Edited by Dennis McCallum
Abstract: Responding to multiculturalism, the rejection of reason and the new postmodern diversity
Difficulty: 2 (popular)
Dennis McCallum (ed.) The Death of Truth. Minneapolis, Min.: Bethany House,
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Copyright © July, 1999, Willem Vreeken, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
DENNIS McCALLUM is Senior Pastor at Xenos Christian Fellowship in Columbus, Ohio, and part of the Crossroads Project, a group conducting seminars on the postmodern challenge at universities across the country. He is the author of several books, including Christianity: The Faith That Makes Sense, The Summons, The Myth of Romance, and Walking in Victory.
Many writers about many aspects of an important philosophy and cultural movement of these days, postmodernism, and evaluate it from secular and biblical arguments.
Modernism & Postmodernism
In the beginning of this book Dennis McCallum, editor and first writer, set out the
importancy of postmodernism for the church, and looks back in the history:
The big challenge of Darwin in the 19th century for the church was a difficult one. The church wasn't ready for his theory. Today many Christians can answer Darwinism. But nowadays Christians have a much bigger challenge: Postmodernism. What is postmodernism? This book tries to give answers. Their is a big need to know this answers, as with darwinism, Christians again are unprepared for a major challenge to their worldview. To know what post-modernism is, we have to know what modernism is. You can read it in the second chapter.
In chapter 2 Jim Leffel gives us an outline of this "old" worldview: Modernism. One of the main tenets of modernism is that it is possible to take a rational approach to life. In this view there is no place for the supernatural. Modernism is, in that way, a contrast or a reaction to the religious Middle Ages. Descartes, modernist, said: "I think, therefore I am.". Anselm, Christian in the Middle Ages, said: "I believe so that I might understand". Modernists believe also in a free will, although there is a contradiction with their view on the idea that humans are purely material machines or stimulus-response machines, sociobiolgists denies human freedom (this is one of the great contradictions in modernism).
Our new challenge is postmodernism, chapter 3:
Postmodernism is a reaction to modernism in many aspects. For example postmodernists are relativists: they distrust the claims of modernists.
About the free will they believe, 'following' Marx, that humans are the product of their culture, and therefore can never be really autonomous. There is a tendency in postmodernism of desintegrating or eliminating a 'self'. For example the postmodernist John McGowan said: "Autonomy is a [central] plank of humanism, with its insistence that humans can produce their lives and their social world on their own. For this reason, much postmodern work, with its antihumanist slan, has been at pains both to deny the possibility of achieving autonomy and to indicate autonomy's pernicious consequences." (p.42) Humans are cogs in a social machine (p.32). In postmodernism there is another view on truth: In the West we believe that truth cannot be self-contradictory and so we believe our truths are objective and rational. In the East however truths can often be contradictory. They have other paradigms and truths, formed by other cultural and social beginnings. Postmodernists are very radical in their conclusions: people can't be rationally objective, because we can never take the self or culture out of reason, and therefore reason can't be trusted any more than intuition or feeling (p.42). Another argument against objectivity is language: Our communication and reasoning is based on language, and language is arbitrary: the meaning of words is arbitrary, a word is a symbol, and how do we know it represents reality?
In chapter 4 Jim Leffel describes two groups of postmodernists (from now PM):
First the skeptical PM: they look cynical to all truth, especially the Western one, including Christianity. In art (music, cinema etc.) you can recognize their influences. Films like Dances With Wolves, Jurassic Park; Music: Nirvana, Pearl Jam.
Second the affirmative PM: they want a cultural change by creating or constructing new realities. Rationality is something from the past.
Objections against Postmodernism
1. We can trust our impressions and therefore know an objective truth:
a. Our judgements about the world, while not infallibly accurate, are open to revision by further inverstigation. Just because we lack absolute certainty about the external world doesn't mean we can't know anything about what exists apart from us.
b. The succes of scientific technology is a strong argument that our perceptions of the world are relatively accurate....why can scientists from different cultures replicate experiments that yield exactly the same results? (p.52)
c. Also people from other cultures learn truth about reality by experience, hypothesizing, and repeating results, for exemple Indians by choosing their poison to kill animals.
2. PM are inconsistent in their skepticism when they use cars, computers, etc (products of rational/empirical science).
3. PM is self-defeating:
a. From the PM point of view, PM itself can only be seen as another "arbitrary social construction" like all other ideologies. As such, we have no compelling reason to accept the theory.
b. If PM can be shown to be true, a worldview with objective merit, then PM's main thesis (rejection of objective truth) is wrong. It ends up teaching that there is at least some objective truth - namely, that PM is right!
