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The Myth of “Post” Modernity

INTRODUCTION

What is Modernity? In essence it is a humanistic worldview, applied to all of life. In philosophy, Moderns use Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” to exclude God, and tie all philosophy back to man. In anthropology, they use John Locke’s ‘blank-slate’ idea to remove original sin. In history, they  use Hegel’s triadic logic (thesis/antithesis/synthesis) to explain complexity and development through evolution or (which is to say the same thing) through man’s efforts. Key to Modernity is a rejection of all that has come before, a rejection of institutional and historic authority, and a placement of the human self as the chief arbiter of truth.

Postmodernity is not “post” anything, since it is still a radically humanistic movement, and the human self is still the arbiter of truth.

How, then, can the shifts in today’s culture be explained? By applying the mood-swings, bipolarism and decrepitude of the human mind to all of society.

Mood Swings

In the human person, there is a tension between the right and left lobes of the brain – between art and math, between logic and emotion, between order and chaos. This creates tension in the human self, as well as human societies. A society which has made the human self its compass cannot help but be significantly affected by these mood-swings of the human self.

In the Enlightenment, the Western world set up the left-lobe of the human brain (that is, objective, rational, mathematical truth) as their god. A radical shift happened in the Romantic era, when the west turned to the right-lobe of the brain (that is, the subjective, emotional, artistic side of truth). These “mood-swings” continue to flip back and forth, and much of western cultural shifts can be explained by this. After WWII, for example, people were very left-brained: then culture swung the other way, in the “Hippies”: then it swung back again when the Hippies became “Yuppies” and got real jobs: now it is swinging back again, as their children are rebelling against the structure and organization of their parent’s world.

Bipolarism

A humanistic worldview is, at its birth, exceedingly OPTIMISTIC. It believes that it will conquer all, and will be able to create a new utopia all by itself, without God. This optimism inevitably fades (often with the aging of the generation), and smashes into a soul-crushing despair as a deep pessimism replaces optimism. This optimism/despair becomes cyclical, and usually approximately alligns with a mood shift: if the search for utopia by means of rationality failed, the next generation looks to emotions, and vice versa.

The myth is that “postmodernity” is the first and only time which Modernity has failed. (Experts will tell you that WWI and the sinking of the Titanic were major transition-markers from Modernity to Postmodernity) Actually, despair was part of modernity as early as Voltaire’s later work “Optimism,” and was very pronounced in the Romantic era. Also, one could argue that postmodernity is filled with as much optimism as any other movement – with the young generation convinced that the pursuit of art, community and religion will solve all of the problems of the world.

The Decrepitude of Mind

In the ancient world, Socrates, then Plato and Aristotle built up a man-made philosophy which lifted human thought above the hum-drum of mere speculation and pragmatism, to develop fully-formed systems of thought. As their disciples pushed their conclusions to applications and further conclusions, however, their systems fragmented, plateued and eventually declined once again into speculation and pragmatism. Such is the end of all human philosophy, for “God has made foolish the wisdom of the world” (1 Cor. 1:20). Pure rationality is not possible without a fixed object. Although one can theorize about God as a fixed object, this information is useless unless God has spoken to us. Thus, Christianity – the religion which has authentic words from God – is the only religion able to create a pure philosophy. All man-made philosophies are destined to fail.

This same cycle is present in Modernity. Rene Descartes began Cartesian Philosophy by trying to make philosophy independent of God, and completely dependent on the human self. This humanism divided into rationalism (the philosophy of the mind) and impiricism (the philosophy of the senses). Immanuel Kant attempted to synthesize the two, but his system eventually broke down into the language analysis and deconstructivism of so-called “postmodernity.” At the end of the day, Descartes failed. If philosophy begins with the rational self, then there can be no ONE philosophy, but only an endless number of shifting perspectives: the search for truth thus descends to nothing but pragmatism and speculation.

Conclusion

The great Modern (that is, humanistic) experiment has failed: from its ashes, a new generation is trying to piece together a new future. Unfortunately, they are not bringing a Christian vision of God into the situation, but are (quite predictably) trying to glue together the fragments of Modernity with a shift from intellect to emotion, and an optimism grounded on nothing more than human arrogance, and the belief – already so many times contradicted and defeated in previous generations – that humanity is evolving, and growing better day by day.

In so doing, “postmoderns” prove that they are not really “post” anything, but simply Modernity flipping over to the emotional side of the coin. If you want to know where our culture is going, go back and study continental romanticism. If you want to know where the postmodern church is going, go back and read Schleiermacher, who tried to build Christianity on Romanticism.

It is a sad day when a Christian person believes that this faltering, wandering, disillusioned and arrogant system of “post-modernity” should be the guiding light and compass for the church.

All that is good in society comes from God, and all of the great problems have come from a turning from God to our own wisdom and understanding. The Christian has the answer for culture, not the other way around. Certainly, we must take account of culture, and present the old message of Christianity to the new culture of postmodernity: however, we should never seek guidance from them. We are the light of the world insofar as we are sheep who follow our great Shepherd: when we follow the darkness of the world, we are neither sheep nor light nor salt, and are useless for anything but being thrown out and trampled (Mat. 5:13-20).

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J. Gresham Machen: The Man Who Wrote “Liberalism and Christianity”

Deconstructing the Modern Man Part 2: Immanuel Kant

Deconstructing the Modern Man, Part 1: The Enlightenment

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