The Seduction of Postmodernism

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The seduction is complete. When it comes to politics, entertainment, sexuality, gender, education, and religion, the entire concept of "truth" has been reduced to little more than individual opinion and/or societal consensus. While there may be a few hold-outs clinging to traditional thought or old-fashioned mores, the prevailing consensus in most of western society is that truth is relative and must evolve to serve the desires of each person and/or generation. Douglas Groothuis, author of Truth Decay, writes that "the very idea of absolute, objective and universal truth is considered implausible, held in open contempt or not even seriously considered."

Lest we underestimate the significance of this "truth decay," Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl argue that the infection has decimated our very sense of moral awareness. In their book Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air, Beckwith and Koukl write: "Ours is a generation that has institutionalized moral relativism. We've cut our eye-teeth on the philosophy that life's most sublime goal is to be happy and that virtually any means justifies this self-serving end."

If Groothuis, Beckwith, and Koukl are correct in describing our culture (and I believe they are), then the reality is clear: postmodernism and relativism have won. Their victory is complete. They reign supreme throughout western culture and society, and their reign is not likely to end anytime soon, if ever.

Postmodernism represents skepticism toward and/or a "deconstruction" of traditionally accepted definitions, interpretations, assumptions, and/or approaches in culture, history, art, architecture, philosophy, religion, and more. Jean-François Lyotard, a 20th century French philosopher and sociologist, is widely regarded as one of the most articulate champions of postmodernism and the man who helped popularize the term itself. In his landmark 1979 book The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, Lyotard provided perhaps the best succinct definition of postmodernism. "Simplifying to the extreme," wrote Lyotard, "I define postmodern as incredulity towards metanarratives."

For Lyotard and other postmodernist thinkers, it's impossible to arrive at any kind of external, universal, grand narrative or worldview. For postmodernists, the attempt to express such a "metanarrative" (one that constitutes any kind of universal or binding truth or accuracy) is doomed from the start -- given human bias, the limitations of language, the stories and traditions of various cultures and ethnic groups, and so forth. Not only is the pursuit of truth impossibly difficult, but postmodernists maintain that truth itself simply does not exist in any kind of meaningful, external sense. To the postmodernist, truth isn't simply relative. It's not even worth talking about. And any attempt to push or "impose" some kind of universal or binding truth claim is intolerant or discriminatory.

How pervasive is this perspective? Very. We live in a postmodern world, and most westerners are living with a postmodernist mindset even if they don't think of themselves as "postmodernist." And it's been this way for some time. 

In his classic The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom described how postmodernism, by the 1980s, had captured the hearts and minds of young people throughout America. Bloom wrote: "There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative. If this belief is put to the test, one can count on the students' reaction: they will be uncomprehending." What Bloom said of American university students a quarter century ago is true of virtually all Americans today, particularly those under the age of 40. And, in some parts of America (like, say, California, the Pacific Northwest or much of New England), it applies to people over 40 too!

What makes postmodernism so irresistibly seductive is that it slides its way into our consciousness, making itself so comfortable and so well entrenched that we are virtually unable to examine it with any scrutiny. And even if we could, postmodernism, with its promise that we create our own truth and thus determine our own destiny, is much too enticing for the average person to resist. As a result, writes Groothuis, truth is no longer "over and above us, something that can be conveyed across cultures and over time. It is inseparable from our cultural conditioning, our psychology, our race, and our gender. At the end of the day, truth is simply what we, as individuals and as communities, make it to be - and nothing more." 

The reality is most Americans and indeed most westerners have fully absorbed postmodernist thinking. Accordingly, we now live in a postmodern world. 

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