In either case, PM's rejection of rational objectivity is self-defeating. It either denies the plausibility of its own position, or it presumes the reliability of reason and the objectivity of truth. (p.53)
4. An argument by PM about language that makes it impossible to know the reality, is set aside by developmental psychology: Research indicates that children have already an existing framework of thought before they speak. They recognize objects and events. There is a certain uniformity in thought. So language is rooted in thought, not thought is rooted in language. The word becomes attached as additional property, a kind of 'handle' to the already existing prototype in terms of which the object...has been conceptualized. The fact that these words refer to things already known explains the startling rapidity of the growth of the child's vocabulary."(p.57)
5. Languages can be translated: For exemple 95% is clear, 5% is difficult to translate. It is not impossible to communicate across cultures. We can know something from other cultures, not nothing.
6. Beneath the welter of lifeworld (worldview) perspectives and the differences among individuals who share the same perspective, there is a level of thought and interaction on which people everywhere have pretty much the same outlook. (p.57)
My commentary is when you read this objections you can think that they are not undisputed. It is not worked out deeply because this book is not a profound philosophical book, but a more practical book focusing on many areas in the society, which will come now(!):
The next nine chapters deals with different subjects, especially the influence of PM on this subjects:
Postmodern Impact: Health Care
The author of this chapter has his B.S. in pharmacy, his Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry, his M.A. in Biblical Studies, and is Associate Professor at a college of nursing, and writes articles and is a contributor to Bioethics and the Future of Medicine.
The author sets forth in this chapter Ayurvedic Medicine and Therapeutic Touch.
Ayurvedic Medicine (AM) is a traditional medicine of India. D.Chopra is the best-known proponent of AM in the United States. He practiced modern Western medicine until returning to India to learn AM from the guru Maharishi Mehesh Yogi, who also introduces Transendental Meditation to the West. Prana is the life energy that has to be in balance, if not than you get ill. There are many ways to get in balance, by herbal supplements, meditation, purification procedures, religious ceremonies to solicit the aid of Hindi deities, etc.. It gains popularity in the general population in the US.
Therapeutic Touch (TT) is a healing pracice based on the conscious use of the hands to direct or modulate, for therapeutic purposes, selected nonphysical human energies that activate the physical body. (p.61) It is getting populair by nurses in the US (and in the Netherlands I once have heard of it, but by working in the hospital for two years, I have never seen it practizing by nurses). In the 1960s Dora Kunz, a clairvoyant, and president of The Theosophical Society in America, introduces this practice. She uses also Prana, first by detecting imbalances in energy fields, and then restoring it. TT has the same principles as AM.
PM is the door for this sorts of alternative (Eastern) medicine. PM said objective truth is not possible, truth depend of the paradigm you use. By reading this chapter, I think in the US there is a stronger influence of PM on health care than in Europe, especially in academic institutions. The author deals with the rejection of alternative medicine of the modern medical model. Modern medicine diagnose illnesses by testing body fluids, tissues or do hi-tech scans, alternative medicine diagnose by using energy fields. It is totally different. The author demonstrates against the ideas of alternative medicine, although he sees also good elements, for instance alternative medicine is right in give attention for the caring for ill people. His arguments are not always strong: On page 69: a strong defence of alternative medicine supporters is that only 15% of modern medicine is supported by solid scientific evidence. The author has no good reply by only saying that alternative medicine supporters use arguments which seek to disqualify the critic, rather than to answer criticisms. The author has to answer this critic in my opinion, because it means that 85% of the modern medicine does not work.
Experience is very important in many alternative methods. You have to experience Prana, life force, life energy. Chopra: "In the procedures given here, you will experience the effortless way that intentions can get fulfilled, bypassing the ego and the rational mind" (p.70).
The author argues that many alternative methods harm people if they fail to get effective help. I think in the Netherlands most alternative 'physician' refers the people also to the modern physician. Often the modern physician can do nothing any more, then people go to alternative 'physician', because people can not live without hope. There are also spriritual dimensions when you get involved with alternative medicine, especially eastern religious dimensions. The author gets his reply from the Bible, which is an argument for Christians, not for secular people. Alas, he does not argument from scientific research on psychological health for instance.
Postmodern Impact: Literature
When you read this review, you do it with some presuppositions. Most people are not
aware of it, but it is essential for how to read.
In this chapter you can read about literature: two methods of reading a text, in relation to its author and the reader him or herself:
1. grammatical-historical method.
2. postmodern method (for example the french philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-)).
ad 1. The presupposition for the first one is that author and reader both live in the same world, are both humans, and can therefore communicate in words. Since words and sentences mean something, the text has an objective, stable meaning.(p.88)
ad 2. The presupposition for the postmodern people is that it is not possible to understand what an author meant to say. Authors are social constructs, they are bound to their social reality, and not creative to make their own unique texts. Readers have to "deconstruct" texts and make them free from "logocentrism", therafter you give your own meaning; you are or are not aware of it. PM say that it is not possible to read free, you can not eliminate reader bias , you have and make your own view.
For Christians it is very important to think for themselves how they read the Bible, which presupposition they have. The writers of this book view the PM method of reading as a danger for the objective truth of the Bible, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God will become under the authority of the postmodern reader.
Postmodern Impact: Education
No area of society has been more influenced by postmodern thought than education.(p.96)
Keywords of modernism in education are: universal values; value-neutral; rationality;
freedom; progress; a stable, inherent self that can be objectively known.
Keywords of PM in education are: personally values; tolerance; freedom; creativity; emotional expressiveness; intuition; self-esteem.
The most important difference between modernism and PM is that modernists claim that knowledge is discovered, PM claim that knowledge is invented or "constructed" in the mind. The last has an important consequence if you are radical: the knowledge constructed by learners, teachers, or scientists are all of equal worth. (p.99). Objective knowledge doesn't exist, for example there aren't universal morals. Therefore there is no basis for moral critique.
PM is concerned about minority groups in the society, against the dominant culture. It is ironical to see that in the U.S. PM-methods in education help minority children less and they are less succesful in the American culture. The subject 'minority children' is not good developed in this chapter. For me there remain too much questions about the real differences between modernist- and PM-methods concerning minority children. Is there a sharp contrast between the two methods concerning minorities? Is there a middle course between the different cultures in education?
A critic on PM is that there is little or no attention for a healthy family life as the most important factor for academic performance. Other critic: discipline is rejected, because it is dangerous for children's self-esteem. In the US (the country where the authors come from) academic performance ranks well below other developed countries, the authors think it caused by the PM "therapeutic"-method of education, the exaggerated accent on self-esteem in US-schools ¹. Further critic is the social fragmentation of the society.
Postmodern Method: History
...a Gallup poll conducted in January 1994 showed that 33 percent of Americans think it possible that the Holocaust never happened. (p.127)
Postmodernism in history:
1. It minimize individuality and freedom of people: "...people simply express the rules of [society's] operation and reproduction without knowing that they do so, and enjoying no other freedom than the possibility of entertaining the illusion of freedom" - Francois Furet, a French historian (p.136)
2. It sets aside the linear model of historical thinking. More important is to study the similarities and differences between cultures in various ages and countries.
3. History is seen as the reflection of the historian's worldview, and ultimately as a social construction.
In this chapter little comment from a Christian view.
Being of Many Minds: The Postmodern Impact on Psychotherapy
In postmodern client-centered therapies, reality is in the mind of the beholder (p.144)
For the postmodernist, there is no culturally neutral standard of mental health or illness that applies objectively across cultures. (p.147)
...some radical theorists draw the conclusion that therapy is exploitive: the imposition of one culture - the therapist's - upon another'- the client's. While this conclusion seems extreme, postmodern ideas unavoidably lead to such conclusions when applied consistently. (p.148)
An important thought in PM-influenced therapies is that reality is a language
construct. For example: Family Therapy. By language members of a family communicate. So
there are language patterns in the families of the "identified patient". In
family therapy the therapist intervenes in dysfunctional family communication patterns.
The "identified patient" is not sick, but (s)he bears the symptoms of
In the view of PM self-identity is something that can't be reached, because we are "made" by our culture. An objection: PM forget that individuals also influence culture.
Postmodernism may seem open-minded and tolerant on the surface, but with its denial of the individual and its fascination with power, the makings of manipulation are all present. (p.158)
At the end PM-influenced psychotherapy is meaningless, because psychotherapy implies a desire to advance a "better" state and PM condemns making value judgments.
Postmodern Impact: Law
According to postmodernists, laws aren't right or wrong. Law is whatever a society's most powerful group makes it. (p.165)
PM see neutral law as a myth, law can't never be neutral. It is politics, theater, in many times against minorities like women, black people and so on. Therefore many feminists and minority activists are using PM principles.
Postmodern Impact: Science
Science, postmodernists argue, isn't as rational as we think. (p.183)
Postmodernists object to the claim of objective observation in science (and daily
life). They have arguments from:
1. neuroscience: the nervous system can't be trusted to provide accurate impressions of nature.
2. philosophy: observations are interpreted by the mind, and are therefore subject to bias.
3. psychology: they confirm what the philosophers say.
4. sociology: observations are biased by our culture.
5. the history of science: dominant theories have often an important influence on scientists.
Objections against this arguments from postmodernists are:
1. their view is self-defeating: how do they know their own observations (-arguments) are true and objective?
2. science uses a number of techniques to limit the influence of bias:
- experimental design: working with "control" groups that are exposed to all of the same experimental conditions except the one being tested.
- replication: when scientists from all over the world get the same results.
- double-blind testing: scientists and the subjects, for instance in the case of medicines and placebo's, don't know which group is which.
- peer review: scientists of different areas have to agree research have to be published.
- falsifiability: hypotheses are falsifiable - there have to be the possibility of conditions that would negate them. For instance when someone is saying that aliens only appear when no one is looking, he makes an unfalsifiable claim.
There is an important contradiction within modernism:
Modernist argue against everything that is supernatural, faith, superstition, mythology, speculation, and other subjective truths. Truth have to be objective, emperical, rational. Many modernists in science don't realize that their own presuppositions are not emperical or can be tested in a laboratory. Their presupposition is that everything that can be tested by science (the natural world) is objective and true, however this presupposition don't belong to the natural world, and therefore can't be tested, and is therefore not objective or true. Christians like Francis Schaeffer poses that only within a theistic worldview you have reasons to trust your senses.
Other subjects in this chapter: Quantum physics and scientific mysticis, in relation to Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism.
Postmodern Impact: Religion
Most postmodernists aren't against religion. They are only against religious teaching that holds to objective truth and usefulness of reason. (p.203)
PM have influence on religion, also on Christianity: the liberals ánd the conservatives. Many Christians don't realize it. Christians historically have believed in the use of reason ("love your God with all your mind"), beginning with the law of non-contradiction: A is not non-A: God is not personal and impersonal at the same time. The influence of PM is that experience is the basis for faith, and this gives me power. I think also in the Netherlands the church is influenced by this (Walk by faith, not by sight), does it work for me? Many people see the Christian faith as blind faith, reason can not confirm or deny its spirituality. When religion becomes irrational, many people go away, however in this time, the 90s, many people are looking for warm subjective spirituality: Many people are looking by Eastern mystical traditions such as Hinduism, Buddism, and Taoism:
All these traditions reject reason as a tool for discovering truth. The central proposition of monism, that "everything is one," is no more rational than saying 1=1,000,000. They even utilize contradiction to drive learners to a deeper or higher plane of understanding. Zen Buddhism, for instance, offers koans such as "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" The Hindu Brahman is "always and never." With its rejection of rationality, such paradoxical thinking is naturally compatible with postmodernism. (p.205)
PM opens the door for Eastern religions. Eastern religions is not the direct cause of PM. The philosophies of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Marx, and Freud are the origins of PM. PM is a construct of its culture!!
Great stress on subjectivity in religion in this PM-influenced time makes traditional approaches like Christian apologetics (like by our website), with its emphasis on evidence and arguments, less effective for many people. However there are still millions of modernists in this society who listen to reason., and, perhaps they don't realize it, postmodernists use reason all the time.
The Postmodern Religious Shift: Five Case Studies
Five subjects in this chapter:
1. Christianity as Gnosticism: Under postmodern analysis, the reason the early church insisted Christ arose from the dead was to establish its leaders' authority over the oppressed Gnostics (p.217)
2. Religion as Myth: Once we see that every religion is simply myth - a framework for self-discovery - all final distinctions between religions evaporate. (p.219)
3. Feminist Theology: ...feminist theology begins by recognizing that women are history's victims. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite asserts, "All women live with male violence." (p.222)
4. Psycho-Spirituality: Rationality, authority, and moral constrains must be left behind before we can lay hold of the key to spiritual depht - being ourselves - John Bradshaw (one of the most popular teachers of postmodern religion and self-help) (p.227)
5. Ritual in Place of Truth: ...where a religion really stands or falls is in its ritual. If it has good old rituals, carrying in them the inherited traces of our early evolution - the great psychic technologies of mythic storytelling, chant, sacrifice, body decoration, music, dance, the fresco - Frederick Turner (a postmodern professor of arts and humanities) (p.229)
I will not comment here the Christian respons to this subjects also written in this chapter, you can buy the book...
The last centuries the church has been influenced by the Enlightenment and the existential philosophy. Many church leaders and members became liberal respectively neo-orthodox. The liberals wanted their own enlightenment "Christian" religion, free of "superstitions", the neo-orthodox theologians like Bultmann reacted by saying that the enlightenment-question to the historical Jesus is unnecessary, imporant is the personal (existential) encounter with the "Christ of faith". However these liberal and neo-orthodox churches wanted to be accepted by the culture, these churches shrinked and are still shrinking. Evangelicals today are being tempted to make the same mistake liberal and neo-orthodox leaders earlier made with modernism...tempted to softpedal or apologize for truth... The proportion doubting that absolute truth exists is even greater among evangelical church youth - actually approaching the same ratio as that of society as a whole (p.237/8). (dreary...)
