Intrepid Lutherans has dedicated several blog posts to the topic of post-Modernism over the past few years, mostly with reference to Dynamic Equivalence and Bible translation, and to the impact of radical feminism on the growth of unScriptural egalitarian doctrines regarding the roles of men and women. In fact, as we highlighted in our most previous blog post, Intrepid Lutherans: Gaining in Popularity?, our most popular article has post-Modernism as its main theme: How does one interpret language in a post-Modern Age? What about the language of the Bible?. Another important article we published that addresses post-Modernism is Post-Modernism, Pop-culture, Transcendence, and the Church Militant.
Today, we dedicate yet another article to this theme. However, much like our (sub-)article, Nietzsche, Marx, Darwin and America Today: A Very Brief Look at the Tip of the Iceberg, post-Modernism is not addressed in what follows from the standpoint of its impact on Bible translation, nor its relation to radical feminism and the growth of egalitarian teaching among Lutherans (although, those issues do come up briefly here and there). Rather, we take a brief look at the purveyors of post-Modernism and the specific philosophical positions they have held; briefly examine the impact of post-Modernism on the field of science; and list works written by Christians, philosophers and scientists against post-Modernism and its corrosive effects.
If one is looking to hear directly from post-Modern philosophers, some of the names worth investigating include the following:
Roland Gérard Barthes – a French post-structuralist whose 1967 essay, Death of the Author, argues that the origin of a text is unimportant and that only its destination, the reader, is important. This notion isn't limited to him. In fact, one can hear what seems to be more than faint echoes of this philosophy in the ideas of Eugene Nida, the man responsible for the “Dynamic Equivalence” theory of Bible translation, according to which a majority of translators today readily dismiss the importance of the specific grammatical form and content of the Biblical texts (i.e., that which the Scriptures specifically say was given by inspiration of God), that is, consider the source unimportant from the standpoint of what is reproduced in the target language, and instead exalt the reader above the importance of the inspired source by insisting that it is only important to reproduce what is perceived as the meaning of the text.
Paul-Michel Foucault – a French post-structuralist / post-Modernist who helped develop and defend the notion that it is impossible for words to correspond precisely enough to physical reality (“correspondence theory” of Truth) to be meaningful, that words only correspond to other words, that because it cannot, a text therefore does not correspond to any supposed reality, but only simulates a reality in a way that is unique to the cultural perspective of those most familiar with the type of text in use. Thus, reality is not something which objectively exists, but which is created by language, and changes with language according to cultural context in which it is used (we hear echoes of this philosophy in Eugene Nida's “Dynamic Equivalence” theories, as well).
Jean Baudrillard – probably among the most important post-Modern French philosophers of the 20th Century, in 1991 he took the consequences of post-Modernism to their extreme – that reality does not really exist, but is merely a construction of language – claiming that the First Gulf War was not real, but a simulation, given that our knowledge of it comes only from the language reporting the event. Such nonsense rendered serious damage to the integrity of post-Modernism.
Jean-François Lyotard – is the notorious post-Modern French philosopher who, in 1979, was the first to coin the term “post-Modernism” in his work, The Postmodern Condition. While the philosophies underlying “post-Modernism” were being developed for decades prior to this, it emerged under a single heading only in 1979. It took a decade for Christians to grow aware and concerned by it, which is why we didn't start seeing Christian responses and polemic against post-Modernism until the 1990's. Lyotard was an ardent opponent of “meta-narrative,” or the idea of overarching or universal and objective truth. The only truth to be found was relative to the language employed in local social constructs.
Jaques Derridda – another important post-Modern French philosopher, and close associate of Lyotard (International College of Philosophy), who developed the post-Modern method of “deconstruction,” a technique of literary analysis by which the reader discovers the multiple layers of hidden meaning in a text. This process, of course, vaunts the subjectivity of the reader, eliminates the author's control of his own text's meaning, and makes it impossible to develop or hold any sort of didactic perspective on a text.
Richard Rorty – the most celebrated post-Modern American philosopher, he popularized a brand of pragmatism that extended “Truth” no further than the circle within the individual's sphere of influence. Truth is what can be justified within his limited social context, is self-referential, relative to the normalizing social experiences he encounters, and has no more substantive content than what is dictated by the pragmatic need requiring its justification. What Rorty does most effectively in the area of Pedagogics is establish a connection between the pragmatic Progressivism of John Dewey and the post-Modern objectives of education today (i.e, Social Constructivism).
Interestingly, in response to the question, “What is Truth?,” Rorty famously replied, “Whatever my peers are letting me get away with, today.” The answer to the corresponding question, “What is falsehood?”, is thus implied, “Whatever I push my peers to let me get away with, tomorrow.” And this is how change is effected in contemporary society on a daily basis – according to distinctly Hegelian strategies. Today's “Truth” (thesis) meets a contrived challenge (anti-thesis), the result of which is a new, superior Truth (synthesis) that leaves behind the old as inferior and irrelevant and breeds a disastrous disregard for history. This is the very real and potent purpose behind many of the manufactured social crises of our day – to change what people regard as True in favor of a particular political objective, by using Hegelian philosophy to manipulate the masses. A post-Modern Worldview across culture makes such strategies very effective.
