Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Light and Dark: Comparing/Contrasting Christianity with Postmodernism

Simply put, postmodernism is incompatible with Christianity, and therefore has nothing to say to Christianity (but Christianity has plenty to say to postmodernism).  Christianity in a postmodern world is light in a dark world; and light is a provable reality (with particles and waves) whereas darkness is simply the absence of light.  Thus, from the outset of trying to define a Christian worldview within the framework of a postmodernistic worldview, we are immediately confronted with a kind of helplessness.  Postmodernism has failed to define anything sufficiently (being nothing) and in many cases eliminates the medium through which a definition might be forthcoming—the rational human mind!  Confronted with this untenable position of the postmodernist, I am left to define my argument through the lens of a purely Christian point of view.  As light shining out of darkness makes a distinction and encompasses the whole spectrum of truth, so might we find definition by way of contrast.  Therefore, I place Christianity as the light against the black backdrop of postmodernism.  Is there really any compatibility between these two worldviews?  How do the concepts of objectivity and subjectivity interplay within these worldviews?  In the end, I will prove they are worldviews apart.
Compatibility Issues
I suppose that most people today would say that there is a common ground to be found concerning just about any matter of discussion and potential dispute.  We share humanness and are certainly not felines or giraffes or some kind of bird or fish (of course some think we were evolved from some of these).  Nevertheless, we are obviously not one of them now, and ought to be able to find some measure of compatibility between any two expressions of humanity.  Our humanity is, for sure, individualistic; but not so much so, that we do not find a commonality upon which to base meaningful interaction.  For instance, a genius might have little compatibility with an imbecile in intellectual terms, yet have much compatibility in emotional terms.  This does not, however, suggest a sufficiently deep enough compatibility to satisfy an inherent need for communion and meaningful dialogue. Ultimately, it is this superficiality that causes the compatibility issues.  The common ground we are seeking is upon bedrock for one worldview and shifting sand for the other. And we all know what happens to the home built upon sand!  It is interesting to note here, that the term “postmodernism” was first used to describe a kind of architecture; the irony in this first usage of the term, lies in what architecture represents: the structural design of a building.  Upon shifting sand they have erected an argument that cannot withstand even a cursory breath of rebuttal.  Building upon the foundation of their persons they ought to expect the inevitable implosion. Even Atlas shrugged, but these postmodernists never even flinch!  They can hold erect an entire house with both yours and my arguments tied behind their backs.  Even if they were reasonable, however, it is the superficial foundation upon which they build their arguments that is the real problem.  James Sire, in The Universe Next Door,” had this to say about foundation:
I take metaphysics (or ontology) to be the foundation of all worldviews.  Being is prior to knowing.  If nothing is there, then nothing can be known.  So, in defining theism, I began with God, defined as infinite and personal (triune), transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign and good.  All else in theism stems from this commitment to a specific notion of what is fundamentally there. (pgs. 215-216)
But the postmodernist never digs deep enough to reach the bedrock of the spiritual dimension that supports the natural one.  They construct a worldview that does not consider all the facts of reality, thus the superficial premise of their argument inevitably leads to a wrong conclusion. 
Christianity teaches that our natures are grounded in God’s nature; postmodernism teaches that our natures are the ground.  Christianity sees man as made in God’s image; postmodernism sees God as made in man’s image.  The born again Christian, however, has a new nature with a restored image of God imprinted where once he had only a broken one; the postmodernist has only the broken one.  The God of Christianity ultimately supports only one creature; a new one born from a second Adam, Jesus Christ.  And Jesus Christ, because He is one hundred percent God and one hundred percent man, and the representative head of this new creature, becomes the sure foundation upon which a superstructure of a race of “supermen” can be built.  The unregenerate postmodernist, however, does not correctly interpret the facts, thus wrongly concludes that he/she can become a “supergod.”  They are correct in realizing the divine spark within, but wrong about how and what to do about it. Because they reject the fact of the fall they reject the remedy of Christ.  Having rejected the only solution to their problem (a problem that they no doubt have but will not acknowledge), the postmodernist ultimately concludes that they are both the creator and the creation; they become their own parents!  Of course, this absurd conclusion makes a caricature of reality as expressed in their description of god, themselves and the cosmos; since all life originates from them, and they are only as expansive as the limitations of their being, then the smallness of the world they create eventually tells on them.  They cannot break free from the gravity of their own worldview, and all the light of their understanding is bent inward and perverted by the self-absorbing force they have created.  Disguised as suns, these moons feign an emanation of light that is all moonshine and deception; suns alone generate light, not dead moons.  Of course, dead moons may be dead suns, and analogous to the spiritually dead postmodernist (which because there is yet a divine spark within them) believes that he/she can fuel his/her own life.  But, alas, their fuel is not sufficient for this divine spark to continue to flash; the day is coming when all shall be tested by fire and the postmodernist worldview will certainly be consumed, but their too-late-awakened eternal soul will forever be tormented in the conflagration. 
