Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Post modernism: a definition

A friend asked me to define post modernism for him. So I wrote him a lengthy email. This is just my definition. Nevertheless I would appreciate anyone who is willing to critique it.

First I would take a quick review of history.

Early church: world view of Europe at the time was very pagan. The early church were in direct opposition to the European world view.

Christendom: The church became the seat of power in European society. Dogmatism arose which opposed all other world views.

Middle Ages: People within Christendom were unaware of the teachings of the Bible and had no way of arguing against dogmatism. Superstition took deep roots in society. Science was seen as belonging to the realm of magic and therefore evil.

Renaissance: (1400s-1600s) A parallel and overlapping movement connected with the protestant reformation. As people were able to challenge dogma and understand doctrine for themselves, science gained some freedom within the European world view. Science was explored within the world view of monotheism.

Enlightenment: Science had experienced two centuries of relative freedom during the renaissance, but still experienced some opposition from the Catholic church. In the period of the enlightenment science threw off the "shackles of the church." This does not mean that there were not many in the Enlightenment who did not hold to the monotheist world view. However, it seems that logic was considered a very high value in the world view of the Enlightenment. Logic was very connected to the birth of modernism. Science saw that the universe was ordered and sought to apply logic to everything. The church was greatly influenced by this modernist world view and began to use logic based arguments to counteract anti Christian logic based arguments. Atheism was born as a world view during the time of the enlightenment. Logic can not provide the answers to all questions, in fact logic can even be used to prove completely false realities and is thus left exposed as inadequate. Much of modern evangelicalism is birthed in the modernist world view. Modern evangelicalism is different to that of early protestantism.

Post modernism: Post modernism has its seeds in the world wars. In many ways as brutal as world war 1 was, it did not challenge modernism. The result of the war was seen as a victory by the western allies; Germany was told to stay in its place and Europe was remapped. But world war 2 shattered the notions of modernism working. The modernist solutions to world war 1 had not worked and Hitler was able to rise up with his ultra modernist world view (order and perfection, the Aryan way). In the aftermath of world war 2, there were many questions in western society over the next two decades. Modernism had given birth to the nuclear bomb, a triumph of science. Ironically it was one of the great scientists of modernism, Albert Einstein that gave rise to a post modern concept: relativism.

World War 2 changed everything in the world. European politics shifted away from an aggressive approach, their previous attempts at international relations had failed greatly. America rose as a super power as a result of world war 2. The baby boom came as a result of world war 2. It was the 1960s that were the beginning of post modernism being voiced. World war 2 and relativism sowed the seeds of dissent. The Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam war were instrumental in causing many young westerners to seriously question the modernist world view of their politicians. Surely war had proven to not work. Surely the stubborn approach of politicians needed to be corrected. "Make love not war" became the catch cry of the hippy movement. A serious questioning of everything in society began.

The church was seen as part of the problem. Sadly there is a lot of truth in this,. The church saw questioning as bad. Their modernist world view said that they had the answers for everything. They understood everything in the Bible. All doctrine was formed. To question any doctrine or method or form was seen as a sin. Many hippies were completely rejected from the mainstream church. So they started their own churches. As much as secular society remembers the sexual revolution as a pillar of the 60s, the Jesus Revolution of the hippies in the 70s was the hippy response to the church.

Post modernism was only very embryonic in the 60s and 70s. Economics maintained a modernist hardline throughout the 70s and into the 80s. Many countries only began to float their currencies in the 80s. World views in societies do not change over night. They also shift at different rates in different countries. Certainly within the US there are certain geographic regions that are still very modernist in their world view. I know that western Canada is only just starting to be post modernist in the 21st century, at least 15 years behind Melbourne in Australia where I come from.

My own personal definition of post -modernism is this: It is ok to question everything, in fact it is healthy to question. For me, my personal questioning never questioned the existence of God or the reality of Christ's death and resurrection. I liken it to throwing a deck of cards up in the air and letting the cards fall as they may. Then each card is examined and determined as to whether it is valid or valuable. If it is determined invalid then it is discarded if it is determined valid then it is made a part of the new deck of cards. The new deck of cards will have some of the old cards but some new ones as well.

