(The Death of God - of Man - of Culture - of History -of Science
and of The Gravedigger)
The Death of God
Our pluralistic, multicultural crisis can be traced specifically from the Newtonian to the Kantian revolutions. From the Tower of Babel to our postmodern culture, the Death of God has been proclaimed. The significant difference is apparent in the aggressive intensification of the assertion and its consequences. One of the prophets of the Death of God was Immanuel Kant, who held that the source of “morality” is not “revelation” but “right reason.” Man’s emotions can be controlled by rational thought, which could bring peace to society. The philosopher king (Gnostic guru) would control society. The crucial problem with this solution was that the philosophers had radically divergent views of correct morals. If reason is autonomous, why is there a divergence in what reason decrees? The historical unfolding of this suggestion is apparent in the radical disparagement in the philosophies of Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Dewey, et.al.
Even the Marquis de Sade was a postmodern prophet before his time. He maintained that if we abolish Christianity then everything is permitted, every kind of sexual perversion, rape, murder, stealing, Watergate, and international espionage. Dostoevsky, from a Christian perspective, also saw clearly that if God is dead there is no law and everything is permitted. (cf. compare with Genesis 19.4-5 and Judges 19.22)
Culturally we can trace the Death of God to the Death of Men to the Death of Culture. When God is declarer dead, the foundation of moral judgment is undermined. All that remains is the “relative” judgments of conflicting human judgments as what constitutes the difference between “good and evil”. Nietzsche, the modern prophet of the Death of God (Thus Spoke Zharathustra) saw clearly that the Death of God entailed the Death of Men. He saw clearly that the Narcissistic mode would engender the meaninglessness of individual lives and i.e., the Death of Culture. We live in a collapsed postmodern civilization. Gil Eliot exposes our cultural maze in his book, The Twentieth Century Book of the Dead (Scribners, 1972). More people have died as a result of wars, famine, slave camps, and mass murders than ever before.
Kant, one of the architects of modern civilization, had ascribed to man “a power of unlimited freedom.” (H.W. Gassier, Grace and Law; St. Paul, Kant and The Hebrew Prophets (Eerdmans, 1988), p. 83.) (See the entire article on “The Death of God and The Death of Man” in The Chalcedon Report, Nov., 1995, pp. 30-31). In Kant’s philosophy grace degrades man and limits his freedom; man’s freedom comes only from the free exercise of his autonomous reason. For Kant, man can save himself only by free exercise of reason. Man’s reason is not fallen, dead in his trespasses and sins. Even in Kant’s moderated rationalism in Religion Within the Bounds of Mere Reason, 1791), he did not replace reason with grace (cf. contra Paul in Romans 1.10 ff.). Is serious consideration of God’s grace too much to ask of postmodern, pluralistic, multicultural man?
Our brief trek from the Death of God to the Death of Man brings us into the dark land of multicultural, pluralism and the Death of Culture. We can neglect the prophetic words of Gene Edward Vieth at our own peril. He writes, “If all cultural values are relative, then none need be taken seriously. . .” “Post modernist multiculturalism might affirm all cultures, but in doing so it may destroy them all.” (Postmodern Times (Wheaton: Cross Way Book, 1994, p. 155). The great challenge lies between whether Christianity positively affects culture or if culture affects Christianity. Veith is surely correct in his analysis of the tenets of postmodernist ideology: (1) social construction, (2) cultural determinism, (3) the rejection of individual identity, (4) the rejection of humanism, (5) the denial of transcendence, (6) power of reductionism, (7) the rejection of reason, and (7) revolutionary critique of the social order.” (Veith, p. 158).
According to Veith, “If we ever came to the point of affirmative action laws forcing churches to ordain women against church teaching, or antidiscrimination laws requiring Christian organizations to hire homosexuals, or political lobbying laws forcing churches to remain silent on social issues such as abortion, then religious freedom will have been extinguished.” (P. 163)
The autopsy of the idea of the Death of God exposes the intellectual indicators of the Counter Culture/Youth Culture/Generation X, i.e. the Death of Culture, not merely Western culture. The following works are significant: Prior to the outbreak of the pop culture level was the work of J.B. Bury, Idea of Progress (1920), [published in the milieu of resurgent Marxism, after the 1929 economic fiasco in America. Carl Becker’s, The Heavenly City of the 18th Century Philosophers (1931) gave expression to cultural relativism. Becker’s influential mentor at Iowa University was Richard Ely (1873). At Cornell in 1917, Frederick J. Turner was his teacher. Both Ely’s and Turner’s Marxist interpretation of the American Frontier influenced radical segments of the Disciples of Christ’s historiography. For Becker, the acid of modernity dissolved veritus (truth) through historicism, the world is in constant flux. Becker claims that “everyman is his own historian.” Facts do not exist; all that we have is interpretation. This viewpoint fueled the ultimate expression in Deconstructionism of Derrida and deMann.