Compounding the problem is their confusion concerning the makeup or constitution of man.  Some postmodernists—and even some ignorant Christians—believe man to be comprised of two parts; most Christians, however, believe man to be comprised of three parts. One camp holds that man is dualistic (body and soul); the other, that man is tripartite (body, soul and spirit).  Since we are made in the image of God, and He is Triune, I believe man to be tripartite; and a reference from Scripture seems to support this position: “…and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved…” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).  Also, Watchman Nee, in his classic “The Spiritual Man” wrote:
The ordinary concept of the constitution of human beings is dualistic –soul and body.  According to this concept soul is the invisible inner spiritual part, while body is the visible outer corporal part.  Though there is some truth to this, it is nevertheless inaccurate.  Such an opinion comes from fallen man, not from God; apart from God’s revelation, no concept is dependable.  That the body is man’s outward sheath is undoubtedly correct, but the Bible never confuses spirit and soul as though they are the same.  Not only are they different in terms; their very natures differ from each other.  The Word of God does not divide man into the two parts of soul and body.  It treats man, rather, as tripartite –spirit, soul and body.  (Nee, 1968, pg.21)
Nee would go on to say that confusing the soul with the spirit and the spirit with the soul is to be expected by the average unregenerate  man, but for the average Christian to be just as confused is disturbing.  The spirit is the seat of “God-consciousness” (pg.26) consisting of these functions: conscience, intuition and communion.  The soul is the seat of “self-consciousness” (pg.26) consisting of mind, will and emotion.  When man first sinned he was suddenly self-conscious because God had disconnected from the organ of his spirit.  His God-consciousness died and he did too (immediately and over time).  He was now the center of his world and all he could rely upon emanated from him.  The mirror image of God within man had now been shattered and his nature, once spiritual, was now soulical.  His God consciousness faded and his self-consciousness grew.  He was now disfigured, out of all proportion to his original design by God.  Only God reconnecting to mankind could save them now, and with the introduction of Jesus Christ back into the stream of mankind, God did.  But many (and certainly the postmodernists) refuse the cure because the solution is outside of them.  Their self-consciousness has become flagrant selfishness without God (but that will be addressed in the next chapter).  Ultimately, any compatibility between postmodernism and Christianity that is built upon the soul of man without a true spiritual dimension becomes impossible when man is regenerated.  Once regenerated, he comes to life as God takes up residence within his spirit.  From his spirit he controls his body through the medium of his soul.  Now restored to his original design, darkness and light, postmodernism and Christianity, have no real ground for substantial compatibility.
The Interplay of Objective and Subjective Truth
God’s creation holds a vast store of wonder and truth that unfolds within the mind of the inquirer as he explores this cosmos.  But the microscopic view from which one scrutinizes the data found is clearer for some than others; preconceived bias colors and clouds resolution and affects the goal of objective interpretation. When our scientific probe yields no concrete answer it may be expedient and even enjoyable to speculate about non-results, however it is anti-scientific to do so.  Of course, this does not stop many from promoting their unfounded and unscientific theories, but their theories might better be classified as science fiction.  Francis A. Schaeffer, in A Christian Manifesto, was clearly appalled by what Carl Sagan masqueraded as scientific proof when he said this:
Then there was a shift into materialistic science based on a philosophic change to the materialistic concept of final reality.  This shift was based on no addition to the facts known.  It was a choice, in faith, to see things that way.  No clearer expression of this could be given than Carl Sagan’s arrogant statement on public television—made without any scientific proof for the statement—to 140 million viewers: “The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”  He opened the series, Cosmos, with this essentially creedal declaration and went on to build every subsequent conclusion upon it.  (pg.4).
