What Kind of Ambassador?
- Friday, December 17, 2010
At first it would seem this rational approach to truth would put off a postmodern who rejects such methodology as illicit holdovers from the modern era. In practice, though, this seldom happens. Postmoderns still care about truth, in spite of their protests. They are human beings made in the image of God. As such, they live in a world in which their claims collide with reality. This tactic is meant to exploit that tension.
The simple truth is, no one is really a relativist, a fact that surfaces readily when one's guard is down. They wax eloquent about relativism, but in the next breath complain about crooked politicians, legal injustice, and intolerant Christians--all meaningless if relativism is true. When they do this they're not advancing personal opinions. They actually believe these things are wrong. Their own objective view morality is surfacing.
Even postmoderns hold that certain concepts--justice, tolerance, fairness, etc.--are meaningful, common-sense notions. Further, they bring up the problem of evil as an argument against God and engage in moral discussions to determine the "right" course of action in a situation. These seem to be legitimate ways of talking. Yet if relativism were really true, they are nonsense notions because each derives its meaning from its relationship to an objective moral rule. Relativists find themselves in the unenviable position of having to admit there is no such thing as evil, and no actual obligation of justice, fairness, or tolerance. They may philosophize confidently about the death of truth, but in practice this is too big a price to pay.
Is Truth True?
In a debate on postmodernism I participated in at Chapman University, I defended what seemed to be a very modest claim: Objective truth can be known. My opponent, Dr. Marv Meyer, was forced to argue against the proposition, effectively stating he knew truth couldn't be known.
The debate reminded me of a construction worker who complained one day about the air quality in Los Angeles. "This smog is killing me," he said. "I need a break. I'm going out back to have a smoke." His comment entailed a contradiction. He said one thing was objectionable, and then blithely proceeded to do the very thing he objected to, sensing no conflict between the two.
Dr. Meyer's claim was much the same. First, he claimed that knowledge was a certain way. Second, he claimed he knew it to be so. All the while he argued all such claims are false. In my final remarks, I encouraged the audience to cast their votes for Dr. Meyer, then reminded them what such a vote would mean, that my opponent convinced them his view was true and mine was false. A vote for Marv, then, would be a vote for the resolve: Objective truth can be known. Professor Meyer got one vote. My success was not due to cleverness on my part, but to the fact that even postmoderns must live in God's world. The suicide tactic was effective.
When someone is graciously disarmed in the context of a respectful discussion, there is more openness to consider the Christian story. When people become aware they actually do believe in morality, this has explanatory power for something else they know intuitively: the personal guilt that each is painfully aware of.
At this point I make a suggestion. "Maybe we feel guilty because we are guilty. Is that a possibility? If it is, then denial (relativism) is not going to solve the problem. Only forgiveness can do that. This is where Jesus comes in."
This brings us right to the foot of the cross in a way that is relational, interactive, and without the feel of dogmatism. It's a way of appealing to a postmodern mindset without adopting a postmodern epistemology.
Further, this is a truth I don't need to convince them of. They already know it. Note the frank admission in the final words of Douglas Coupland's ode of the postmodern man, Life After God:
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