Becker’s historicism finds further expression in Ruth Benedict’s (1887-1943) Patterns of Culture. The following cultural relativism theses appears in her work: Her studies of the Kuatietle and Dobu tribes developed into the Configurational Approach to Culture (compare Benedict’s theses with these of James G. Frazer’s Golden Bough). Her mature work, “The Application of Anthropology to The Study of Modern Culture” is expressed in An Anthropologist at Work; Writings of Ruth Benedict (Boston: Houghton/Mifflin, 1954). Benedict’s cultural relativism helped shape the multiculturalism of the counter culture of the 1960s. Her seven cultural relativism theses are: (1) Abandon all illusions of cultural superiority; each culture makes its own claims. (2) Human Achievement is not dependent on any force external to human culture; (3) Rejection of Western superiority based in a scientific development and Christianity (hostile to Eurocentrism in multi-culturalism); (4) Western Christian culture is plagued with the irrationality of race prejudice, nationalism, and patriotism; (5) Cultural Anthropology encourages multi cultural tolerance; (6) Western Christian culture tormented women, e.g. Witches, discouraged races, radical feminism, development of Civil Liberties Onion, civil rights movements, etc.; (7) Demise of the normative superiority of Christianity of Sin, guilt, responsibility after Freud, “A Nation of Victims”, Genetic and Environmental determinism.
The decade of the 1930’s was also challenged by the work of Aldous Huxley’s (1894-1963) Brave New World (1935) and Brave New World Revisited. During this period there was radical resurgence of Marxism fused with the developments of the History of Religion, Psychology of Religion, Phenomenology of Religion, and Sociology of Religion. Each of these developments imploded negative consequences on classical Christianity. Jesus has been under fire for some time.
The decade of the 1940’s exposed us to World War II and another Educational Revolution, which took place at the University of Chicago (compare the canon of the Great Books and Allen Bloom’s, The Closing of The American Mind; note multicultural debate over the closed canons versus cultural relativism.) A Gnostic resurgence found expression in Joseph Campbell’s, The Power of Myth (1964). His influence is visible in pantheism, sci-fi Star Trek (note resurgence in the 1990’s), Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, The Lion King, and Pocahontas. It would be impossible to overemphasize Campbell’s influence on Generation X.
Eric Toffler’s cultural topography describes three periods of radical change: (1) The Agricultural Revolution; (2) The Industrial Revolution and (3) The Informational Revolution. The beginning of the Communication/Information Revolution in the 1950’s (television) expressed a cultural revolution in the 1960’s. The Gurus of the counter culture were Herbert Marcuse, Charles Reich, T. Roszak and Eric Toffler. Herbert Marcuse and Toffler were avid Marxists. Toffler’s attack on the family is apparent in Future Shock (Random House, 1973), see esp. pp. 203-240.
The 1970’s witnessed another parenting and educational revolution in the work of Charles Spook. This generation was spooked by Spook. In our cultural maze Generation X heard another voice in 1984. Marilyn Ferguson’s The Aquarian Conspiracy became the bible of New Age Pantheism. This phenomenon is the fastest growing movement in America during the 1980’s and 1990’s.
