Tag Archives: Religion & Spirituality

The Postmodern Age and the Decline of Western Spiritual Meaning

Adam and Eve Driven out of Eden, by Gustave Do...Postmodernism:  A general and wide-ranging term which is applied to literature, art, philosophy, architecture, fiction, and cultural and literary criticism, among others. Postmodernism is largely a reaction to the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality. In essence, it stems from a recognition that reality is not simply mirrored in human understanding of it, but rather, is constructed as the mind tries to understand its own particular and personal reality. For this reason, postmodernism is highly skeptical of explanations which claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races, and instead focuses on the relative truths of each person. In the postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually. Postmodernism relies on concrete experience over abstract principles, knowing always that the outcome of one’s own experience will necessarily be fallible and relative, rather than certain and universal.

Postmodernism is “post” because it is denies the existence of any ultimate principles, and it lacks the optimism of their being a scientific, philosophical, or religious truth which will explain everything for everybody – a characteristic of the so-called “modern” mind. The paradox of the postmodern position is that, in placing all principles under the scrutiny of its skepticism, it must realize that even its own principles are not beyond questioning. As the philosopher Richard Tarnas states, postmodernism “cannot on its own principles ultimately prove itself any more than can the various metaphysical overviews against which the postmodern mind has defined itself.” (Postmodernism)

Postmodernism: — a state of mind or way of thinking in the post-modern world affecting every area of western culture

A general understanding reveals that postmodernism is a term that has gained popularity in scholarly writing as well as casual conversations. In fact, Thomas Guarino (1996) says, “It’s a “movement” that has inspired raging debates about ‘the cult theory’ [in the 1930’s] across the arts and sciences” (p. 654). One of the core issues of postmodern philosophy is the denial of absolutes across groups and lends itself to logical positivism and relativity as a maxim of truth.  As a result, the intention of this article about postmodernism is not to solve the debate, but to understand the influence that state of mind held has upon contemporary beliefs about spirituality.

What Does  Postmodernism Describe?

A description given by Daniel J. Adams (1997) says, “The postmodern era can best be understood in terms of four major characteristics: the decline of the West, the legitimation crisis, the intellectual marketplace, and the process of deconstruction” (Toward a theological understanding of postmodernism).

The perspective of Adams demonstrates is a fundamental shift in thinking in this period that began in a specific era of  time and is associated with significant phenomenon occurring simultaneously in Western Culture that is characterized with the period of decline of spirituality. His analysis of Western Decline draws attention to a point of view that is fundamental to an evolution of spiritual meaning that has correlates to historical-cultural development.  To illustrate, Adams (1997) says, “the legitimation crisis, identified with metanarrative shows [what] is now being seriously called into question” (2). Unlimited development and capitalistic movement in American ideology versus environmental pollution, limited resources, concerns about nuclear proliferation—use of energy, environmental threats, third world poverty, and the goals of the NAFTA have deligitimated descriptions that had characterized capitalism and the past success of the West. Postmodern thinking is characterized by a shift in state of mind about core beliefs that are delegitimized in an essential devaluation of past matters of importance.

Adams, draws attention to another significant development correlated to Western Decline the, “metanarrative of Judeo-Christian sexual ethic” (p. 2)  characterizing American culture.  His perspective identifies the shift of views about sexuality chastity, homosexuality, marriage, divorce, and traditional view of marriage as another deconstructed normative value in culture. With Judeo-Christian ethics disempowered from authoritative acceptance, norms from the past are replaced with a plurality of views with no central source of knowledge or universally held value to describe a way of life experience in America. Deligitimation in postmodern life of the Judeo Christian ethic demonstrates changing beliefs about marriage, sexual behavior, and accepted norms indicate a shifting emphasis from the views of the past.

