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Christianity and Postmodernism: a Comprehensive Comparison

The society of today is at a stage that is ultimately defined by a structure so complex that it is no more perceivable by traditional means. Crucial changes to the fabric of human societies entail a mental paradigm shift that is first recognized by the cultural figures and later on spread into the masses, therefore becoming dominant doctrines, qualified for the title of zeitgeist. Obviously, the new ideology is unable to suit everyone, and older ways of perception persist, evolving along with the new ones. In this sense, a grand appeal to a sociology researcher lies in the study of exactly how these ideologies clash; and whether a symbiotic relationship is even possible. For that matter, it is of immense interest to study Christian theology alongside Postmodernism; such a difference that these two worldviews possess does allow for a synergy to some extent as will be seen later. These worldviews will be assessed using Myers and Noebel’s “Ten Ways of Looking at the World” matrix.

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In order to conduct such comparison, it is of vital importance to make fundamental concepts clear. According to Myers and Noebel (2015), a worldview is “a pattern of ideas, beliefs convictions, and habits” (p. 285). Thus, a Christian theological worldview is inherently different from than of a Postmodernist, even in context of their structure and which means they are utilizing in order to construct their respective realities. For instance, Christians believe, first and foremost, in the presence of God – and that he reveals himself through nature and through the Holy Bible. The view of Postmodernism is more multifaceted and complicated.

Through acknowledging the presence of bias in every worldview that promises to describe reality accurately, the anti-realism narrative was established. Postmodernism is characterized by general suspicion and rejection of all other metanarratives (Myers & Noebel, 2015). At its core, it is a reaction to modernist reason with its claims for rationality and universalism; but also, it is a reaction to every other idea that claims to explain the complexity of life in its entirety. For a postmodernist, all other philosophies are only “representing – at best – the values of a particular culture” (Barry, 2020, p. 1). Postmodern values imply a sense of skepticism towards the status quo, as well as general negative and critical opinions towards any system of thought aiming for universalism.

To measure and compare a phenomenon as multifaceted and complex as a worldview it would be helpful to divide it into aspects, as in “Ten ways of looking at the world” proposed by Myers and Noebel. The categories which both Christian theism and Postmodernism will be framed with in the discussion are as follows: theology, philosophy, ethics, biology, psychology sociology, law, politics, economics, and history.

Before indulging into further analysis, it would be valuable to clearly discern the main ideas that these worldviews propagate. In Christian theism, the idea is that there is a God, who created everything in the universe (Myers & Noebel, 2015). The main figure of Christianity is Jesus, who is his son and was sent on Earth because God wanted to guide them out of sin (Myers & Noebel 2015). Essentially, humanity is modelled after God, since he made “man in our image, after our likeness” (English Standard Version (ESV), 2016, Genesis 1:26). However, at one point, mankind has sinned by eating an apple from a tree of knowledge (ESV, 2016, Genesis 3:22). Thus, Christianity is mainly concerned with guiding people, and, for that matter, the world out of sin, a condition which apexes in spiritual salvation of one’s soul.

Postmodernism comprises a much more complicated and ambiguous philosophical system. It is significantly harder to define the concept of postmodernity since postmodernists deeply resist “tightly bounded, totalizing accounts of such things as ‘essence’” (Vanhoozer, 2003, p. 3). However, it is still necessary to distill the main concept of postmodernism which is that ultimate reality is absolutely inaccessible (Myers & Noebel, 2015). Instead, postmodernist theory can be compared to faceted vision: there is no grand reality, only multiple perceptions of reality that each person falsely believes to be the ultimate truth. In the similar fashion, postmodernism goes far beyond denying ideas about the nature of reality; it is also critical of political, economic, biological and other theories.

However, theorists were able to find contact points between Postmodernism and Christian theology. Christian theism is mainly concerned with Trinitarian Monotheism, a belief that the basis of creation are Father God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. To non-Christians, postmodernists included, such a description may seem archaic, however, upon reevaluation, a deeper comprehension can be gained. In terms of theism, postmodernism offers two ways of looking at it: descriptive religious pluralism and a prescriptive one (Myers & Noebel, 2015). The former is designed to instill tolerance for the sake of “getting along” between the members of the society, while the latter advises one to be tolerant because “no single view can be universally true” (Myers & Noebel, 2015 p. 265). Thus, the difference between these two approaches in immense, with Christian theism made in such a way that is not tolerant to anything deviant from its distinct cosmology. In this sense, Postmodernism, that allows for prescriptive pluralism is increasingly more tolerant, and therefore, functional for the society.

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The sphere of philosophy contains, perhaps the biggest degree of divergence between Christianity and Postmodernism. As rightfully noted by Myers and Noebel (2015), “nearly everything in Christianity is expected to be understood, not interpreted” (p. 378). Jesus himself says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (ESV, 2016, John 14:6). This exhibits a rigid Christian understanding of what is truly real – and the source of knowledge being Jesus, and the Bible. Christians believe in the dualistic nature of existence: that both material and immaterial – substance dualism – comprise the universe (Myers & Noebel, 2015). In that regard, postmodernists receive such statements with the highest degree of criticism, as their philosophical stance is that of anti-realism. Jean Francois Lyotard asserted that “the principle of ontological unity” which Christian dualism aims to capture, is useless in the contemporary world (Husni & Tantowie, 2017, p. 16). This realization is mainly inspired by highly progressive technology which is capable of simulating reality itself, the notion which dismisses a single ideology as naïve and unrealistic.