By the 1990’s InterVarsity Fellowship symposium on Baby Busters had identified five main characteristics Generation X is looking for in faith groups: (Note how this group is influenced by epistemological and cultural relativism/multiculturalism) (1) Authenticity—what they want is love, unity and acceptance (i.e., tolerance). (2) Community—“I am homesick for the home I never had.” This song reflects the Xers anger over broken and dysfunctional homes that a Buster comes from. (3) Distaste for Dogma—Barna reports that 81 % of Xers do not believe that there is “True Truth.” Many Evangelical and Roman Catholics also espouse this position. (4) Focus on The Arts—This generation has chosen non-classical preferences for religious expression, e.g., worship, preaching, ministry styles. The influence of the Xers of VCRs and MTV, CD players cannot be overestimated. “Channel surfing” is a part of the “air they breath.” Pop culture has replaced classical evangelical modes of existence and expression. (5) Diversity—The Church is notorious for its radical division. But prior to our postmodern multicultural mode, division was primarily over doctrine (audibility with emphasis on reading and writing); now it is over the mode of expression (visibility) of “felt needs” (e.g. Seeker Friendly).
While potentialities for growth of knowledge in the physical sciences are rather clear, they are not as clear in the social sciences (cf. D.M. Fiske and R.A. Shweder, eds., Metatheory in Social Sciences; Pluralism and Subjectivism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986). The conviction that pluralism has generated the celebration of basic diversities in Western culture. “You do your thing and I’ll do mine.” Is the Christian faith totally incompatible of tolerating pluralities? How can conviction regarding biblical eschatology encourage the toleration of diverse viewpoints? Is there any possibility of escape from Constantinianism, which requires conformity to received standards of public behavior in our multicultural maze? (cf. note that influence has entered homiletics. Recent article, “Postmodernism and the Function of the New Homiletics in Post-Christian Congregations” (Homiletics, Winter/1995, pp. 1-13). Can evangelicals eschew Constantinianism while continuing to affirm the “True Truth” of the Gospel? During our “ordeal of Civility” can we divest ourselves of “sacred particularity”? (John Murray Cuddehy, The Ordeal of Civility. Freud, Marx, Levi Strauss and The Jewish Struggle with Modernity (Boston: Beacon Press, 1987), p. 235.)
Is there any possibility of reconciling Christianity with democratic thought? In our postmodern political scene, Democracy has become a theory of knowledge and not merely a political theory. Is a fusion between postmodern pluralism in light of the biblical kairos (appropriate time) possible? Hegel’s earlier proposal for the solution of this dilemma is exemplified in his use of “universal Good Friday” with “Resurrection Lord’s Day.” (G.W.F. Hegel’s work, Faith and Knowledge (E.T. NY: Albany: State University of New York Press, 1977), pp. 189-191). Any Christian engagement with a pluralistic impasse requires an appeal to a transcendent epistemological foundation.
In view of the fact of pluralism, how is a postmodern Church to positively respond? The fact of diversity of viewpoints is not a new experience. The entire history of the Old and New Testaments could not be understood apart from awareness of pluralistic diversity. The same holds for evaluating the history of cultures, i.e., world history. The present controversy between descriptive and normative pluralism leaves us in a maze of toleration syndrome. Radical pluralism leaves us without any “ordering foundation” for either individuals or the body politic. Multicultural pluralism is the death of culture.
Perhaps classification of theories of pluralism might help us in the journey through our cultural maze. Yet, at all cost we must avoid the definitional fallacy, i.e., that by definition we create the actual state of affairs. Definition might be essential for cross-cultural communication of what is “already known,” but definition can never create new knowledge. Before engaging in a brief exercise regarding definition, let us propose a distinction between descriptive pluralism and normative pluralism.
The first definition does not propose that the condition being described is necessarily a “good state of affairs.” The second definition proposes that the condition described is a “good state of affairs.” But this definition requires a meta-ethical physical basis for making such a judgment (or else it is purely arbitrary). If all judgments are paradigm/context bound, there could be no point from which a transcendent judgment against another paradigm could be rationally made. They could only be personal/private decisions, i.e., Solopsism.
From a relativist perspective a Constantinian viewpoint cannot coexist with a non-Constantinian political framework. Any society must decide which of these worldviews will direct public behavior. Can one affirm pluralism without endorsing an ultimate relativism? (See esp. Martin Hollis and Steven Lukes, eds, Rationality and Relativism (Oxford: Basil/Blackwell, 1982).
