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FIRST-PERSON: Trying (and failing) to make sense of postmodernism

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) — Once upon a time if a person sincerely believed he or she was born the wrong sex, the person would be deemed to have a psychological disorder, urged to seek psychiatric help. Not anymore.

These days if a person believes he or she was born the wrong sex, the person is encouraged to live out whatever is believed to be true. Not only that, the person is further encouraged to correct nature’s mistake by undergoing radical, reconstructive surgery and hormone therapy.

This is one of the best illustrations of how postmodern thought and its subjective nature has affected America, as well as the whole of western civilization. And let me say: Postmodern philosophy is easier illustrated than it is explained.

Space will not allow a detailed history of postmodernism. It is generally accepted to have been conceived in the early 20th century. Trickling down from the ivory towers of academia, it grew in popularity in the 1950s and saturated literature and art in the 1960s. Postmodern thought now influences almost every aspect of popular culture to at least some degree.

Understanding and explaining postmodern philosophy is a bit like trying to nail Jello-O to a tree. All adherents do not agree, but they generally fall into one of two categories. Some postmodern thinkers claim there is no such thing as absolute, objective truth. Others assert that absolute, object truth may exist but that it cannot be known.

No matter how you slice postmodernism, though, absolute, objective truth is deemed irrelevant. In a postmodern world, the individual constructs his or her own truth.

The very nature of postmodern thought makes it a rather confusing subject to address. Consider the comments of Umberto Eco, professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna in Italy:

“I think of the postmodern attitude as that of a man who loves a very cultivated woman and knows that he cannot say to her ‘I love you madly,’ because he knows that she knows (and that she knows he knows) that these words have already been written by Barbara Cartland. Still there is a solution. He can say ‘As Barbara Cartland would put it, I love you madly.’ At this point, having avoided false innocence, having said clearly it is no longer possible to talk innocently; he will nevertheless say what he wanted to say to the woman: that he loves her in an age of lost innocence.”

Confused? Let’s try another one. “There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false,” said Harold Pinter, English author and recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature in 2005.

How did we get to the place where truth is subjective, nothing is true or false, where no one is allowed to pass judgment and where believing you have been born the wrong sex is just a variation of normal?

I believe parsing an old saying can help to understand the current state of popular culture. The saying is, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”

If you take the first and last portions of the saying, you have the traditional and/or Christian understanding of truth: “God said it; that settles it.” Once, a consensus in society accepted truth as absolute, objective and residing outside the individual. Its source was widely accepted to be God and His Word.

Along came those who rejected the idea of objective truth. They said, “God said, I believe it.” Truth became relative to the individual. Neo-orthodox theology introduced the idea that the Bible is not God’s Word; it only contains God’s Word.

Those who held to the idea of objective truth could still debate the nature of truth with those who believed truth to be relative, because truth was something that both sought outside themselves. It was accepted by both that God was still the source of truth. As such, there remained much agreement, especially truth as it related to morality.

Then along came those who rejected both the objective and relativistic view of truth. They said, “I believe it; that settles it.” God, in their mind, was no longer the source of truth. Instead, truth was deemed to be subjective. Truth was not something to be discovered, it was to be declared by the individual.

In the postmodern world, the individual is the source of truth — no matter how absurd that truth may seem. And since the idea of absolute truth is rejected, everyone’s truth is said to be equally valid and thus must be respected and accepted.

In the postmodern world there is only one unpardonable sin, one absolute if you will, and that is refusing to accept another’s truth because you cling to the belief of objective truth. Sounds a bit hypocritical doesn’t it? But you see postmodern thinkers don’t have to deal with hypocrisy. They can simply choose to believe it doesn’t exist.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message www.baptistmessage.com , newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Kelly Boggs