There is no doubt Carl Sagan had a tremendous influence upon the general public as his work helped to create an appetite for even more science fiction programming. About the time his series Cosmos aired, Star Trek, Lost in Space, and other programs had already been captivating many for years.   But the science fiction genre had not yet taken root; Sagan’s impact insured that it did.  It is plausible that the “last frontier” of space would have only captured the imagination of a few die-hard Star Trek fans had it not been for Carl Sagan.  His influence helped make shows like Star Trek and science fiction mainstream.
Having superficially defined man in naturalistic terms alone, the postmodernist embarks upon “the last frontier” of space and the cosmos presumptuously and with no ability to see anything objectively.  Establishing himself alone as the final authority in inquiry, he has elevated subjectivity to objective status. He thus nullifies any real scientific analysis because scientific analysis is intrinsically objective or it ceases to be scientific analysis.  The blinding nature of pride in holding stubbornly to one’s own view even in light of evidence to the contrary of that view is puzzling and illogical. Obviously, the selfishness they display is not grounded in logic alone, or they would change their mind when proof was given that demonstrated their error. In fairness to fallen man, they are correct in seeking more than a cerebral apprehension of the facts that constitute truth; they are wrong however in expecting to find it in nature and the cosmos from the naturalist standpoint. The unregenerate postmodern man feigns a search in what he deems to be the last frontier of space in the cosmos (but he lies to himself) because there remains within his own soul an enormous space that only the bigness of the real God can fill. Seems to me that the last frontier is not being explored by spaceships, but by the narcissistic postmodernist that believes the entire world is within his soul.  It used to be that selfishness was explained by having the external world revolve around one’s self; but the selfishness of today goes even further and will not acknowledge the external world at all!  Illusion to them is what they do not see; illusion to the Christian is what they do see. Consider for a moment a phenomenon that scientists know about, not by what they see, but what they do not see.  Black holes are theorized to occur when a planet or star implodes having exhausted its outgoing force.  Light itself cannot escape the gravity its own body produces.  Even what had once revolved around this planet or star is sucked irretrievably into the center of it, condensed beyond recognition, and lost forever.  The star of postmodernism is destined for this same destruction for the same reason.  Inverted light can never be revealed to an outside entity; thus, what we know about postmodernism is gleaned from those things we do not see.  Ironically, Sire titled his chapter on postmodernism “The Vanished Horizon.”  Sire also mentions postmodernism as “the last move of the modern,” (pg.212), and that sounds a lot like “check mate!” to me.
Ultimately, postmodernism and Christianity are not compatible in any substantial way because postmodernism insists on using what Christianity insists on discarding.  Like a snake that throws off its skin, so Christians are ever trying to shed their former outerwear and to express the mainspring of an inner life with God; the postmodernist inverts the process by shedding the mainspring of God and expresses their outerwear as though it were an inner life.  There is no way to get around the intrinsic human design that needs an eternal fuel to burn; in an attempt to “save their own skin” they refuse the booster rocket of Christ and are doomed to flame out and burn up upon reentry to earth.  Some postmodernists even intuitively know they are meant to soar and explore the heavens, but they often fail to realize the extent of their limitations in their present state.  They do not have the strength to break free from the gravity of their own overwhelming skin; because they refuse the meal of Christ’s flesh and blood, they are left to cannibalize themselves.  In the end, the shifting sand the postmodernist is building upon is fast becoming sifting sand in an hourglass that will no doubt be sucked downward into the bowels of hell if they do not look outside themselves for the answer.   But, alas, the postmodernist is like poor Jonah who tried to run from God; it took a near death experience in the belly of the great fish at the roots of the mountains to awaken him to this simple but profound revelation: “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.”  (Jonah 2:8, KJV).    
  Sire, J. W. (2004).  The Universe Next Door.   Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, USA.
  Nee, W. (1968). The Spiritual Man.  New York, NY:  Christian Fellowship Publishers, Inc.
  Schaeffer, F.A. (1981). A Christian Manifesto.  Westchester, IL:  Crossway Books