Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Postmodernist and Belief

Posted by Pamela Urfer

My niece, Sam, is a Post-modernist. Raised half a Catholic and half a Jew, she sees no problem in following two religions at once (she hasn’t done a lot of theological study) and will probably add Buddhism in there, just to round things out. Still, she likes Jesus and thinks he’s cool. She’s not too concerned that she will ever find Truth, Eternal Truth, or True Truth, an important quest for a Modernist, because she figures that when she sees whatever is true, she will know it. It will speak to her. It will work on her life.

She’s also not too worried that modern science will tell her that some of the things she believes in – God, miracles, demons, magick, curses - can’t possibly exist. She doesn’t think science has all the answers, especially regarding human behaviour. After all, science has messed up as many things as it has fixed, so how does it deserve our trust?

Modernism was a product of the Enlightenment. Rejecting the authority of the Bible (and other holy books,) Modernism looks for answers in tangible facts and experimentation. It holds to a single, correct, universal worldview, one that everyone would adopt if they were only sufficiently well educated and put their minds to it logically. This is perfect if science is what we’re working on, but it doesn’t work to well for other issues.

For all its advances and conveniences, modernity has proved an inhospitable environment for the spiritual life of human beings in both its liberal and conservative expressions. Too many religious people have become imbued with modernist ideas, especially in the West. This is the error that led to so many abuses in the mission field as Westerners tried to educate the rest of the world in their culture and customs as Absolute Truths.

What they didn’t see, and what most haven’t seen until recently, is that there is no one “right” way to do everything, even though we all think our way is the right way. But we are blinded by preconceptions or presuppositions that we barely recognize, so much are they part of our culture. As Nietzsche, the first postmodernist, said, “There are no facts, only interpretations.”

Each of us interprets the world from our own, unique position. If we can recognize that, we will refrain from imposing that view on others and instead present it as a contribution to the common good. As Dan Kimball says in The Emerging Church, postmoderns will be spiritual but not religious, view spirituality from a pluralistic viewpoint, be drawn more to the mystical and experiential over the rational, and have a view of sexuality that is more open and tolerant that that of the modernist. I’d like to add, from my own experience, that young postmoderns have a burning heart for the disadvantaged, the oppressed and the marginalized. They yearn to repair the world (tikkun olam.)

Postmodernism has opened up a lot of windows, and put forth many possibilities, that had been closed in the Modernist era, much of it to the benefit of faith.

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