- Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Dear Dr. E: I’ve heard a couple of pastors talk about our present culture wars being the inevitable result of a “postmodern” worldview. I’m still not sure I understand what this means. Could you explain again what “post-modernity” is and why it matters to the average citizen? — WANT TO LEARN MORE FROM CINCINNATI, OHIO.

Dear Wanting to Learn: Dr. Craig Mitchell, a philosophy professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the University of Texas at Arlington, does an excellent job answering your question.  

Dr. Mitchell contends that there are three overarching frameworks or metanarratives through which human beings have sought to understand themselves and the world around them. The first phase starts with the beginning of recorded human history and takes us to approximately the 1600s and the rise of the Enlightenment. This first stage is called “pre-modernity.” 

In the pre-modern world, “Truth” was viewed as supernatural. It was a revelation of God, not a construct of man. It was transcendent, immutable, enduring, and absolute. Truth was not subject to the whims of the culture or even the king. Before the Enlightenment, Truth was assumed to be given from above, not made up by the individual. Within the pre-modern framework, Truth was ultimately measured by an outside source. In Christendom and Judaism, scripture served as that final authority and trump card for all of life. 

After pre-modernity comes the second phase of human history: modernity. If the hermeneutic of pre-modernism was “Trust the supernatural,” the hermeneutic of modernism was “Trust the simply natural.” In other words, if you can’t taste it, touch it, smell it, or see it, then you should doubt it. 

During the Enlightenment, suspicion rushed in to fill the vacuum left by the death of faith. Empirical analysis replaced God as the source of all Truth. Before modernity, the supernatural claims of the Bible were accepted as fact, but with the advent of 17th-century criticism, skepticism replaced belief. And because you couldn’t test the moral claims of religion in a test tube, Christianity’s concepts of personal responsibility, sin, ethics, and justice were rejected. 

This was the situation in Western culture until the early to mid-1900s when the foundation of Truth began to shift again. The march of human history had gone from pre-modernity and its trust in the supernatural to modernity and its trust in the simply natural, to the 20th century and the birth of post-modernity and its confidence, not in the supernatural or the simply natural, but in what the Nazis called the Übermensch, i.e., the Superman. In this brave new world, the individual becomes the only source of Truth and squashes even the empirical facts of modernity’s five senses. Everything is subjective. Nothing is objective. Everything is constructed. Nothing is revealed. 

In pre-modernity, Truth comes from God and, therefore, applies to all mankind. In modernity, Truth is still considered universal but is only knowable through science and empirical study. In post-modernity, Truth becomes little more than subjective feelings and is knowable only to and by the individual. There is no such thing as Truth with a capital T. Post-modernism claims there are only subjective lowercase “truths” that are fluid from culture to culture and person to person. 

When contemporary commentators speak of post-modernity, they are saying we now live in a time when Truth and morality are not seen as coming from any source other than ourselves. Arthur W. Pink, an English Bible teacher popular in the late 20th century, summed post-modernity up quite nicely: “Ours is peculiarly an age of irreverence.., a spirit of lawlessness, which brooks no restraint and which is desirous of casting off everything which interferes with the free course of self-will.” 

In post-modernity, we are the Supermen. We define what is true and false. We don’t need science, and we surely don’t need God. As Barack Obama said during his rise to the presidency in 2008, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.” In other words, we are gods! 

This post-modern worldview is at the heart of our cultural obsession with trigger warnings, microaggressions, safe spaces, and speech codes. It elevates individual feelings and desires over reality. It is essentially the exact same thing that Samuel wrote of in the book of Judges over 2,500 years ago: “In those days, there was no king, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”   

If you are seeking guidance in today’s changing world, Higher Ground is there for you. Everett Piper, a Ph.D. and a former university president and radio host, takes your questions in his weekly ’Ask Dr. E’ column. If you have moral or ethical questions for which you’d like an answer, please email askeverett@washingtontimes.com and he may include it in a future column.

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