The Truth About Truth: Part 1 – The Postmodern Challenge to Christianty

The transition from modernism to postmodernism also showed a great change in the approach to religion altogether.

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The transition from modernism to postmodernism also showed a great change in the approach to religion altogether. Modernism is founded on the principles of rationalism, reason, and hard facts. It’s strict and scientific adherence to these principles lead modernists to reject the Bible in it’s entirety. What modernism believes to be an objective reality is anything that through fact one can make a judgement upon. This is also what separates the postmodern man from the modernist. “Postmodernism denies an ‘outside the flux’ status to any faculty, including reason, and also denies us that universal rule of judgment by which we can distinguish values from facts. Facts are objectively determined and grounded and therefore universally reliable, while values are grounded only in local prejudices and predilections.”[1]

one way do not enter sign and crosswalk

Rationalism has declined drastically since the rise of postmodernism. With its climb postmodernism has introduced a philosophy that in like manner challenges the Bible, only on much different terms. “Modernist heresies have floundered, but now postmodernist heresies replace them. Rationalism, having failed, is giving way to irrationalism – both are hostile to God’s revelation, but in different ways.”[2] Where the modernist challenged the truth of the Bible, now the postmodernist denies the very existence of truth to begin with! This is what makes postmodernism so irrational rather than rational. Perhaps it is incorrect to state that the postmodern does not believe in any truth, but rather than all truth is relative. However, such a pragmatic view in all practicality means the same thing. Gene Veith, Jr. describes postmodernism with the following words, “Postmodernism assumes that there is no objective truth, that moral values are relative, and that reality is socially constructed by a host of diverse communities.”[3] To the postmodern, everything is relevant and subjective. What one holds to be true is true for them, and likewise with the next person. No one can claim that any given truth is binding universally to all others, leaving every individual with the responsibility to discover what truths fit their mold. In other words, simply from personal desire one can and must choose what they want to be true.

In this fashion the postmodernist finds common ground with the relativist, believing every belief to be just as valid as another. Richard Rorty explains further, “So when the pragmatists says that there is nothing to be said about truth save that each of us will commend as true those beliefs which he or she finds good to believe…truth is simply the contemporary opinion of a chosen individual or group. Such a theory would, of course, be self-refuting.”[4] If in turn every belief were just as valid as the other, where does that leave those who reject this notion and believe in divinely inspired objective truth? This is where postmodernism poses a direct threat to the claims of Christianity with truth.

“For biblical Christianity, however, it is the obtaining of that which cannot be found within one’s own experience. It is not simply a privatized set of beliefs that works for a person, and therefore is adopted pragmatically. It is the divinely revealed objective truth, that which is true for all persons at all times and places, reality as it is in itself, not as it appears to us.”[5]

The Christian looks to the Bible as the Word of God, and contained within its pages absolute truths that are infallible. In John 14.6, Jesus Christ teaches, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” For the Christian, this statement alone eliminates all other religions or religious leaders as being the source of truth. Though there are truthful aspects taught by other men and in other religions, Christ is the ultimate author of truth. To this the postmodern would reply as the Roman official Pilate, “What is truth?” Such a claim to be the source of all truth, a truth that is binding to all men across cultures, is offensive and hateful to the postmodern because it infringes upon “their rights.”

“For postmodernists, morality, like religion, is a matter of desire. What I want and what I choose is not only true (for me) but right (for me). That different people want and choose different things means that truth and morality are relative, but “I have a right” to my desires. Conversely, “no one has the right” to criticize my desires and my choices.”[6]

To the postmodernist then, the only “sin” is to believe in sin! Preaching that would condemn certain behavior or actions is not seen as a message of love that warns people of the dangers of sin, but rather a message full of bigotry that denies man their right to do as they please. Conversely, religion is celebrated so long as no one claims objectivity and so long as there is unity in diversity. The postmodern is naturally a multiculturalist, condemning no religion but upholding each belief and practice just as valid and equal as the other. This is not because they believe them both to possibly be true, but that each one is absolutely void of truth altogether. “The postmodern is not merely saying that we cannot know with certainty which religious worldview is true and we therefore must be open-minded; rather he maintains that none of the religious world-views is objectively true, and therefore non can be excluded in deference to the allegedly one true religion.”[7]

