DEFINITIONS OF POSTMODERNISM
Definitions of postmodernism are historically oriented eg. modernism, postmodernism, in terms of what it rejects - modernity: modernist view/nature of science--(1) Freedom, (2) Rationality, (3) Progress. Postmodern rejection of all three.
World View - Metanarrative: defines (1) guides, (2) his/her, (3) thoughts, (4) actions, (5) values. (eg., Michael Foucault, “The domination of certain men over others leads to the differentiation of values; class domination generates the idea of liberty.” Postmodernism is Nominalistic - contra Realism/Critical (universals exist) - morals, natures, propositions (Language, Truth, Logic). Goodness and justice exists and are objective - multiply exemplifiable. (Human Nature - Proposition of Language - Law of Logic). Christian world view: reality is mind independent: (1) True Truth, (2) Objectivity, (3) Absolute, (4) Values
Concerning propositions, Jacques Derrida states, “The absence of a transcendental signified extends the domain and the ploy of signification is infinite.” (J. Derrida, Writing and Difference (Trans. Alan Bacon, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978, p. 280). “There are no facts, only interpretations. (Nietzsche, The “Will to Power” (Trans. Walter Kaufman and R. Hollingdate, (NY: Random House, 1968, p. 267).
Again in reference to nature, Foucault writes, “Why does Nietzsche challenge the pursuit of the origin (ursprung)? First, because it is an attempt to capture the essence of things, ... because this search assumes the existence of immobile forms that precede the eternal world of accident and altogether different behind things not a timeless and essential secret, but the secret that they have no essence.” (M.Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” in Language, Counter Memory, Practice,p. 142. Nietzsche continues. “Nothing in man, not even his body, is sufficiently stable to serve as the basis for self recognition or for understanding other men.” (Ibid., p. 153) The “necessary” conclusion of postmodern, nominalistic metaphysics denies the transcendence, objectivity and multiple exemplification of moral values, natures and propositions. For the postmodernist there are no “universals.”
Is Reality “Out There” or “In There”?
A second essential feature of postmodernism: the rejection of truth as “co-respondence.” (see my essay, “What Ever Happened to True Truth: (After Lyotard, Quinn, Rorty, Foucualt, Fish, Derrida, et.al.)? Postmodernism totally rejects critical realism. For the postmodernist, no appeal is made to an external “reality” beyond the individual and/or culture which grounded a proposition as “true.” Therefore, truth is ultimately grounded as the individual or culture. As Richard Rorty has stated:
“Those who wish to ground solidarity in objectivity have to construe truth as correspondence to reality. By contrast, those who wish to reduce objectivity to solidarity view as, in William James’ phrase, ‘what is good for us to believe?’ So they do not need an account of a relation between beliefs and objects called “correspondence.” (R. Rorty, “Solidarity or Objectivity? in Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth (NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991) 22)
Nietzsche is a prophetic voice for many postmoderns. He declares that “truth is a mobile army of metaphors, metonyms and anthropomorphisms...in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed and embellished poetically and rhetorically and which after long use seem firm, canonical and obligatory to a people.” (Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lies in an Extra Moral Sense,” in The Portable Nietzsche, ed. Walter Kaufmann (NY: Viking Press, 1980), p. 46,47). Foucault concurs that “the forceful appropriation of things necessary to survival and imposition of a duration not intrinsic to them account for the origin of logic.” (M. Foucault, “NIetzsche’s Genealogy, History” in Language, Counter Memory, Practice, p. 150).
It is not difficult to see the ubiquity of postmodern metaphysics in the devlopment of postmodern thought. A crucial example is the postmodern view of Rationality. As a result of rejecting truth as correspondence to objective mind independence reality and thus asserting that reason and truth are individually and culturally determined, one can see why it is anathema to postmodernists for someone to assume to have “objective” truth. Such assertions are paramount to cultural imperialism, the violent imposition of subjective, cultural tendencies on others to order to conquer and subjugate.
The same is true concerning Deconstructionism and the hermeneutics of suspicion: the greatest of all errors is to assume to have the one “true,” “correct,” or “preferred” interpretation of a text, for to do so is to assume truth is objective and knowledge. Given the postmodern metaphysic those who assume such an objective interpretation of a text has been obtained or even possible, must be motivated to claim as much due to practical or social factors, ultimately the desire to have power and authority over others as Foucault summarizes.
Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it induces regular effects of power. Each society has its regime of truth in general politics of truth: that is the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true.(Power Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977) edited and translated by Colin Gordon, etal (NY: Pantheon Books, 1980), p. 131).
