Friday, July 24, 2009

Pomo III

Pomo usefulness 'a' - Modernism

Can anything useful come from postmodernism? This highly skeptical, highly relative ideology - doesn't it seek to destroy the very fabric of our society? These are charges that you may have heard about postmodernism. The fear behind them lies in the power of the necessary critique postmodernism has given to modernity. In preparation for this post, I've found it hard to find a concrete definition of what modernism actually is. The simplest definition that I can come up with is this: the narrative of progress.

Modernism told a great story of progress, enlightenment, and development, and insisted that this story — in which, of course, the Western world of the eighteenth century and subsequently was the hero — be imposed on the rest of the world, in a secular version of the Christian missionary enterprise that was burgeoning at exactly that time. It is the belief that a scientific approach and the authority of reason can solve all problems.
In fact, modernism argues that the major problem in the world isn't evil or sin, but ignorance (a malaise solved be education). The world will keep getting better and better, as long as we continue our pursuit of economic wealth and the secularization of society.

The West's idolization of modern secular democracy saw the centralization of society under the nation states. In a country like France which had a rich heritage of several regional cultures this had severe repercussions including the death of such cultural diversity. And many far flung lands where brought to heel under Western commercial and imperial ambitions - all in the name of progress, of course. Modernity implied a narrative about the way the world was. It was essentially an eschatological story. World history had been steadily moving toward, or at least eagerly awaiting, the point at which the industrial revolution and the philosophical enlightenment would burst upon the world bringing a new era of blessing for all. This narrative did bring benefits and improvements. But it has been conclusively shown to be an oppressive, imperialist, and self-serving construct. It has brought untold misery to millions in the industrialized West, and to billions in the rest of the world, where cheap labor and raw materials have been ruthlessly exploited. It is a story that serves the interest of Western industrial capitalism.

This story has also played havoc with the church. Under the guises of liberalism and Marxism (Marxism is the story of progress from aristocrats to the bourgeois and ultimately the dictatorship of the proletariat), Christianity was excluded from the public space. Irrational, irrelevant and out of date. Instead of these superstitions, we should be rationally lead by reason and logic. Science - the great herald of progress - became the greatest virtue of all. God was banished from the public discourse - the humans were no in charge and through their intellect nothing was impossible. The result being modernism has simply removed Christians who stood in stood in it's way, either by killing them or by attacking they're credibility and treating them like a cult.

In this instance, the enemy of our enemy is our friend. Postmodernism declares that all such large stories — “metanarratives” — are destructive and enslaving, and must be deconstructed. The pomo attack the gospel denying modernism is useful for us. Postmodernism is a necessary critique of modernity. But the current problem is that though the postmodern turn in philosophy and culture has sneered at the great modernist imperial dream, it hasn’t been able to shake it. We live in a time where modernity and postmodernity refer not so much to a datable chronological period but more to two different moods and controlling narratives. Our world is both modern and postmodern. And I don't see this changing for sometime. We can not go back to being just modern. And could postmodernism survive without the thing is it critiquing? The two ideas have become utterly dependent on each other.

It is into this 'vacuum' that Christianity must step in and be a light to the world. Like Paul, we must be ready to give a good account of our faith. The story he tells certainly is a grand overarching narrative, beginning with Israel and reaching out to embrace the world, but it is a story that leaves no human being, organization, or ethnic group in a position of power over others. It is the Jewish story, but it is not the typical Jew who says, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me.” This is the story precisely of how those who were kept as second-class citizens are now welcomed in on equal terms. This is a metanarrative like no other.

1 comment:

Mike Bull said...

Modernism, like feminism and communism, simply replaced the old exploitation with a new exploitation. Postmodernism doesn't even have this to offer. Postmodernism is not a system in itself. It is just a critique, which is why it can't "shake off" modernism. As you say, it is helpful in exposing the cracks in modernism so we can inject the gospel, the only true builder of cultures.