Now examining the postmodern perspective, there are many problems that arise against itself. First, it is virtually impossible to believe there is no such thing as objective truth. Though the cardinal virtue of the postmodern is tolerance, all people have their limit of things they cannot and will not tolerate. For example, to the postmodern one’s desires are true and right to them. To deny them their rights is wrong and robbing them of their truth. However, what do we say to the man who kidnaps children and molests them? If the postmodern were consistent they would have to say that such a man should not be denied his desires, because to him they are right and true. Be that as it may, most would respond that by no means should such behavior be tolerated, though such a response is inconsistent to their own philosophy. The general postmodern response to such an objection usually follows along the lines of “all beliefs should be tolerated so long as they do not hurt anyone else.” By claiming this, the postmodern hopes to escape looking like the moral hero that denies no one their rights yet protects the innocent from harms way. However even there the postmodernist is inconsistent, for they do not practice what they preach. Gene Veith Jr. points out, “Politically, the ethics of desire means ruthless power struggles between competing groups. In the United States, this manifests itself in feminists seeking to imprison pro-life demonstrators, gay activists disrupting church services, the “Borking” of conservative candidates, and overt terrorism.”[8] Therefore I must ask, do these sound like harmless actions? Imprisoning people for their view of truth and disrupting peaceful and private services, do these sound like no one has been hurt? The postmodern philosophy again falls upon itself, for it readily will harm any who still believe in objective truth.

To the Christian, the question of morality rests upon the character of God. Yet if God is not the author of truth and morality, as the postmodern philosophy claims, then man has digressed to the sad state of those in Judges 21:25, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” This is the case when a standard of morality is removed, everyone’s opinion and sense of morality is just as valid as the person next to him. Though the postmodern would claim that hurting others still morally wrong, the question they must be asked in return is, “according to who?” Who is to judge right and right without objective truth? Who is to say that murder, rape, or stealing is bad? Unless they are willing to obviously contradict their philosophy, those who buy into the philosophy are left speechless. Famous theologian C.S. Lewis argues that within every person is a natural understanding of right and wrong; of what one ought to do and ought not do. In Mere Christianity, he refers to this as the “Law of Human Nature.” “The Law of Human Nature, or of Right and Wrong, must be something above and beyond the actual facts, you have something else – a real law, which we did not invent and which we know we ought to obey.”[9] Lewis argues then that every person has some objective standard of what is right and what is wrong. Though they might not be the exact same standard, the principle seems to hold true.

As has been stated the belief that all truth is relative to each individual, denying objective truth, is self defeating. For example, the postmodern claims that, “there is no such things as objective truth.” However in making this claim one cannot help but to ask the question, “is that true?” If the statement that there is no objective truth is in fact objectively true, then does it not contradict itself within the very statement? Is there only one objective truth, that all other objective truths are false? It does not seem to add up. Nevertheless, postmodernism has made significant impacts on the religious world, even upon those who call themselves Christians. These impacts from the viewpoint of the Bible believing Christian are particularly negative and must be resolved.

[1] Natoli, Joseph. A Primer to Postmodernity. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1997. 148.
[2] Veith, Gene Edward. Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Comtemporary Thought and Culture. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994. 192.
[3] Veith, Postmodern Times 193.
[4] Cahoone, Lawrence E. From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1996. 576.
[5] Erickson, Millard J. Postmodernizing the Faith: Evangelical Responses to the Challenge of Postmodernism. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998. 38.
[6] Veith, Postmodern Times 195.
[7] Phillips and Okholm, Christian Apologetics 77.
[8] Veith Postmodern Times 198.
[9] Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan, 1952. 17.

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