Characteristics of Postmodernism
There are several characteristics of postmodernism that lie at the foundation of this worldview. Just as in the previous two meta-worldviews (premodernism and modernism), not everyone accepts all of these. Nevertheless, we can see some similarities among the postmoderns and draw at least some general conclusions.
Gene Veith has identified five key steps that have been taken in the movement toward postmodernism. First is Abandonment; this is antinomianism, a rejection of morality and objectivity of any kind. This is predicated on relativism. Truth is not fixed and objective, but variable and relative. Truth is personal—something can be true for one person but not true for another. This “personal” aspect of truth has to be limited, however, for the individual is not important in postmodernism. It takes a village to raise a child; so it takes a community to establish truth. Thus truth is societal—truth is determined by society, not by individuals. As one put it, “Truth is what your contemporaries let you get away with.” Second is Truancy. The best means of avoiding problems is to retreat from them. Our government has become adept at refusing to actually deal with a problem, but rather simply allow the problem to continue to an indefinite future point when “we will take care of it then.” Individuals become dependent on someone else to solve their problems, for they have lost the ability or the will to fend for themselves. Third is Drift, yielding to a meaningless determinism. Humans have no way to make their own way in the world. There is no reason or explanation for why things are the way they are. People have no individual power or authority, so they simply “go with the flow.” Fourth is Guilt, a self-loathing. Thus we must apologize for our country, our families, even our race. The major societal motivation towards postmodernism is cultural diversity. Only in the melting pot civilizations (America, Western Europe, and other similar areas) do we find postmodern elements. Isolated areas of the world believe postmodernism is entirely irrational! Finally, there is Promiscuity, an acceptance of anything and everything as legitimate and right.
This relativism affects everything. Morality cannot be objective; it is simply a convention or even convenience for the sake of the community. Therefore, like truth, what is moral for one community may not be for another. Postmodernism is suspicious of anyone claiming objective truth. Postmodernism fears power, but also thrives on power. Anyone who claims he absolutely knows something is merely trying to bring the listener under his authority. Postmodernism also rejects any meta-narrative (the “big story”) that seeks to explain all of reality. Therefore, no single philosophy, theology, or political viewpoint has the answers. Postmodernism has no problem rewriting history, for it is far more interested in a good story than it is in an accurate one. After all, who has any authority to tell anyone else what actually took place in the past?
Numerous characteristics of postmodernism are reactions against modernism. Postmodernism is a reaction against the rationalism of modernism; it is an attempt to express the artistic side of humanity. It is a reaction against undue scientific optimism. Modernism was convinced it could cure all of mankind’s problems with its knowledge and technology. Postmodernism is far more pessimistic about man’s abilities. Postmodernism reacted against the attempt of modernism to objectify all of reality. This, too, was far too optimistic. Postmodernism rejected the individual and replaced the emphasis on person for a community approach. It realized that modernism failed in its attempt to bring equality through individual achievement. For the postmodern equality should be achieved through social reform. Postmodernism also reacted against the words, especially the print media, and replaced words with images and media.
At the present time, some elements of the Western culture have retained modernism and other elements have embraced postmodernisn. In religion, ethics, and art, culture has become postmodern. In science, economics, and related fields, Western culture is about as modern as it ever has been, although even these areas are being affected. I just can’t wait until I meet my first postmodern auto mechanic and see how he incorporates relativism into auto repair! In spite of the negative reaction to modernism and because of the mix of viewpoints, some scholars suggest that this movement is really ultramodernism, supermodernism, or modernism come to its own. Postmodernism in religion and ethics is intricately tied to modernism’s deicide (the murder of deity). Friedrich Nietzsche famously said, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” No one actually killed God, but for the culture at large the idea of a god had died. Nietzsche believed that the death of God was the greatest of all deeds; however, he also realized, before almost anyone else, that objectivity, fixed meanings, divine illumination, and a concept of destiny would be lost forever. Nietzsche believed that objective truth, ethical values, and personal value cannot exist without God. Postmodernism, then, in rejecting these things is merely finishing the task modernism began. Without the concept of objective truth (because there is no one god for postmoderns), one cannot pass judgment on another’s belief system. Rather, we must embrace their belief system as equal to our own. Thus, there is no room for an objective style of Christianity in true postmodernism.