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TY 170

16 Feb. 2009

In A Primer on Postmodernism, Stanley J. Grenz summarizes postmodernism, informs the reader of its origin, and compares this concept with Christian views.  I enjoyed reading this book for the most part.  I really enjoyed learning more about the world I am living in and the worldviews many people in my generation hold.  I would recommend this book to anyone searching to understand more about postmodernism or anyone seeking to understand more about the views of many people of this generation.

To understand postmodernism, one must understand how it came to be and from where it originated.  Before postmodernism existed, modernism was the common worldview of the time.  Modernism is thought to have begun at the start of the Enlightenment (2).  Before the Enlightenment era was the Renaissance in which humankind was viewed as the center of reality (2).  The Enlightenment then placed the individual human at the center (2).

“It became the goal of the human intellectual quest to unlock the secrets of the universe in order to master nature for human benefit and create a better world” (3).  Reason, modernists believe, is the way truth is reached; truth is found in the world around us.  I agree with this.  I believe that the world around us tells us of its author, who is truth itself.

“… The modern mind assumes that knowledge is certain, objective, and good [and] that… knowledge is accessible to the human mind” (4).  Because knowledge was viewed as being “accessible”, I think there was a greater search for truth and therefore a greater unity among humans in searching for this truth than there is now in the postmodern world.

Post-modernistic ideas go beyond the ideas of modernism, and postmodernists reject modernistic ideas.  Instead of focusing on the individual, as modernism did, postmodernism emphasizes the group (14).  Truth is thought to be socially constructed (38).  Truth is no longer viewed as being reached by reason or through the world we live in, rather by our feelings and the society in which we live (14).

This causes an individual “to be less concerned… to think systematically or logically” (15).  I think it causes one to think less for oneself and rely more on the beliefs of society.  At the same time, the individual becomes more able to believe what one wants to believe without consequence because this view is not only accepted but encouraged by society.  It is encouraged by this post-modernistic society to find one’s own truth.

The way I understand postmodernism is that it is a belief that all beliefs are right, yet no beliefs are right.  Truth is viewed as being relative to the person who holds the belief.  One person’s truth may be different from another’s according to post-modernity; as long as one does not try to change the other, the other will not try to change the one.  This, I believe, leads to disunity.  When a society holds the belief that there is no absolute truth, the search for truth becomes lacking.

Postmodernists believe truth is relative to the community in which the individual lives (14).  “And since there are many human communities, there are necessarily many different truths.  Most postmodernists make the leap of believing that this plurality of truths can exist alongside one another” (14).  I find it very difficult to believe that more than one truth could exist at once.  If two things are truth, I do not see how it would be possible for either one to actually be truth.

Postmodernists notice that everyone is different, and they very much admire diversity (19).  I believe diversity is emphasized to a fault by postmodern thinkers.  Differences, it seems, are looked for.  This leads to a sense of disunity.  Diversity is good; we are all made with differences, but we are all similar in many ways as well.  These similarities seem to be pushed to the side while postmodernists try to emphasize diversity as well as try not to offend others by imposing their beliefs on others.

I like the way Foucault explains this focus on diversity.  “The postmodern philosopher Michel Foucault offers a name for this centerless postmodern universe: ‘heterotopia’. … The architects of modernity sought to design the one perfect human society in which peace, justice, and love would reign – utopia.  Postmoderns no longer dream of utopia.  In its place they can offer only the incommensurable diversity of the postmodern heterotopia, the ‘multiverse’ that has replaced the universe of the modern quest” (20).

As this center becomes nonexistent, societies seem to have less in common because the differences are focused on; the only thing they have in common is the place in which they live (19-20).  This disunity is not good for getting tasks accomplished within a society.  If one does not see any similarities with another, they are much less likely to help out in the place in which they live.  This may lead to more than just disunity; it may lead to disorder.

“No clear shared focus unites the diverse and divergent elements of postmodern society into a single whole.  There are no longer any common standards to which people can appeal in their efforts to measure, judge, or value ideas, opinions, or lifestyle choices…” (19). This can become dangerous.  If there is no absolute truth, there becomes no universal law by which to live.  With no universal law and multiple truths relative to the individual society, laws become much less useful.

Postmodernists believe that “Different groups of people construct different ‘stories’ about the world they encounter.  These different languages, in turn, facilitate different ways of experiencing life” (42-43).  I agree with this in that, based on society, one’s upbringing, one’s religion, and multiple other factors, one will create one’s own belief system and way of viewing the world around them.  These views and beliefs will affect the way one interprets things that happen in one’s life as well as the way one reacts to these experiences.

I do not, however, believe that each belief system and way of viewing the world is truth.  I believe there is an absolute truth and the purpose of the human is to seek the truth.  In the search for truth, there may be many interpretations of the truth which do not in any way detract from the one truth.  “We affirm that certain aspects of truth lie beyond reason and cannot be fathomed by reason” (166).