Elsewhere Foucault writes:
This demagogy (assumption of objective historical analysis) of course must be masked ...under the clock of universals. As the demagogue is obliged to invoke truth laws of the essences and eternal necessity, the historian must invoke objectivity the accuracy of facts, and the permanence of the past. (Michael Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” in Language, Counter Memory, Practice, p. 158).
Postmodernism: Rejection of Metanarrative, World Views, etc.
Postmodern Metaphysics explains the motivation to reject metanarratives, which by definition are comprehensive world views understood to be the accurate and “true” understanding of reality. Such metanarratives in religious traditions (eg. Christianity, Islam, Buddhism) and philosophical systems (eg. Marxism, Humanism, Modernism) are to be unequivocally rejected due to their claim of having truth that transcends the individual or culture, truth which can give one knowledge of reality as it is. These views are diametrically opposed to the postmodernist metaphysic. Jean Francis Lyotard summaries: “Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives.” (J.F. Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Mescumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), p. xxw
In order to constructively engage the narrative displacement between the modern and postmodern epochs, I suggest that a far more adequate encounter with postmodernism is found in philosophical/scientific analysis, rather than “historical” analysis. This historical analysis is “mere description” not an explanation of “why” there is such a radical disparity between the two perspectives.
There are two “presuppositions” of postmodernism which underlie postmodern claims: the necessary and co-sufficient conditions under which a view may appropriately be defined as postmodern. If they are “consistently” applied (meaningless to postmodern epistemology), one derives the other feature of a postmodernist ideology. On the other hand, if one or both are defined as a Realism regarding universals and/or a correspondence view regarding truth is embraced, the resultant view will clearly not be postmodern in nature. However, it is precisely in regards to these two commitments that postmodernism and the Christian world view are in unmodifiable conflict!
Clearly the Christian world view assumed Realism concerning values, natures and propositions, i.e. language as a vehicle for communicating True/Truth about the actual state of affairs (see my paper, “Narrative Displacements in Theories of Language” and Pike and Nida’s Theory of Tagmemics. These Christian linguistic giants have presented a Christian view of language.
If postmodern is the sole valid interpretation of “reality,” then the modern attack (science, Biblical critics, etc.) on biblical Christianity is nonsense. The Bible is just “as true” as any other interpretive scheme. Yet, “The greatest of all errors is to assume to have the one “true,” “correct” or “preferred” interpretation of a text, for to do so is to assume truth is objective and knowledge. Ultimately, The Incarnation of Jesus as a unique historical event is repudiated by postmodernism. The Christian world view presupposes that such propositions as “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1.1) and “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day. . .” (I Corinthians 15.3,4) are understood by Christians as being true, and true in virtue of their accurately describing the state of affairs in reality. For Christian truth is not mind dependent and hence subjective, but rather mind independent and objective.
Common Ground Between Christians and Postmodernists
There are points of common ground between Christians and post modernists, such as rejecting the positivistic model of modernism but for different reasons. Ultimately the Christian and postmodern metaphysic are diametrically opposed one to the other; and we must be careful and reflective as we engage these ideas in the academy. The preceding presuppositions transcend all particular disciplines and universities.
If postmodernism is to be taken at face value, there is “no rational” ground, either for “rejecting” diverse perspectives or for affirming them as the sole source for evaluating the “real state of affairs.” In fact, postmodernism provides no ground on which to affirm the “actual state of affairs,” since all reality and interpretative systems are Social Constructs (see my paper, Sociology of Knowledge Thesis, eg. cultural/epistemological relativism; see especially Dennis McCallum, The Death of Truth (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers or call 1-800-678-7884); also J.P. Moreland, Love God With All Your Mind (Colorado Springs, CO: Navigator Press, 1997) and “The Real Issue” journal from Christian Leadership Ministries, 440 Sojourn Drive, Suite 200, Carrollton, TX 75006-2354.
“Postmodernism is one of the most dangerous movements of the century for Christians and all too many evangelicals are falling prey to its allure.” (Grant R. Osborne) Not since Charles Darwin confronted Christians with his biology of naturalistic evolution has the Church faced a challenge for which it is so ill-prepared. We are witnessing “The Death of Truth”! “Political correctness, permissiveness extremes in tolerance, over-emphasis on ethnicity, fabricated history, the denigration of knowledge, these are symptoms of Postmodernism. (D.J. Kennedy, Whatever Happened to Truth?)
James D. Strauss, Lincoln, Illinois