Postmodernism 3 - Characteristics

From Sunesis. Posted with permission. Read the series.

Gene Veith identifies a series of characteristics held by most expressions of postmodernism.

Social Constructivism. Meaning, morality and truth do not exist objectively. This is at the heart of the postmodernist worldview. Truth, with its attendant concepts of meaning and morality, are “constructed” by society. Everything centers around the story that the community has created to establish its validity. The community in which a person places himself creates their own versions of these things. Thus, what is truth for one group is not necessarily truth for another. Rewriting history for the good of the “story” is the basis of truth.

Cultural Determinism. Individuals are shaped by their culture. Culture is created by language, and we are trapped in a “prison of language.” We are trapped because language does not communicate; it obfuscates. This is one reason that some philosophers consider postmodernism to be only the logical end of modernism, for in modernism, language began to change. In modernist theology, for instance, terms that had one meaning historically began to be used to mean something else. Washington, DC, language has a long history of obfuscation.

Rejection of Individual Identity. People exist as members of a group, not as individuals. This is a major distinction between postmodernism and modernism. The individual has no place in postmodernism.

Rejection of Humanism. The modernistic concepts of human creativity, autonomy of the individual, and the priority of humans over all else are rejected as wrong values. The problem is that creativity, autonomy, and human priority are values that exclude and oppress other humans. Postmodernists argue that groups, not individuals, must empower themselves and assert their own values.

Denial of the Transcendent. There are no absolutes in postmodernism. This is the result of the previous tenets. If history can be rewritten, if truth is flexible, then any claim for a truth that transcends culture or the group must be rejected. While there is a postmodern “church,” most of these “churches” argue against a Christianity based on biblical truth. This is why someone like Rob Bell can argue that in spite of biblical claims that Jesus alone is the way to salvation, God’s love will end up taking all (or at least the vast majority of people) to heaven.

Power Reductionism. All institutions, human relationships, and moral values are masks for power. All the person holding a modernist worldview wants to do is control others. Likewise postmodernism rejects reason, because reason is simply an illusory mask for cultural power. Logic is simply a means of control.

Revolutionary Critique of the Existing Order. The modern society needs to be replaced. Modernism is tied up with scientific knowledge, but this is an outdated modernism. Science, at least hard science, is too tied to the premise of absolute truth. Segmentation of society into various groups is the only action that will allow true cultural pluralism. There is a connection to Marxism in this characteristic. Marx’s theory was that society must change and that the result of any revolution would, by definition, produce a better society. Change does not need direction. Evolution is demonstration of the progress that random changes will produce. Theoretically, this would result in complete freedom for the various communities; in reality, the urge for power may overcome this ideal.

These characteristics have the potential of affecting every facet of human life. We will see how in future posts.

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