A personal grievance of my own was that so many people placed sanctity in the church in "form." It was important to people how church and Christianity was practiced. How many times a day do you read your Bible? How many church services do you go to? How many hymns are sung? What clothes should you wear to church? When I grew up the traditions and form seemed to be far more important than the actual meaning the form was supposed to represent. Post modernism for me has allowed me the opportunity to discard the "form", dig down, rescue the true "meaning" and give it freedom to breathe without the chains of the old "form." To me many churches in RS are completely chained by form and tradition and meaning itself is on life support.

People who are born from 1965 to 1985 are generally considered to a part of "Generation X." Gen X is also known as the "buster" generation. Those born 1945-65 are the "boomer" generation. Those born before 1945 are known as the "builder" generation. "Builders" are commonly very modernist in their world view. Boomers are commonly proto post-modernists. Gen X-ers have embraced post modernism with a frenzy. The next after Gen X 1985-2005 are known as "Generation Why?" of Gen Y. Gen X and Gen Y are both post modernists but have different approaches. I have Gen X friends who are still busting it all up. I think this needs to happen for a season but can not become a default position for life. The pieces need to be put back together at some stage. Gen Yers have more of a solution based approach and are positive about the world. Gen Xers are often known as the doom and gloom generation, a generation without hope. Of course Chrn-ity tackled from a Gen X perspective does not have to be doom and gloom. I am definitely Gen X in my approach to the world.

As I said though, people in Prairie Canada are only just discovering post modernism now and so are different to young urban Aussies. It remains to be seen what impact post modernism will have on the world. The Renaissance lasted a couple of centuries. The Enlightenment started in the 1700s and morphed into Modernism which has lasted until the end of the 20th century. These are dominant paradigms that can stay around for centuries. Is post-modernism the start of a new world paradigm or is it the epilogue to modernism? I think it has elements of both. Post-modernism is a paradigm between paradigms. The paradigm you have when you don't have a paradigm. It appears that a dominant paradigm that is being born from post-modernism is "pluralism."

Pluralism is the approach "you have my spirtuality, I have mine." This has come into liberal denominations, who say "we should let them be Buddhist of Hindu etc; why should we change their religion." One of the big reasons post modernism has arisen is that modernism failed to answer the questions of spirituality. Science can not tackle the questions of God. As much as many scientists wants to have the answers for all knowledge, they need to admit that science has its limits. This does not mean that science is not useful, it is simply restricted.

The post modernist is not afraid to talk about spirituality. The post modernist does not assume that they have all the answers. The post modernist is willing to explore and will always listen to the Chrn perspective even if they do not choose it. I have two friends who have left their Chrn faith behind. One is into many different spiritualities, yet still asks me to pray for him and still is open to Jesus being the answer. He is very post modern. Another rejected post-modernism and has gone back into a modernist world view and now holds closely to the precepts of atheism.

I would say from what you have told me that you currently do not sit very much within the post modern camp. I guess that maybe your parents were boomers? Boomers had some post-modern tendencies- they questioned some things i.e morality, war, politics; but left others alone. Post modernism is a more full blown questioning. Melody tells me that she doubts whether she is Gen X or possibly the next generation. Some sociologists have narrowed the boundaries to Gen X to only include up to 1980. My wife was born in 1979 and is on the cusp of these two generations. She seems more keen to find solutions than some of my friends who are still questioning ten years later. Myself, I went through a questioning phase of 6 years.

What I can say for certain is that our societies (overlapped) are in great flux. Western society is moving away from modernism. The middle eastern world have never even had a renaissance and they are in a very different place. You will probably find your self going through some kind of post modern experience at some point over the next decade. These ideas seem to hit different geographic regions at different times. Russia is not a place that has begun a post modern search yet. They are still trying to recapture their pre 1917 world view and are a bit confused in the process. I guess Russia is a very different kettle of fish.

The answer to what post modernism is will only be fully known within a couple more decades. It is still very much a movement in flux and full swing. Only when the dust settles will there be full clarity.

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