The question of ethics is not removed far from theology, as often times, religion claims that its actions are morally underpinned. Christianity itself is capable of providing a definition of “ethical” by saying “all things good, true, and beautiful are based in God’s character as revealed in nature and Scripture” (Myers & Noebel, 2015, p. 411). However, the Bible delineates a less ambiguous idea of ethics, for instance, “let the thief no longer steal, but rather let do honest work” (ESV, 2016, Ephesians 4:28). Thus, Christian narrative follows the concept of agape, signifying brotherly love. As Postmodernism has no concept of such thing, deeming it a highly subjective perspective, the only thing that remains is living with this subjectivity. While Rorty denies “the existence of any universal moral reality”, Lyotard offers to act according to one’s own feeling of what is right (Myers & Noebel, 2015, p. 432). Postmodern ethics, in that sense, are unpredictable, as each individual is free to claim whatever deed as ethical. Despite Christian ethics having been subject to interpretation for centuries, at least it determines that the motivation behind any action should be loving.

Biology is a field in which Postmodernism shows itself as being somewhat biased. Overall, postmodernists exhibit anti-essentialist and anti-teleological stance, denying that creatures posses identities and that the human race is at the top of evolutionary process. However, they tend to gravitate towards Neo-Darwinism, perhaps, because it offers “a permission to take charge”, as noted by John Dewey (Myers & Noebel, 2015, p. 489). This point of view is similar to the way postmodernists view a person from a psychological stance: decentered, possessing no essence, being simply a collection of influences and experience. Christians believe in dualism as a dominant principle in the world as well as themselves (Myers & Noebel, 2015). Despite Darwinism and Christian cosmogony being worlds apart, Christian thinkers explained the evolutionary process brilliantly, saying “creative power is essentially embodied in the world” (Griffin, 2003, p. 204). The most significant distinction in that matter, lies in the idea that Christians hold the evolutionary process to be “special”, while postmodernists deny it, remaining highly anti-teleological.

Following the chronological principle, the following aspect to be studied deals with the formation of human societies – the sociological sphere. Postmodernism is quite curt and true to itself: society is constructed out of innumerous interactions, and possess a quality of randomness and anti-essentialism (Myers & Noebel, 2015). It has been mentioned before that Postmodernism asserts all human interactions, or even one’s “identity” being compiled out of a particular cultural, and therefore, social, context – constructivism. Christian sociologists, approach sociology from their own perspective: as the God commanded “to be fruitful and multiply” to Adam and Eve, they believe that the institution of family is central (ESV, 2016, Genesis 1:28). The conflict is evident here: a Postmodernist sees the individual as the basis of society, while Christianity holds familial values above all – and Postmodernist narrative appears to be more compelling.

When it comes to the tools which govern the society, the worldviews are characteristic of themselves, with critique remaining the overarching theme in Postmodernism and Christianity referencing the scriptures. On the matter of law, postmodernists assert that “there is no neutrality, no escape from choice of judging” and indulge in deconstruction in order to prove that law is biased (Myers & Noebel, 2015). Christians, on the other end, observe law as “Natural Law” revealed through the scriptures, “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy” (Romans 7:12). The quality of this “justice” is quite foggy, and therefore, postmodernist view seems a better alternative, for the simple reason that it is honest about its nature.

Ambiguity increases when approaching economics. Postmodernists refused to use traditional economic terminology; however, they are known for their critique of Marxism, particularly for its “purely economic and State-centered focus” (Myers & Noebel, 2015, p. 893). Christians hold very opposing views – some believe that socialism is best for the society, while others think the scriptures encourage property ownership and other attributes of the free market (Myers & Noebel, 2015). However, most agree on the concept of biblical stewardship, which talks about managing and careful care of resources because they belong to God (Myers & Noebel, 2015). Obviously, the concept of God’s supremacy bridges into Christian political thought. Unsurprisingly, postmodernist politics appears to be simply pessimistic, without any definite solutions to the current problems. For instance, Foucault, having studied “the history of governmentality”, noting the immergence of political power with “pastoral power”, “namely, God’s government over the world” which is the same as modern Christian narrative (Barry, 2020, p. 59). In light of this, the general postmodernist notion is highly pessimistic, or even anarchist when concerning politics, as all political systems are oppressive and it hard to disagree.

For a postmodernist, politics and history are inseparable because both of them are tools of inducing oppression and gaining power. The fact that history claims to be objective about its reconstructions of events or historical accounts signifies for a postmodernist to dismiss it. Again, Foucault was prominent in critiquing this question, saying that “history is fiction, a way of organizing arguments we cannot know to be true” (Myers & Noebel, 2015, p. 676). In some ways, this is similar to Christian view of history – an epic narrative, the unfolding of God’s plan; however, the interpretation of it is drastically different. Once again, despite the postmodernist rhetoric being rigid, the logic behind is hard to dispute.

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Personally, I find the Postmodernist worldview more compelling and closer to my personal values. Postmodernism offers such a freedom of thought and expression never seen before, and is up-to-date with the societal evolution. It draws its conclusions based on historical events with observable evidence; to put it simply, it is honest. While it is highly critical, the main thing is that it allows space for interpretation; thus, a Postmodernist and a Christian can live together viewing each other worldviews through the principles of descriptive pluralism and agape.

References

Barry, L. (2020). Foucault and postmodern conceptions of reason. Palgrave Macmillan.

Griffin, D. R. (2003). Reconstructive theology. In K. J., Vanhoozer (Ed.), the Cambridge companion to postmodern theology (pp. 92-109). Cambridge University Press.

The Holy Bible. (English Standard Version). (2016). Goodnews Publishers. Web.

Husni, T., & Tantowie, T. J. (2017). Religion, modernism and postmodernism: Study on Jean Baudrillard’s philosophy. International Journal of Religious Studies, 5(2), pp. 1-42.

Myers, J., & Noebel, D. A. (2015). Understanding the times: A survey of competing worldviews. David C Cook.

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