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What is Postmodernism?

Think Christianly: What is Postmodernism?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What is Postmodernism?

Maybe you have heard the term thrown around but aren't quite sure what it is. Philosopher Paul Copan has written a very helpful article on what Postmodernism is:
"In one of his dialogues, Plato cited the thinker Protagoras as saying that any given thing "is to me such as it appears to me, and is to you such as it appears to you."1 This sounds rather contemporary. We hear slogans declaring "that's true for you but not for me" or "that's just your perspective." These statements reflect the postmodern mood that continues to affect and shape Western culture.

How did postmodernism descend upon our civilization? What is postmodernism? What are its defining characteristics? We will look very briefly at these questions.

1. How did postmodernism emerge? Obviously, the term postmodernism presupposes an era that preceded it—modernism. But we must also understand what modernism was reacting to—namely, premodernism.

Premodernism: Before the 1600s, people in the West generally believed that God (or the transcendent/supernatural realm) furnished the basis for moral absolutes, rationality, human dignity, and truth. This is expressed by the noted Christian theologian Anselm (b. AD 1033), who said, "I believe that I may understand" (credo ut intelligam) he spoke of a "faith seeking understanding" (fides quaerens intellectum). That is, the starting point for knowledge and wisdom was God, who provided the lens through which one could properly interpret reality and human experience. By having faith in God, the world could be rightly understood.

Modernism: Then came philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650). As a Roman Catholic, he was troubled by the philosophical skepticism and (due to the Protestant Reformation) the theological uncertainty of his day. So he embarked on a "skeptical voyage" in the pursuit of absolutely certain knowledge. As part of his project, he determined to doubt everything: Maybe an evil genius was tinkering with his mind - or maybe everything is an illusion. But he concluded that at least he knew he was doubting, which is a form of thinking. He concluded: I think; therefore I am (or, in Latin, cogito, ergo sum). So without realizing it, Descartes' project removed God from center stage, replacing it with the human knower as the starting point. The effect would be momentous. The rationalism of the European Enlightenment (c. 1650-1800) reflected this shift. This period was both optimistic about human potential and reason, but was also skeptical about church authority/state churches and Christian doctrine ("dogma").

This was just one of many modernist projects that assumed that human dignity, truth, and reason could be preserved without God. Besides rationalism (with its emphasis on reason), there were Romanticism (with the emphasis on feeling), Marxism, Nazism, and other utopian schemes that sought to displace God as the starting point for understanding and living. The Jewish-Christian worldview that had deeply influenced the West was now being challenged.

Postmodernism: Then, in the wake of two World Wars, a postmodern climate started to permeate the West. Confidence in human progress and autonomy was shattered on the rocks of Auschwitz and the Soviet gulags. The systems or "grand stories" ("metanarratives") of Nazism, Marxism, scientism, or rationalism ended up oppressing "the other"—that is, those marginalized by these systems such as Jews, capitalists, etc. These systems proved to be total failures. So with postmodernism, not only was God excluded as a foundation for making sense of reality and human experience; we cannot speak of any universal truth, reason, or morality. We just have fragmented perspectives.

If the French Revolution and the storming of the Bastille in Paris (1789) stands as a picture of the shift to modernism, the fall of the Berlin Wall exactly 200 years later (1989) symbolizes the failure of modernism and rise of postmodernism..." (More)

For more resources, visit Paul Copan here...

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Blogger jwsherrod said...

When I clicked on the "More" link it said it couldn't find the page I was looking for. Just wanted to let you know! Great breakdown of premodernism, modernism, and postmodernism.

September 1, 2010 at 11:19 PM  

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