Saturday, July 04, 2009

Pomo

Postmodernism. The word is enough to send shivers down some peoples spines. For others it's not so much a shiver but a long groan. And for others there is nothing sweeter or better than post modernity. I've believe the same attitudes are alive in the church. Same people will tell you that the greatest danger facing the church today is the rise of postmodernism - it is the great evil of the age. Others will tell you that the hope and future of the church lies down the path of the postmodernists.

Being a good Anglican, I want to avoid both extremities. I think that postmodernism has some helpful ideas that the church should grapple and engage with - the quest for justice, community and authenticity for starters. And I think that there are some things within post modernity that the church must hold fast on and say no, such as the apathy and ambiguity ingrained into today's pomo culture. And when this is all said and down, there are some valuable things that the could church to pick up- narrative, and an ally against that great enemy of the church: modernism.

There is an urgency in all this. It's very easy to dismiss pomo, and even claim that we've moved on - we're post post modern - which I think is such a post modern thing to say. What I have think has happened is that post modernism started off as an academic critique of modernism in literature, history, justice etc in the mid 20th century. From that time it has slowly worked it's way through our culture and society until today - where it now is part of our social conscience.

And the urgency is that this is no more true than in today's 'gen y' and 'gen z'. These are generations where post modernism has been ingrained into their very fibre. So over he coming weeks I'm planning to post about some helpful things in post modernism, some not so helpful things, and how the church should respond to this. And I'm keen to hear what you have to say about all this - so feel free to comment.

14 comments:

timothy said...

Hey Matt,

Sounds interesting! Looking forward to reading the rest of your posts. The initial idea that Christianity can share with postmodernism the rejection of modernity is a view I first heard espoused by 'he-who-must-not-be-named' and is a very attractive one to me.

It is interesting to note that very few academic philosophers would embrace the label postmodern, whereas a number of social critics and public intellectual see their whole mission of bring pomo to bear on soceity. Another example of the gap between society and the academy? Or the way in which what happens in the academy happens in society 30 years later!

Matthew Moffitt said...

Hey Timothy.

Yes it's interesting isn't it that postmodern ideas have become so widespread in our society; yet I don't know who anyone who's prepared to die for postmodernism.

It's probably worth mentioning that modernity did some good things for the church. But it was in the pursuit of modernist ideology that so many Christians died in the 20th century...

timothy said...

This is tim smartt by the way - i don't know why it only displayed me somewhat dubiously as 'timothy'.

I don't follow you when you say that many Christians dies for modernist ideology. what do you mean?

Matthew Moffitt said...

Yeah, I guessed it was you Tim Smartt.

I don't follow you when you say that many Christians dies for modernist ideology. what do you mean?

Sorry - I meant that many Christians in the 20th century died at the hands of regimes driven by a modernest agenda (i.e. Christians martyred by communists etc.). Does that make sense.

timothy said...

Hey Matt, glad to see you read between the lines :)

I suspected that is what you meant (do you also include the Nazi's in that generalization?) but I just don't quite buy it. I think the American project of the 20thC is much more 'modernist' than the USSR or Nazi Germany. After all, Heidegger is often hailed as one of the great pomo's and he felt pretty at home in Nazi Germany.

And if you look at philosophers today who still wave the modernist flag (most obviously Kantians like Jurgen Habermas and the late John Rawls) their projects are fundamentally liberal in content, and often include denounciations of attrocities committed in the name of modernism as 'not really modernism'.

I take issue with this because there is a popular tendancey to read intellectual history as progressing clearly from Kant---> Hegel---> Marx ---> modernist political oppression.

I think all i'm saying is that to lump totalitarian regimes of 20thC together with modernist ideology is to paint to simple of a political picture of the contribution of modernity. After all, hallmarks of Kant and Hegel's thought, and subseuently modernist thought, have been republicanism, freedom and toleration.

Matthew Moffitt said...

Thanks Tim, loving your contribution! :)

I take your point. I was a little hesitant myself about lumping the Soviets and Nazi's into the same basket as Western liberals.

I don't want to read history as you've described: Kant---> Hegel---> Marx ---> modernist political oppression.

But modernity as defined by republicanism, freedom and toleration is not the complete picture of modernity There is also colonialism and imperialism. And I feel OK in labeling the communists and Nazi's of the 20th century as modernists because scientifically and economically they were both largely modernist in their approach - particularly in the way that the Nazi's appropriated Darwinian thought to support their ideology. And Marxian thought, as much as it has descended Rousseau and the French Revolution, is a modernist idea about modern states.

But push back at me if I've oversimplified things (I'm sure I have).

tdix said...

Hey Moff. Interesting post.

I remember a postmodern lecturer at uni talking about post-irony. Perhaps saying we live in a post-postmodern world is post-ironic?

But on a more serious note, the extent to which we engage and the way we engage with the spirit of the times is a huge issue.

I have recently been thinking about a related issue. What does it mean to "be all things" to pomo people? E.g. how can you be all things to a group of educated, cynical Balmainiacs? How do you do "community" without compromising?

I hope that's not too off topic.

Matthew Moffitt said...

Hey Tdix, that's exactly on topic.

In these posts I'm going to being focused primarily on the pomo culture that has arisen amongst our generation.

Do you have any ideas on how to reach educated, cynical Balmainiacs?

tdix said...

Hmmm. Nothing to present here although I work with a couple so I think about it a fair bit.

duncandrews said...

Hey Matt,
Thanks for this. I think you're right to avoid the extremes, even if you are just being Anglican...

But I reckon the shiver/groan response seems to be much more common in Christian circles, at least the ones I'm in. I wonder if, on the whole, we should be far more positive about the contributions of post modernism, especially in its skepticism towards cultural meta-narratives. I guess where Christians stand apart is their insistence that, as opposed to all other narratives, there is one great narrative that is objective and true and trustworthy, the gospel of Jesus.

Thoughts?

Matthew Moffitt said...

Thanks Duncan - spot on, and that's where I'm hoping to go with this. There are some other things in postmodernism (and some unhelpful things), but the focus on narrative is really helpful. We have a metanarrative. Yet uniquely, this one is not a power play; Jesus came to serve and not to be served, and laid down his life for many.

What does this mean for us? Well, and this will tie in with what I'm blogging about preaching, we can't just preach a serious of theological or philosophical propositions. We need to understand narrative and preach it well (I've been helped in my thinking here by the likes of Tom Wright, Richard Bauckham and Kevin Vanhoozer).

Thoughts?

duncandrews said...

"We need to understand narrative and preach it well"
Totally. And, we need to understand the stories of our cultures (including our church cultures), to speak with any resonance and power, and to bring those narratives into submission under the great narrative of Scripture.

Matthew Moffitt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew Moffitt said...

You bet! 'Taking every thought captive to obey Christ' springs to my mind.

The application I feel is that: 1. we need to understand culture and know how to interpret it, AND 2. we need to have a deep commitment to biblical theology and bring this to fruition on point 1.