A perspective about the impact of postmodernism upon Christian thought is offered by David Couchman (2002) who describes how mind-set has been altered, he states: “if you drop a frog into boiling water, it will jump out immediately, but if you put it in cold water and heat it slowly, you can boil it alive because it does not realize what is happening. … We think we know what is going on, while the culture in which we are immersed is slowly killing us without our realizing it” (Couchman, 2002, p. p. 74). Thus the effect of postmodernism is not readily recognize because culture has been inoculated in a gradual process of change that has brought dramatic change in the decline of western thought about many important cultural issues that have placed a profound effect upon spiritual values and beliefs in the 21st century.

References Adams, D. L. (1997). Toward a theological understanding of postmodernism. Retrieved March 30, 2011, from Crosscurrents: http://crosscurrents.orh/adams.html

Couchman, D. (2002). Facing the challenge of our times equipping christians to respond biblically and effectively to postmodernism. Evangel , 20 (3), pp. 74-78 retrieved from EBSCOhost March 09, 2011.

Guarino, T. (1996). Postmodernity and five fundamental theological issues [electronic version]. Theological Studies , 57 (4), Retrieved from EBSCOhost March 30,2011.

Postmodernism. http://www.pbs.org/faithandreason/gengloss/postm-body.html

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Timeless Truth: Where there is no Truth anything is Right Part 2

In today’s spiritual climate, it is more important than ever to settle in your mind the principles that you are going believe and to live on.

An important question for Christians answer is about what statements or values  are going to hold your life up and define meaning in a world with few absolutes?

In the words of A.W. Tozer a life without essential truths disables the ability to know anything for sure. He says, “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark.  Dark would be without meaning”

The reason that this is important to Christians and non-Christians is that the lines of meaning blur so selectively.  In the 21st century, the milieu of popular ideals about tolerance advocates open-mindedness about everything except definable truth about God.  Fanky Schaeffer, points out the unbalanced way that tolerance applies to Christians in contrast to other groups, sects, and ways of life and makes this point about inequity very clearly.  He says, “The secular humanist, although he would never dream of committing the social faux pas of calling a black man a negro, feels perfectly free to castigate Christians and their leaders in any way he likes”.  The disparity in this point of view is indicative of a one-sided tolerance that is demanded like the men of Sodom beating on the doors of Lot’s house who demanded the right to corrupt God’s messengers who came to rescue Lot and his family.  Consequently, the point that Schaeffer makes draws attention to cultural blindness that has become so darkened that the moral darkness has lost its meaning without something to define a tangible reality.

One of the important questions to ask is what is the difference between the modern age that we live in now and the postmodern age? 

In the modern age, the first half of the 19th century; truth was discussed, debated, and even fought over, because it brought meaning to existence.  In contrast, in the postmodern age, many people do not even believe there is such a thing as timeless truth. A significant difference is the great presence of darkness and the absence of a paradigm to give a spiritual voice to the great issues of the times that is balanced against truth apart from humanism, sociology, and cultural anthropology.  As a result,  the way we are already seeing that in 21st century  culture today is how the personal nature of truth is applied without balance.  For instance, What is right for you may be wrong for me.  What is right for me may be wrong for you.  What is true for you may not be true for these people.  There is no such thing as truth.  It is just a figment of your imagination.  It is all an illusion.

You may hear people say things like “there are no absolutes.  Therefore, there is no absolute right and there is no absolute wrong in anything.  It’s just what you want it to be.”  The message that resonates is that there is never anything that is sure and there is never anything absolutely wrong –perception and cultural relativity and the great diviners or truth. As a result, whenever I hear someone say that there are no timeless principles of truth, I want to say, “Are you absolutely sure?  That statement in itself is an absolute –it is a circular argument.

We are living in a generation where many people feel like tolerance is more important that truth

The rationale goes something like this; you do not have to tell the truth you just have to be tolerant of every behavior as an acceptable choice no matter what absolutes may be in question.  As a result, the supreme value today is not truth, but tolerance based upon group-think or collaboration without a standard, authority, or voice that stands apart from cultural relativityTolerance has become the new absolute truth for a culture that has no absolutes.