There are many books from Christian sources that discuss and warn against post-Modernism. Here are a few that I can recommend:
- The Death of Truth, by Dennis McCallum (Ed.) – probably the best introduction to post-Modernism from an affirmative standpoint (that is, not wholly from a theoretical point of view, but from the standpoint of its manifestation in culture and impact on the Church). This was the book primarily referenced in our article, Post-Modernism, Pop-culture, Transcendence, and the Church Militant.
- The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, by James Sire – Chapter 9 of this work offers a pretty decent introduction to hard philosophical aspects of post-Modernism.
- Postmodern Times, by Gene Edward Veith
- The Spiritual Society: What Lurks Beyond Postmodernism, by Rev. Dr. Frederic Baue (LCMS) – this book, admitting what is already accepted, that post-Modernism could only self-destruct and is therefore just a transitional phase from Modernity to “something else,” exploits the recent (and exciting) rediscovery of the “social cycle theories” of American sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, to suggest what may be following post-Modernism. A very good and highly recommended book.
- Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Stephen Hicks
- The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition, by Zeev Sterhell and Mr. David Maisel
- Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism, by Paul Boghossian
“Deep conceptual shifts within twentieth-century science have undermined Cartesian-Newtonian metaphysics; revisionist studies in the history and philosophy of science have cast further doubt on its credibility; and, most recently, feminist and post-structuralist critiques have demystified the substantive content of mainstream Western scientific practice, revealing the ideology of domination concealed behind the facade of ‘objectivity.’ It has become increasingly apparent that physical ‘reality,’ no less than social ‘reality,’ is at bottom a social and linguistic construct; that scientific ‘knowledge,’ far from being objective, reflects and encodes the dominant ideologies and power relations of the culture that produced it; that the truth claims of science are inherently theory-laden and self-referential; and consequently, that the discourse of the scientific community, for all its undeniable value, cannot assert a privileged epistemological status with respect to counterhegemonic narratives emanating from dissident or marginalized communities. These themes can be traced... in Aronowitz's analysis of the cultural fabric that produced quantum mechanics; in Ross's discussion of oppositional discourses in post-quantum science; in Irigaray's and Hayles's exegeses of gender encoding in fluid mechanics; and in Harding's comprehensive critique of the gender ideology underlying the natural sciences in general and physics in particular”
The article was widely read and well-received within the post-Modern Academy. Shortly thereafter, however, Sokal revealed that his essay was a hoax, setting off a raging debate. The whole sordid affair can be read in the book, The Sokal Hoax: The Sham that Shook the Academy, which is a collection of primary source documents beginning with Sokal's ridiculously satirical essay, and the firestorm of essays, counter essays, and commentary that followed. Two years later, Sokal co-authored a blistering critique of post-Modern scientific theories, entitled Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectual's Abuse of Science. Both of these are worth reading.
One final work worth reading that I'll mention, authored by scientists fed up with the intrusion of post-Modern nonsense into the sciences, is Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and its Quarrels with Science, by Paul Gross and Norman Levitt.
But these only represent post-Modernism and its relationship to Christianity, philosophy and science. None of these discuss post-Modernism from the standpoint of historical method (the post-Modern historical method, as I've discussed it with history students and professors, is a complete disaster), legal theory (Deconstructionism), psychology and counseling, or education. In the latter case, the impact is Social Constructivism, and due to the power of the NEA and its ability to destroy careers, there is very little that is published against it. The only works I know about are some books written by Allen Quist and some essays by George Will. To give the reader some idea of the impact post-Modernism has had in math education, when in the early 1990's the National Council of the Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) released its new Constructivist standards, which de-emphasized skills mastery in favor of “concept attainment,” “problem solving processes” and “positive affective outcomes” (i.e., positive self-esteem), all of the professional mathematicians associated with the organization left in protest. And the impact of post-Modern linguistics theories on the teaching of grammar has been ruinous (see The War Against Grammar, by David Mulroy).
These sources represent alot of reading. Alot of heavy reading. Quite honestly, for the reader's benefit, if one wants to make a study of post-Modernism on his own, the best place to start is the first book listed, above: The Death of Truth, by Dennis McCallum (Ed.) It covers all of the pertinent aspects, including the post-Modern historical method, legal theory, medicine, and education. The next book on his list absolutely needs to be David Mulroy's The War Against Grammar; and from there, wherever his interest and concern with post-Modernism may take him.
Post-Modernism is a mightily corrosive force in our society. It is perverting language and human thought, and along with it, our Bibles, our Theology, and the pillars of our Civilization. It is sad that so many Christians uncritically devour the wisdom of the world, thinking that they are clever to “Despoil the Egyptians;” instead, they are ingesting only intellectual maggot larvae, which in turn feeds on them and rots their faith and thinking as it matures. The good Christian must not only be vigilant, but prepared to act against this great evil – which means that at minimum, he must at least have some idea what it is, and take its danger seriously enough to oppose it when and where he can. It is hard work – of the sort to which most Christians, in our relatively affluent society, are averse: “I don't want to think about it, I just want to be comfortable and happy with my friends.” Such attitudes, standing themselves at the root of cultural decline, are reflected in appalling Christian apathy in the face of it. But it is the hard work of dedicated and orthodox Christians that is needed – now as much as ever – the benefit of which the World sorely needs. For, as stated in our final post covering the 2013 ELDoNA Colloquium and Synod, “It is these very challenges which have driven Christians to the heights of academic and cultural achievement through the ages.”
We Christians ought to study harder and act more boldly.