernism. Attempting to attribute her statements to mini-narratives, meta-narratives, small groups, large groups, or whether she was speaking specifically to Christianity and postmodernism, is irrelevant. It's like a Theistic Evolutionist attempting to attribute Richard Dawkins description of Darwinism as "general" Darwinism... we don't really believe in that - ours is a "special" form of Darwinism. It doesn't fly. Klages' post is titled Postmodernism, it is a description of postmodernism and it is indicative of the relativistic thought inherent to that philosophy. If you don’t believe her, then check the other links on the University of Colorado at Denver’s website. If you don’t believe them then check with Rorty. If you don’t believe him… well, that was sort of the point of my “short search on Google” statement – namely – that it isn’t too hard to show that the prevailing understanding of postmodernism is that it is an idea driven by relativistic thought. Tap dancing around sub-concepts such as Christianity and Post Modern thought or mini-narratives vs. grand unifying social theories, is simply a diversionary tactic. I want to be clear now, though, that my inclusion of Dr. Mary Klages' quote was not to prove that “McLaren or Leonard Sweet or any of these other guys are advocating relativism in any form.” No, it was to simply show Postmodernism for what it truly is – moral relativism. I’ll admit that my statement, “That sure sounds like relativism to me,” opened me up to attack. Point taken, so… here is my revised version. “Understand that postmodern thinking exists on its own regardless of what McLaren wants it to mean or what he may want to redefine it as. Unfortunately, in reading his articles, I see comments that I infer to be relativistic in nature. Since I don’t know McLaren personally, I would be amiss to declare conclusively that he is a moral relativist. In fact, based on other articles of his that I’ve read it appears that he is a solid Christian. But I still can’t get away from some of the comments he’s written describing the postmodern movement as he applies it to Christianity. The words are there… read them for yourself in my earlier post. He describes how postmodern thinkers approached the worldviews of the 20th century, “These dominating belief systems were responsible for so many millions of deaths, so much torture, so much loss of freedom and dignity, so much damage to the planet, that they sought to undermine their dominance. They advocated incredulity or skepticism toward such stories or belief systems.” He then, in his letter to Colson, describes how PoMo Christians are “against your apparent monopolization of truth in the interest of political domination.” Why should I try to prove he hints of relativism when he does it all on his own? Show me where he makes the claim that Christianity provides the Worldview that is the Grand Story and that it, therefore, demolishes postmodern thought? Instead, I see him, like the Theistic Evolutionists, attempting to accept aspects of postmodern thought while ignoring the logical conclusions they entail." It's a lot longer than "sure sounds like relativism to me," but it should, hopefully, be clearer. Note that the postmodern thinkers, according to McLaren, came to a conclusion that the belief systems (referred to as meta-narratives or worldviews) were responsible for immoral acts. Since, they believe, these belief systems were responsible for the atrocities, they then advocated incredulity or skepticism towards those belief systems. So… the question I ask… what belief system do these postmodern thinkers now believe in? If I understand their thinking correctly then they can’t just substitute one meta-narrative for another, or can they? What would that do but just replace one evil with another? What, then, is the logical conclusion of their assertion? 1) Dominating belief systems were responsible for atrocities 2) We must be incredulous and skeptical of such belief systems 3) There are no valid belief systems Now I’m not saying the McLaren believes #3. As a solid Christian he would probably state that there IS a belief system that is valid – that of the Biblical Worldview. But the logical conclusion of postmodernism precludes him from stating that and remaining consistent with PoMo. Hence he attempts to redefine PoMo to fit within Christianity (or… is it the other way ‘round?), to which we then run back into the same issues that Theistic Evolution must face. An interesting side note: Re-read the quote above and you’ll see where it is claimed that belief systems were responsible for atrocities… shouldn’t it be, rather, the people who adhered to the belief systems were the ones that were responsible? Kevin states, “like it or not, we're in a post-modern world and Christianity must adapt or die.” “Adapt or die.” Refer to my post Natural Selection and Church Growth for a take from Richard John Nehaus on that thinking. I would re-phrase what Kevin said to something along these lines – “We exist in a world in which postmodern thought exists, to varying degrees, depending on one’s locale. Christianity, as part of its mission to proclaim the Gospel to all the world, must address the issue of postmodern thought head-on, exposing its bankrupt philosophy and leading the Christians within the postmodern realm to a fuller and richer understanding of the Biblical Worldview. Finally, rejoice in the knowledge that Christ, as the Head of His Church, will not allow the gates of Hell to prevail against it. It will not die.” Again, I’ll admit that my conclusion #4 was briefly stated. Let me put it into context: It was late, for me, Sunday night and I was exhausted from a virus and wanted to spend what was left of the evening talking with my wife… hence, a quick ending. But take a look at the words I wrote: “The general populace of the PoMo movement don’t seem to be listening to the likes of McLaren and Livingstone.” (emphasis added) I never intended it to be a claim that the entire populace of the PoMo movement was not listening to its leaders. It means precisely what the words say. If you need clarification, here it is: “From what I have read on the few PoMo Christian sites I’ve visited, and from the comments I’ve read on my site, it appears to me that the general population of the PoMo movement (at least, the ones that post on the web) are not listening to the teaching available to them. Indeed, the more sites and comments I read, the more convinced I am that my initial assessment of the Em-church fad is correct.” Finally, I agree with Kevin in that my What is PoMo? post does not sound “the death knell for postmodernism.” Postmodernism will accomplish that all by itself.

No comments: