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Friday, April 9, 2010

Desolation and Hope

Last night I went to bed thinking about the Postmodern movement, especially postmodernism as it has appeared in literature and modern education.  It's completely opposite of Christianity in its basic principles.  Yet, it's ubiquitous, even in many churches these days.  So what is Postmodernism?  Why do I react so strongly against it, and why do I think you should take note of it?

Origin Story: Optimism to Desolation

The Postmodern movement came out of World War I, especially from the writings of soldiers who came back from the war and entered the educational field.  They had grown up in an optimistic society (Modernism) which joyfully welcomed scientific advances that they believed were going to make the world a better, more peaceful place--a utopia, if you will.  The "power of the human spirit" was practically worshiped, as the literature of that earlier era indicates.  Filled with this belief in the goodness of man, these young soldiers marched out to a war they thought would be full of chivalry and human goodwill.  Instead, they saw desolation, destruction, and horror that was unlike previous wars.  War was also much more impersonal; people killed people remotely, from long-range guns and poisonous gasses.  It was also bleakly pointless, as friend turned against friend purely because they came from different nations.  They had this bleak sense that all the soldiers were just machines or pawns in a political chess game, and that there were really no clear winners, no clear hero and foe.

When the soldiers came back from the war, their old idealism and humanism were gone.  Their "god" (man) was dead, and they didn't turn to the God of Christianity, which they blamed instead for allowing all that horror to exist.  Then came the Great Depression, World War II, and the Holocaust. Out of this terrible chain of events emerged a clear belief structure that has been carried forward in our culture to such an extent that I don't believe many people even consciously recognize it anymore.  It's as if we have always looked through postmodernist lenses--but that doesn't mean that we have to go on thinking that way.

The Smoke Cloud: Postmodern Ideology

For those who had their young idealism crushed in the war, it was as if the bottom and the top had come out of their world; they were drifting through a confusing fog, trying to find their way, and feeling helpless and alone.  Their worldview reflects this feeling.  Here are a few of their central beliefs:
  • God is dead, weak, or evil.  He owes mankind an explanation of why He would allow people to do such horrible things to each other.
  • Mankind has no hope and no future; they can't even fix themselves.  One day they will completely destroy themselves.
  • There is no clear right and wrong; good is mixed with bad, and the right thing depends on the circumstances, not ultimate ideals. (Ideals failed us; they can't prevent devastation.  Only our best efforts will put off the inevitable.)
  • Life is impersonal, meaningless, valueless.  Without hope, without real love, people are just machines.
  • Truth cannot be found or known.  Because of this, it is best and wisest to stay in a perpetual state of questioning.  Ultimately, questions are better than answers.
  • We exist, not to better ourselves or others or to achieve a goal, but to get what we can out of life while we have it.
  • There is no Heaven or Hell; there is no afterlife.  Life is bleak, joy is rare, and people who believe there is something to look forward to are just fooling themselves.

The Hope of Man

When the whole world lies in ruins and ashes, some people have responded with Job's wife's reaction: "Are you still holding on to your integrity?  Curse God and die!" (Job 2: 9 NIV).  I don't believe this is the right or even rational reaction; this thought pattern is born out of grief, anger, even brokenness, but it can be healed and corrected with God's help.

I further believe that God has responded to all the concerns of the Postmodern movement in the Bible, so that they don't have to feel that they've been left hanging--although the answers may not be what they want to hear.   In fact, I think that some books of the Bible are uniquely written to address these questions, such as Job and Ecclesiastes.  What is the purpose of man (Ecclesiastes 12: 13)?  Does God = easy times, or can He exist in bad times (Job 2: 8-10 NIV)?  People don't value people, but does God value people (Genesis 9: 6; Luke 12: 6-8)?  Can truth be known (see my involved analysis of a passage on this topic in "What is Truth? Heeding the Voice of Truth")?

I have written much on this topic.  You only have to click the labels "postmodernism" or "truth" at the end of this post, or search at the top left corner of this page for my series on the Postmodern stage play, Waiting for Godot (Waiting For God, Parts 1, 2, 3).  I feel the grief of the Postmodern movement.  The first time I ever came to understand it in college, I cried for these people.  They are truly lost, hopeless, wandering around looking for something to grab onto in a world that seems to them no more solid than a mustard gas cloud.  They have a veil over their eyes, like I spoke about in Beyond the Veil last week.  Who will correct them and reach out to them?  How will they ever find hope if no one offers them a way out of their hopelessness? 

I have a busy weekend ahead of me, so I'm leaving this post open-ended.  Please, leave a comment with your insights, and, I hope, plenty of Bible references.  This is a spiritual struggle, so don't forget to use your sword.
How would you, as a born-again Christian, respond to someone struggling with the Postmodern ideology?


Kamal Singarapu said...

Rachel, I remember learning about an important and probably the most important disappointment in life and it comes from pleasure. When we experience pleasure or strive to achieve it illegitimately, it leaves us empty and we can see that in the book of Ecclesiastes.

The second most important disappointment that I think comes from suffering which we see in the life of Job's wife. This i believe comes as a consequence of looking just at disappointment without realizing that God can bring meaning in to our disappointments caused by suffering as well. I recollect the words of Annie J. Flint "He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater, He sendth more strength as our labors increase, to added afflictions he addeth His mercy, to multiplied trials He multiplies peace". How was she able to put these words together after being sick for so many years.

Third I believe is the disappointment caused by loss of wonder (for a child), meaning (for a young person) and security (for an elderly person) and love at every stage. God has put these needs is our hearts that only He can satisfy and we are disappointed when we try to meet these needs of our own.

Postmodernism as you have so wonderfully explained ultimately leads man to despair or hopelessness because not God but he let himself down and he is so arrogant (sometimes that knowing that he is wrong but will not admit it as Paul says in Romans that the Truth is suppressed) and other times ignorance is the issue.

It is I believe as Christians our responsibility to reach the needs of this generation which are very legitimate. How can we do it? By being intentional about the need and by reaching out to the person who is in need as Jesus went to the Samaritan woman who was so empty and thirsty in her heart even after living her life her way until then but Jesus knew her heart's need and he ministered where she was. Are we ready to go where the need is and are we ready to look for where the need it? Let's ask God to lead us where the need is. Jesus did and I believe so should we. Let's look for the people who are in need. I remember the song recently composed by Leeland and Brandon and I think it is so appropriate. I am posting the youtube link here.

Thank you for such a wonderful blog Rachel. You have a passion for the lost. Keep it up and God will bless you abundantly.

- Kamal

Rachel said...

Thanks, Kamal! You brought a lot of information to the discussion, and I think that's great. I had never heard of Annie Flint, but I think I ought to check that out.

Yes, we need, more than ever, to reach out to this disappointed and hopeless generation. We have what they're looking for--a personal, hope-filled relationship with Jesus Christ--and we need to share that with them. It serves no purpose to try out their lifestyle in order to share in their pain, although compassion is always needed; instead, we need to offer them the way out of it. The key is to know what they are feeling, and choose our words carefully to answer their questions--because Postmodernists have many questions we can answer.

Kamal Singarapu said...

Good Point! It is not a good idea to try out their lifestyle the only way to answer or undertand thier struggles. Being compassionate even with words could be an icebreaker for a thoughtful converstation.