Postmodernists hold only one worldview, and that is that there is no one worldview (40).  They deny a “unified world” and say there are many coexisting truths (40).  Grenz says, “By replacing the modern worldview with a multiplicity of views and worlds, the postmodern era has in effect replaced knowledge with interpretation” (40).

Postmodernists reject metanarratives and in doing so, create a metanarrative of their own (164).  Postmodernists oppose “unified, all-encompassing, and universally valid explanations” (12).  Postmodernist reject metanarratives because they view them as including some while excluding others.  They therefore seek to create one metanarrative, where no one is excluded.  I like what Grenz says in response to this postmodern view: “Our world is more than a collection of incompatible and competing [meta] narratives” (164).  He also agrees with the Christian conclusion that people “do fit together into a single grand narrative, the story of humankind” (164).  Grenz recognizes humanity’s similarities instead of just their differences.  “There is a single metanarrative encompassing all peoples and all times” (164).

Postmodernists believe that all views of the world are useful, but that none of them are absolutely true (43).  They also believe that one cannot escape one’s “constructions of reality” (43).  I believe all beliefs are useful in that they all have an element of truth in them, and can therefore lead us to a better understanding of the truth.  I believe that one can change one’s beliefs and will do so when they find a belief they view as being closer to the truth.  I do not think that one would believe what one believes if they did not view it as being the truth.  However, just because one views it as truth does not make it in fact truth.  As one seeks truth, I believe one’s beliefs will change, hopefully growing closer to knowing the one truth.

I like how Grenz includes comparisons between literature and the world.  He says that poststructuralists believe that “meaning is not inherent in a text itself” (6).  According to poststructuralists, the meaning of a text is only found when one reads the text; the meaning of the text depends on the one reading it (6).  Because of this, there becomes many meanings for the same text; the meaning depends not only on the one reading the text but also when and where the individual reads it (6).

“Postmodern philosophers applied the theories of the literary deconstructionists to the world as a whole.  Just as a text will be read differently by each reader, they said, so reality will be ‘read’ differently by each knowing self that encounters it.  This means that there is no one meaning of the world, no transcendent center to reality as a whole” (6).

I disagree with such poststructuralists and postmodern philosophers.  I believe the meaning of a text is determined by its author.  Although the way the text is interpreted and how the information is applied to one’s life depends upon the reader, there is one ultimate meaning.  This ultimate meaning is the author’s original meaning.   So, too, the meaning of the world and everything in the world is determined by its author.

The way one understands the world and the way these ideas are applied to one’s life depends on the person.  This, however, does not change the ultimate meaning of the world as a whole.  The true meaning of a text, or the world, cannot be fully understood unless one knows where the author is coming from.  Texts, as well as the world, also reveal who the author is.

Whereas modernists sought “human benefit and [to] create a better world”, postmodernists seem to lack hope (3).  “For the first time in recent history, the emerging generation does not share the conviction of their parents that the world is becoming a better place in which to live” (13).  I find this lack of hope in the future very depressing.  If there is no hope in a better future, there seems to be much less reason to live and basically no reason to attempt to make things better in the world.

Besides this lack of hope, postmodernism poses some other conflicts to Christianity.  Postmodernists believe in a centerless world while Christians believe Jesus Christ is the center.  Grenz says, “In contrast to postmodern thought, we believe that there is a unifying center to reality.  More specifically, we acknowledge that this center has appeared in Jesus of Nazareth, who is the eternal Word present among us” (164).

Postmodernists believe multiple truths can coexist.  Christianity, however, says different beliefs, different people, can coexist but there is only one truth.  Christianity does not view truth as relative and based on an individual’s intuitions or feelings.  It does not view truth as socially constructed.  It views truth as being found in Christ Jesus who is truth himself; Christianity views truth as being constructed by God.

I believe that only God can fully know and understand the truth.  I believe that the Catholic Church is the representation of the fullness of truth known to man because it was founded by Jesus Christ who is both man and God himself.  I do believe, however, that every religion contains parts of the truth.  Humans seek to know and understand the truth.  In this search for truth, everyone may have a different interpretation of it.  However, each interpretation of the truth does not change the absolute truth.

In a postmodern world, humans become disunified by embracing each other’s differences much more so than necessary.  Christianity recognizes humanity’s differences as well as their similarities, saying “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12).

“Postmoderns contend that we can no longer reasonably hold out the prospect of discovering the one, universal symbolic world that unites humanity at a level deeper than that of our apparent differences” (42).  Christianity provides hope, however, in its belief that there is a universal truth.  This universal truth unites us.  It helps us to realize we have many similarities in addition to our differences.

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