What is the source of the norm for deciding between a pluralism of explanations? This author proposes that only the Judeo-Christian God can mediate between multiple exclusive alternative viewpoints. If no such God is acknowledged, then the impasse is terminal. Is it possible that all reasons for belief/behavior are totally dependent on cultural context? (cf. crucial areas of conflict Hellenization of Dogma, Eurocentrism and Multiculturalism) If so, the Gospel of Christ is nonsense. If it is nonsense there is no “justification” for the existence of the Church or its dominion and evangelism mandates. Since the silence of neutrality is both impossible and tragic, what is the basis for decisions of any kind, let alone the universal commission of our Lord (Matthew 28.10ff)? Epistemological relativistic pluralism is not the answer to the fact of cultural pluralism. “Good Friday despair” is overcome by only “post Pentecost Faith” i.e., “Resurrection Faith.”
The historical foundations of Christianity have been under fire for at least two centuries, not the least critique is resurgent Gnosticism in New Age Pantheism. Classical Gnosticism denied that language, logic, and history were vehicles for attaining True Truth. This is precisely the essence of Postmodernism. The central figures in the sustained attack are Kant’s perspectivalism and Hume’s empirical critique of miracles. By the 19th century two intellectual perspectives controlled all areas of research. They were Positivism, which affirmed that all true knowledge was only available to scientific procedure, and Historicism, which affirmed that all knowledge (especially the social sciences) was not only history specific but also history bound. These intellectual forces contributed to the radical contextualization or cultural and historical relativism. The essence of Postmodernism is the denial (of the possibility, not merely the availability) of True Truth—in mathematics, the hard sciences, and all the social perimeters (economics, politics, art, literature, communication, biology, geology, etc.).
Our journey toward the Funeral of History entails our awareness of (1) Designer concepts (the ascension of cultural studies and a deluge of social theory); (2) The omnipotence of signs/semiatics; (3) Structuralism and Ethno History of the Pacific (the 10/40 window); (4) Post Structuralism— Deconstructionism; (5) Michael Foucault’s (Quine, Rorty, Bernstein, Eco, Lyotard, et al) post structuralism and anti Humanism; (6) History as a Social Science; (7) Relativism, Hermeneutics and Induction; (8) History as literature: Fiction, Poetics and Criticism; (9) The Return to Tribalism: cultural relativism, structuralism; and (10) Postmodern Pluralism and Multiculturalism.
The implications of these developments spell the death knell to history. The Death of History as a vehicle for True Truth is denied in all forms of postmodern revisionism. Till the 19th century historiographical revolution only Judaeo-Christianity was grounded in historical facts. Biblical Christianity must perform an autopsy on revisionist history.
Postmodernism is grounded in the assumption that the ideological system sustaining the cultural and material practices of Western Christian civilization is bankrupt and on the point of collapse. It claims that the intellectual schema of the Enlightenment has been abandoned by history to the point that nothing but a skeleton remains, held together by unreflective hate, incapable of accommodating the creative impulse of the future (see my papers, “Beyond Mere Diversity” and “Terrorism of Truth: Truth and Theory in Postmodern Epistemology”).
The scientific revolution reached its full fruition in the Newtonian World Machine. The assumption of autonomous scientific method fused by mathematics dominated the developments from the utopianism of The French Revolution, Scientific politics; Romanticism, Existentialism and Phenomenology were revolts against scientifically developing technologies, Marxian scientific social Utopia, Darwinian influence on the inevitability of progress thesis, the complete animality of man, the perfectibility of man, and the ultimate reality is nature. Darwinian influence has not reached its end, even in our postmodern cultural chaos.
Two wars within one century precipitated disillusionment, illusionment, fragmentation, and general distrust of science’s ability to constructively resolve the human dilemma; so enters our postmodern, anti science mode intensifies and much of the debate centers in misinformation concerning K. Goedel’s “Critique of Mathematics” and T. Kuhn’s concept of paradigm and K. Popper’s philosophy of science. The heat of the conflict is exposed in the X Files and J. Campbell’s Power of Myth, which promotes belief in pseudo science in monistic pantheism. (See my paper, “The New Left’s Quarrel With Science”) The Death of Science is a crucial challenge to Biblically oriented Christians in our postmodern culture.