PM is saying that experience is all we know, also for modernists who think they can use reason to find truth: this is only their personal experience of enlightenment culture. Experience=Reality is their message. Some evangelicals are being tempted to do the same. Paul never argued that Christ could top the mystery religions and other ecstatic cults in terms of religious experience. He offered the truth - Jesus Christ and him crucified... Our age is eager to hear a gospel based on experience, but they will abandon it just as quickly when another gospel - or counselor or psychic group or spirituality book - offers them more experience. (p.239) We are here to declare the truth about Jesus Christ and call on sinful people to fall on their knees and repent - often an experience more painful than pleasurable. (p.249)
Heart and head have to be one in knowledge, when you "split" them you, you
can get strange or dangerous situations: The followers of the God of David Koresh follow
their "right" hearts, but their head was wrong...they burned to death in Waco,
Head without heart can puff up (1 Cor.8:1!), but heart without head leads to the death of truth. And: Feelings follow truth! The New Testament is clear about how to communicate the truth: persuade, reasoned, explaining, evidence, reasoning, persuade, persuaded are keywords (For instance Acts 17:2-4, 2 Cor. 5:11a, Matthew 22:37).
PM has important points for evangelicals: (p.241/4)
1. Without the infinite-personal creator God of the Bible, knowledge and reason do indeed become uncertain
2. Modernists' faith in human "progress" is misplaced
3. People are more subjective than they like to admit
4. Our culture can, and often does, blind our eyes to truth obvious to other cultures and which, in retrospect, may also be clear to us
5. People are social beings, and our social or cultural setting shapes and informs our values and thinking
6. Blind faith in our legal status quo is unwarranted.
PM has negative points for the society and the church:
I will not mention them all, but this ones I will mention:
1. Stressing that subcultures have their own realities and own language and stressing the differences, leads to division and increased fear and hate, especially when you are stressing that oppression by other groups had lead to their problems.
2. Postmodernists try to deny the self, but who is doing this denying? PM is self-contradictory.
The author cites Romans 1:19-20 against PM-influenced Christians: Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. The author believes that our own reason needs in addition revelation to know God.
Practical Communication Ideas
In this last chapter the general editor Dennis McCallum gives some ideas to communicate with postmodern people, who are all around us in Europe and America. A good paragraph is the one with the title "What Is Love Bombing?": McCallum is saying here that we will never "nice" someone into the kingdom of God. Christians have to pay much attention to the following words:
Groups who use their loving demeanor to bypass truth and decision-making are guilty of manipulating their hearers, rather than persuading them. Any time we try to win people to Christianity while bypassing their minds we are guilty of manipulation, an approach cult experts call "love-bombing." A group that "love-bombs" makes an outward show of love in order to attract and even gain control over visitors....God doesn't work this way. God may have stricken Paul down on the road to Damascus, but we aren't authorized to do likewise. Our commission is to give a defense for the hope within us (1 Peter 3:15)... "speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that we may know how to respond to each person." (Colossians.4:6)(p.274/5)
Our reasons for optimism include the power of God, the loneliness of postmodern culture, postmodern nihilism, and a vacuum of truth. (p.276)
I have read this book with pleasure: It is not too difficult, it is written by many writers with their own style. I think the writers have written this book especially for Christians, for example students, parents with children, sick people who wants to know more about health care, and so on. The strength of this book is that it shows the important impact of postmodernism on many topics in our society, I have learned much. Its weakness is the less philosophical content, in this book it is for me not clear for which reasons Christianity is the third way besides modernism and postmodernism. Is it the only alternative? Because this is not very clear and there is no good (philosophical) foundation, sometimes the arguments are somewhat fideistic, although the writers are against fideism. If you want to know more about the philosophical foundations, then you have to read other books (see our bookshop). I highly recommend this book, especially for Christians. It can open your eyes for many developments in society and churches. Also non-christians who are interested in postmodernism and modernism will have pleasure by reading, although there are better books for non-christians (for the same reason that there is no good foundation for Christianity, for being the third way). .
¹ A. LaPuente, N.A. Mead and G. Phelps, A World of Difference: An International Assessment of Mathematics and Science (Princeton, N.J.: Education Testing Service, 1989), p.10.
Copyright © July, 1999, Willem Vreeken, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
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