A few years back, I joined Dave's pomoxian yahoo group. The purpose of the group is to discuss how the Christian faith might adapt to postmodern times. Early on, someone posted one of those delightful worldview tests and I discovered (to my horror) that I tested 100% postmodern in outlook. In other words, I didn't claim any item/statement presented as categorically true. It wasn't the "postmodern" component that horrified me, however. I'm as happy as an existentialist next to a No Exit sign, postmodernly speaking. It was the "100%" part that made me grimace.
There it was again. I was a "fundamentalist postmodernist." Damn! I was trying to so hard to shed my fundamentalism, yet I had merely brought it along for the ride right into absolute relativity. How like me!
It was about that time that I started graduate school which (though not advertized) has turned out to be a four year fundie-detox program. I learned a few things that helped me see how I had merely exchanged my sets of beliefs, not my way of being.
One of the things I've discovered about questioning the faith is that each of us has a need to find some kind of authoritative answer to our questions. We postmoderns don't take "yes" for an answer and instead want to find out the "whys" before we commit. That means, the postmodern quest for identity is often a search for some kind of originary knowledge, some base from which to anchor one's identity. We don't trust anyone or thing without having come to a conclusion that that trust is warranted.
Therefore postmoderns take apart their beliefs like Lego sets. We call it "deconstruction." Often, we look first to Scripture for some kind of originary authority (a context beyond which we need not go). When the multiplicity of interpretations of even basic texts confronts us, we start down the backwards path to the early church. That search usually includes the patristic fathers, or the Apostolic era, or gnosticism, or mysticism, or some other earlier form of Christianity. Orthodoxy and Catholicism are very popular sources of originary knowledge for deconstructing evangelicals.
Each search is founded on the belief that some earlier incarnation of the faith will prove to be more authentic, closer to the original, more authoritative than what we have today. Still other Christians begin down that same trail and yet find themselves even more puzzled when they discover that every context of early church faith is also in a semantically loaded, politically charged, historically conditioned context that needs just as much deconstruction as the faith tenets that launched the original search for meaning and authority.
Science makes its move as do linguistics, culture, social politics, gender, geographical location, psychology, philosophy.... each of these adds layers of complexity to the attempt to nail down that answer, that absolute that is reliable, that leads to some resting place which will end the postmodern quest for meaning.
Some of us give up along the way. We say: okay, there is no answer. There is no spoon. We'll float long in the sea of charged contexts, aware of our limits, humble about our ability to evaluate them, willing to live without moorings.
But what happens then? A kind of postmodern fundamentalism can creep in - that absolute relativity I was talking about, a hesitation to ever take a stand, to make a wager, to risk being wrong or to risk security on behalf of anyone else. If culture and politics and religion can all be rethought to suit their contexts and "who am I to judge?" is the end result of study, how can we ever make moves for justice or morality or human rights?
I'll leave you hanging right here. We'll tackle what I think might be the way out of the postmodern vortex of reductio absurdum tomorrow.