We must keep in mind the two preceding statements regarding pluralism. (Cf. the vital work of R. Mouw and S. Griffioen, Pluralism and Horizons (Eerdmans, 1995), esp. pp. 1-19). (1. Descriptive Pluralism provides no basis for critical encounter between alternative paradigms of pluralism while alternative pluralism is a fact!! (2. Normative Pluralism suggests at least three kinds of Pluralism: (a) Directional, (b) Associational, and (c) Contextual. If any species of pluralism is to be made publically visible, i.e., avoid private solopsism, then there must be a “common public domain.” (1) Descriptive direction pluralism highlights the fact of direction, one goal. (2) Normative directional pluralism emphasizes that its direction is a “good state of affairs” and is to provide a cultural bonding. (3) Descriptive associational pluralism advocates that divers/conflicting associational patterns are a good thing. (4) Normative Associational pluralism claims that the pattern of association is a “good thing.” (5) Descriptive contextual pluralism emphasizes the fact of diverse cultural perspectives entailing no judgment as to superiority/inferiority of any by the multicultures. (6) Normative Contextual Pluralism advocates that contexting pluralism is a “good thing.” The most serious challenge to Christianity is the latter. There are factors in all the others that are, as a matter of fact, the case. This position alone can escape doctrinal pluralism. Our multicultural dilemma does not lie between Constantinian-Christendom relativistic pluralism!!! It lies in the normativism of The Christ of the scriptures (Romans 1.10ff; I Corinthians 1.l8ff; Acts 17.l6ff) to be preached and worshipped in all the cultures and languages of our postmodern world till He comes again. The Sixth Death -Christ on the cross - was overcome by The Empty Tomb!
In our postmodern culture the only acceptable absolute is the icon of tolerance. Officially, sin does not exist in our society, but if there is a sin it is belief in “objective truth.” Of course, there is legal tolerance and social tolerance, but relativistic tolerance must be denied if the Christian Gospel is to be preached. Tolerance is our national icon. This view is an uncritical tolerance that avoids rigorous debate in the quest for truth. The new icon of tolerance is the heart of liberal social agenda, the new god is our only absolute. This tolerance is used as an excuse for perpetual skepticism for keeping any religious commitment at arm’s length, other than a privately held belief, i.e., publicly irrelevant. The icon of tolerance finds expression in “political correctness” which is the right to never be offended.
The renewed interest in culture analysis is almost totally restricted to intellectuals under the pressure of the knowledge industry (cf. e.g.: History of Ideas, Sociology of Knowledge, Cultural Anthropology). These tools have become temples at which many worship. “As a man thinks, so is he.” The search for unity in diversity in the Knowledge Factory, e.g. Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS) departmental rivalries continues unabated, the cultural analysis toolbox may be Freudian, Hindu, Marxist, or Postmodern Animistic monism. We live in the 1990’s between “cheap grace” and “cheap judgment.” Postmodern man is often a ventriloquist’s dummy. Two decades ago Jacques Ellul observed after his cultural encounter with The Honest to God Debate and its politically correct secularism and its employment of the term. Ellul found diverse theological pronouncements difficult to decide whether the writers were stating a fact, making a cultural observation, painting an imaginary picture, or merely expressing a wish (cf. Ellul, The New Demons (Oxford, 1975, p. 19).
In the midst of Postmodern cultural chaos we must not forget that both Israel and the early Church were born in the womb of religious pluralism; therefore, pluralism is not a new phenomena that engages the people of God. The Church came into existence in the context of both Pagan Jewish and Graeco/Roman pluralism. Early criticism of Christianity was waged against its claim to uniqueness and universality, i.e., Jesus only saves (Acts 4.12ff). See especially Robert L. Wilken, Remembering The Christian Past (Eerdmans 1995). This challenge sounds strangely like Postmodern criticism, Jesus under fire.) Justin Martyr’s Apology was written in a context of relativistic pluralism. The Church’s debate with Celsius, Philo, Porphory, et.al., was an encounter with their denial of the uniqueness of the Christian Gospel (cf. esp. Robert L. Wilken, The Christians As the Romans Saw Them (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), and Gavin D’Costa, Christian Uniqueness Reconsidered: The Myth of a Pluralistic Theology of Religion (NY: Orbis, 1990). The issue remains the same, If Jesus only saves where does that leave the non-Christian and the positive unbeliever? Resurgent universalism in both Roman Catholic and Protestant communities is a dubious claim, which leaves the unsaved in precarious circumstances. If faith in Christ that precipitates obedience is essential for salvation from sin and death, then where will the sinner and the ungodly be?
