Making Non-Sense of Postmodernism
Paul DeanDr. Paul J. Dean's Weblog
- 2007 Mar 16
When the Apostle Paul arrived in Athens his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was wholly given over to idols. He could see the outward manifestation of the inward reality he wrote about in his letter to the Romans: apart from God, the hearts of men are foolish and darkened. His response was to reason with Jews and the Gentile worshipers in the synagogue concerning Christ and the things of God. He reasoned in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. He received no small amount of criticism for his stance but he did gain a hearing and was ushered to the Areopagus by certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers that they might hear more of what he had to say. As he reasoned with them and moved to proclaim Christ, some mocked him, some said they would like to speak with him further, and some believed.
The culture in which we find ourselves as Christians is not unlike Paul’s. The names and players may be different, but the nature of that which exalts itself against God is not. Most are aware of the prevailing mindset termed postmodernism, an eclectic worldview that has flowed quite naturally from a progression of thought from rationalism, to empiricism, to naturalism, to existentialism, to its present position upon the throne of exaltation against God.
As this philosophy gobbles up culture like a ravenous wolf and because its underpinnings threaten to undo rationality itself, postmodernism is a dynamic that must be confronted by the claims and church of Jesus Christ. Christians must be equipped to reason with their neighbors and co-workers even as Paul was in his own context. And, as we do so, we can expect the same kind of results.
While much could be said about this pernicious and pervasive mindset, Ravi Zacharias, speaking live from the 2007 Ligonier Conference and aired on our most recent broadcast of “Calling for Truth,” highlighted three major tenets of this system. An understanding of these issues that form the rubric of this irrational outlook will enable believers to point out the major inconsistencies of this system not only in terms of the worldview itself but in terms that demonstrate that those who embrace postmodern thinking do not live in light of said thinking. A segue into the gospel may be provided at that point.
First, the postmodernist does not believe there is an objective reference for words. In their minds, there is a limitless instability in language as words have no ultimate point of reference. Words actually reflect our own preferences and we can therefore never speak in terms of objectivity.
In my mind, one of the prime examples of such a belief was played out before our eyes when President Clinton told a grand jury why he wasn't lying when he said to his top aides concerning Monica Lewinsky, "there's nothing going on between us." According to footnote 1,128 in Starr's report, he said, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If the--if he--if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not--that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement…Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true.”
If words have no real meaning, how can we communicate? How can we understand history? How can we convict someone of a crime? These questions and many more are not only raised, but, the irony is, as Zacharias pointed out, that while the postmodernist tells us that words have no real meaning, he uses words and words and more words to spell out his philosophy! May I say that this dynamic alone turns their approach to non-sense?
Second, according to the postmodern philosopher, there are no laws of logic governing our discourse. Zacharias outlined the four major laws of logic: a) the law of identity which says that A is not non-A; b) the law of non-contradiction which says it is not possible that something be true and not true at the same time; c) the law of the excluded middle which says that every statement is either true or false and there is nothing in between; and d) the law of rational inference which says that inferences can be made from what is known to what is unknown.
Zacharias equates the postmodern way of looking at things with an eastern way of looking at things. It is often posited that the western approach to reality is an either/or dynamic while the eastern approach is a both/and dynamic. In eastern/postmodern thought, contradictions do not matter. A can be non-A, something can be true and not true at the same time, a statement doesn’t have to be true or false, it can be both or neither, and no inferences can be made from what is known to the unknown. Zacharias rightly, adroitly, and comically points out that the postmodern may be content with logical chaos in his mind but he does not experience this world or live in this world that way. When he crosses the street, he looks both ways at on-coming traffic and reduces his worldview to an either/or approach: “it’s either the bus or me!”
While the postmodern thinker tells us that we must think not in terms of either/or but both/and, the irony is that he tells us that we must think in terms of both/and or nothing else. Of course, the contradiction there is glaring and this irony too reduces their approach to non-sense.
Third, the postmodern asserts that there are no boundaries for meaning. Metanarratives that give smaller narratives meaning are disdained and rejected. There is no larger story that gives meaning to our world. Life is a think what you want and do what you want proposition. Of course, this outlook often leads to a life of reckless abandon and then destruction. As noted, the Scriptures speak of the postmodern thinkers among us, “Because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened (Rom. 1:21).”
As Zacharias pointed out, the postmodern philosophy writes out its individual’s stories by denying the overarching story. It seems obvious to me that if order and meaning cannot be given to our world or our own individual existence, then again, a system that sees no order and meaning for such has been exposed as non-sense. Put plainly, it is non-sense to say our existence is non-sense.
Of course, we know that the overarching story is God’s story. We can understand history because history is just that: His story. As we often point out, persons grapple with basically four ultimate questions: a) where do I come from; b) why am I here; c) how do I act in light of why I am here; and d) what happens when I die? We must be able to reduce postmodern thought to non-sense, and then, make sense out of the reality people actually experience. As we observe the world around us and note that we actually communicate with one another with words that have meaning, as we go about our everyday lives basing actions and decisions on laws of logic, as we know that somehow, someway we matter, as we note order in our world, as we embrace moral standards of any kind, we actually begin to realize that the Christian worldview alone makes sense out of our experience.
When confronting postmodernists, because God has put a brain in their heads and has given them the ability to think His thoughts after Him, that is, the ability to think rationally about Him, His world, and themselves, with the Apostle Paul, we can confidently answer those ultimate questions. God created us; we exist to glorify God; we live in light of His revealed will; and if we embrace Christ by faith, when we die, we will be with Him forever. Now that’s something that makes sense!
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