We’ll get back to our discussion of postmodernism today after taking a brief break for some other responsibilities and a wonderful Easter weekend. If any of our guests to our services happen by this blog, thanks for making Sunday such a great experience!
Main Themes of Postmodernism
In preparing for today’s discussion I was reminded of how cluttered the space around postmodernism is. This clutter, as I described in my earlier posts, is really caused by the way the modernist tries to evaluation postmodernism. Three weeks ago we decided to start a new study in our Thursday Night Coffee House using the book Blue Like Jazz. I told the group that it was written from a very postmodern perspective, and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Several people in the group responded with "Yes it is!" This last week I led the discussion using a postmodern approach. The group engaged and at the end of the discussion several of those who had claimed postmodernism was a bad thing exclaimed after our prayer "What a great group!"
In getting ready for today’s post I decided to flip back through "Adrift: Postmodernism in the Church" by Phil Sanders. I owe this book a lot. Before reading this book, I though postmodernism was something to be defeated, that we needed to educate people out of the tendencies postmodernism provided. This book’s blatant and accusatory approach to postmodernism made me ask a few questions. When the book started to fall apart logically, it sent me on a journey of discovery.
Sanders’s chapter entitled "What is postmodernism?" is subtitled "Secularization, Privatization, Pluralization, Relativization". It is true that these things are bad, but I wish that he had discussed postmodernism and not these four negative manifestations of the tendencies postmodernism. It would have been more helpful for the discussion. Instead, it reveals modernism’s inability to allow for the gray area.
So, if postmodernism isn’t necessarily bad, what is it? For starters, we’ll need to boil down to the bottom of the issues postmodernism presents to figure out the core values at work. You’ll see as we look at some of these that they seem to intertwine with each other. I suppose that means they could be boiled out even more. However, as I see it, here are the major themes in postmodernism:
- Quest for Reality – One of the characteristics of postmodernism that gets the movement into a lot of trouble is the ongoing quest for a discovery of reality. I don’t mean that in some existential way, but there is an ongoing desire to know what is real and what is not. Central to this quest is finding out what is real for oneself. This is where the negative branch of relativism can come into the picture. What the postmodern is really trying to determine is how they can know what is real without others telling them what is real. Personal experience becomes a big factor at this point. In a strange sense, it is the scientific methods of modernism turned back on itself. Modernism requires something be closely tested and evaluated to know if it is of value. Postmodernism requires that process happen at the individual level instead of at the societal level.
- The Subjective Nature of Perceived Truth – Part of the quest for reality comes from the postmodern evaluation that everyone seems to have a slightly different opinion about what is going on. Any parent who has tried to mediate an argument among children knows full well how different the two sides of the story could be. Thinks that’s based on the nature of children? Ask a traffic officer what his worst nightmare is. As number of witnesses to a traffic accident increase, so do the number of stories that explain the events that occurred. Each person’s perspective provides a slightly different take on what happened. This is often the point where the negative manifestation of privatization comes in (making truth relative to one’s own viewpoints). The core issue at hand, though, is that since one’s perspective weighs so heavily into comprehension, it is difficult to trust any one person who tries to tell you what is true or not. Positively manifested, this tendency causes postmoderns to branch out to hear many, many witnesses on matters before making a decision of their own.
- Deeper Meaning – Related to the quest for reality is the concept of a deeper meaning. Modernists are happy with their lists, rules, and procedures. Postmoderns need to know why these items occur this way. Modernists rely on these systems to ensure order and safety. Because of this, postmoderns are often seen as trouble makers when they want to know the deeper meaning behind customs and traditions.
- Media Rich – Postmoderns place a high value on media. It is readily accessible and communicates in a way that words and text cannot. We’ve had the saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" for some time. This is even more true for the postmodern. This relates to the need for deeper meaning because it goes so far beyond words. It allows for the experience to be captured and for emotions to be displayed. This causes art and decor to go beyond function into something that contributes to the experience of the environment.
There are four other major themes that we’ll look at tomorrow. I just couldn’t allow myself to make a post as long as this one turned out.
So, what do you think so far? Do you identify more with the modernist or the postmodernist?