A revitalized Church can announce the death of the Grave Digger only if enough fools for Christ are available. A fool is one who is not a convert to cultural norms of postmodern culture. We must announce, as did Paul, that we are fools for Christ’s sake (Romans 1.22ff.). As Paul, we must so live in the secular city and thus publicly claim that we become fools for Christ’s sake. David said that only a “fool” has said there is no God.” (Ps. 14.1); Hosea said that “the prophet is a fool” (Hosea 9.7); Shakespeare’s jesters were to break that despair in his tragedies, the medieval court had jesters in order to bring some joy and laughter. WE MUST BE FOOLS FOR CHRIST once more, if we are to attend the death of our postmodern cultural grave diggers. Wanted: More Fools!!! This great challenge requires a Damascus Road experience. (See the work of Donald W. McCullough in his work, The Trivialization of God; The Dangerous Illusion of A Manageable Deity (NavPress, 1995).
The gravedigger seeks to subvert strength rather than attack weakness. “All men that are ruined are ruined on the side of their natural propensities.” (Edmund Burke) Oz Guinness encourages us to remember that in any subversive activity must encounter the demographic facts that within the subverted church 10$ are counter to the elite controllers of the church, 80% passively accept with cowed or complacent response, and 10$ will be involved in any active, constructive encounter with subversion. The situation always entails penetration or worming into, demoralization, softening up of the constituency, and the final stage is subversion, which does occur both in culture and in the church. In the times of this phenomenon we must not forget Paul’s admonition that the Church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth. (I Timothy 3.15) The great inversion produced the Death of God, the Death of Man, the Death of Culture, the Death of History and the Death of Science; and only with the recovery of the Biblical God can the Church attend the funeral of the Grave Digger.
The preceding “deaths” have been inseparable from the Death of Language, Truth and Logic. The Postmodernists’ rejection of “logical norms” and “scientific methodology” seem to leave them unable to evaluate intellectual production. This mental maze argues that the very strict evaluative standards give way against the philosophy of postmodernism. Standards are not needed if one gives up the idea of truth as a matter of matching up facts and theory through language and logic. The range and scope of the interpretative perspective has won a place in the universe of discourse. Postmodernists suggest a paradigmatic revolution, such as performance, is inappropriate. (J.F. Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition (University of Minnesota Press, 1988:81) Postmodernism spells the Death of Language, Truth and Logic. A constructive response to these Seven Deaths is crucial for the defense and confirmation of the Gospel in our Postmodern culture.
All forms of classical and resurgent Postmodern New Age Gnosticism deny the validity of language, logic and history as vehicles to True Truth. From the book by Henri Blocker, In The Beginning; The Opening Chapters of Genesis, we read:
“Since the story of Genesis 11 emphasizes the fate of language, which is in very truth the expression of human life, we may be permitted to point out how the same principle is confirmed to the area today. Divorced from any concern for truth, human language disintegrates into the repetition of signals and yelling of slogans, with each universe of propaganda opposed to its rival and all words emptied from their meaning, communication is lost and meaning is lost. The punishment for the sin of Babel is not to be underestimated.” (Blocker (Inter-Varsity Press, 198U), p. 207)
C.S. Lewis stated that the loss of The Word of God entails the loss of language for man. “Qui Verbum Dei contempserunt, eis auferetur etiam verbum hominis” (“They that have despised the word of God, from them shall the word of man also be taken away.”) (C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (New York, 1962)
The Postmodern milieu is (a) the divergence of worldviews; (b) the divergent linguistic conventions; and (c) the ultimate accommodation is the incarnation.
Readings: James Strauss papers “Terrorism of Truth” - “Truth and Theory in Postmodern Epistemology” - “Alternative Postmodern Epistemological Methodological Models.” Track the influence from Russell, Whitehead’s Principia. Mathematica, Linguistic Analysis to the Analytic Mode and the Denial of God Language, Truth of Moral Statements, etc. and the influence of Bernstein, Bronte, Baudrillard, Derrida, Foucault, Fish, Hirsch, Laiatos, Lyotard, Ryan and Vattino.
Dr. James D. Strauss Lincoln Christian Seminary Lincoln, Illinois 62656