In today’s culture when you decide to say, “Here are some principles to live by, ” this is always right and this is always wrong”, you are going to wear the labeled of a bigot, hater, or as intolerant.  The moment that anyone has the courage to stand up and express the personal conviction that says something is right or wrong as a Christian value,  then you’re labeled a fundamentalist, a bigot, a nutcase of some kind.

There is something more important than tolerance –Truth

In fact, it is not tolerance that sets you free –It is truth that sets you free.  The only way to refute ignorance is with information that is balanced and just at the same time.  A truth to consider is that you can be very easy, tolerant and at the same time build your life on a total lie at the same time.   Something to think about is that if there is no such thing as truth, then …
One, there is no basis for any law because there is nothing universally moral to base it upon 

Truth that is relative to the person and is a matter of personal opinion and based on mores’, current societal values, or personal feelings of entitlement.  To illustrate the absurdity of this position imagine think about this: If you are driving down the freeway and somebody wants to blow you away in a drive-by shooting, is that ok, because it was “right for them, felt good, or was acceptable in a special class of people?”  Obviously, a sound conclusion that is well  supported by rational thinking is if there is no universal basis for laws that govern or prohibit identifiable behaviors deemed as wrong there is no moral truth in the culture that is timeless or universal.  Therefore, without a moral standard of timeless, universal principles if somebody wants to take your life they have a right to based on this premise.

Why?  …  When there is no such thing as timeless universal truth, the only thing to balance life is what feels normative in human experience.

Two, if there is no such thing as truth, then else nothing matters 

 There is no meaning in existence, there is no significance, and you do not matter.  The absence of universal value actually reduces the personal importance of individual life.  A conclusion could be that humans are are no more than  primordial ooze that evolved through millions of years by accident into a social setting that is called life existence.

Three, if there is no such thing as truth then there is no solid ground in life.

If it is just a matter of “that’s your opinion; let’s just get along”, then you have absolutely no principled way of forming a solid foundation from which to base your life values to reflect a Christian worldview. Using tolerance as the diviner of truth reduces Christianity to being a vassal of pseudo-intellectualism imposed by the popular views of secular social beliefs within groups as norms.  A fundamental question for Christians relates to the foundation that is chosen to build life existence upon.

Jesus told a story at the end of the Sermon on the Mount that speaks about a firm foundation.

Jesus told a story about two builders that illustrates the choices. He said, two people went out and built homes.  One person built his home on shifting sand.  Moreover, when the storms came along, that are a inevitable part of life, and the rains hit it and the winds battered it; the house fell apart because it had no solid foundation to stand upon.

However, there was a person that Jesus labeled as wise, who built his house on solid rock, a solid foundation.  As the story goes, the winds came and the storms blew, the rains came down; it remained solid because it had a stable foundation. 

The moral of the story is that people need principles to live by to make life secure.  One of the challenges in the 21st Century climate of culture is that stability is quickly washing because a firm footing has blurred the lines of truth so dramatically and has been replaced with popular opinions of a pagan world that is spinning reality to match social phenomenon.  In the world where we live, Almost every institution in our culture is crumbling.  Our government is grid locked and paralyzed with ineffectiveness. The net effect is that church has been put in a reactionary position while the men of Sodom are pounding on the door demanding the right to corrupt the messenger of God.

A symptom of the absence of absolute beliefs about morality is the symptomatic pattern of evil that abounds in the world. In the land of the free –America, there are more metal detectors in schools than there are in airports and jails combined.  What does that indicate about the absence of values and principles in a society that has reduced the importance of absolute values to the doctrine of tolerance without balance.

In a society where things are crumbling all around us, how do you have hope?  How do you be optimistic without truth to balance life?

The answer is in what Jesus said, “Everyone who hears My words and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”  To be on the rock and have a solid foundation  The point to take from the teaching of Jesus is that the Christian church needs principles of truth to live by to provide a solid foundation to live effectively