November 8, 2009

Slice of PIE: Interstates Over Park Reserves; Postmodernism Over Original Faith

Driving south on US 169 west of Minneapolis, is a 21st Century bridge that spans a piece of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. This concrete expanse allows no exit into the Refuge below and except for a brown highway sign marking its existence and the expanse of trees and swamp (note: this is an unkind way to say "marshland"), lake and river. You pass over it in a matter of moments and there are no lights pointing down into the Refuge pointing out the sights.

If you aren't interested in the Refuge, you wouldn't even know it's there. I would venture a guess and say that the vast majority of people passing over this section of the National Wildlife Refuge pay no attention whatsoever to the wildlife below because the "wildlife" of the typical commuter rush occupies their attention. I would boldy venture to say that to most people, the Refuge doesn't matter at all -- what's important is what is on US 169. The fact that it passes over a National Wildlife Refuge is insignificant compared to the fact that it carries a huge number of people to and from their homes to work and from their work to home each day.

What does an interstate and a wildlife refuge have to do with postmodernism and original faith?

The connection should be obvious! If not, let me illuminate.

By definition, postmodernism is, in plain English, a "system of observation and thought that denies absolutes and objectivity" and "rejects a notion of universal truth but emphasises that meaning is in appearance and interpretation". Maybe that wasn't plain enough. This is my own defintion given what I've learned and experienced of the postmodern church: "Scripture, God and Jesus can be interpreted by the people within a culture based on what can be seen and thought because we can't be objective about our faith".

Though some postmodern Christian movements claim that their "interpretation" is closer to the origins of St. Augustine than 21st Century evangelical or conservative Christianity, I would dispute that. Liberal theology, Christian existentialism, radical orthodoxy, hermaneutics and weak theology -- all schools of thought of postmodern Christianity -- may lay claim the same roots as the faith of the early church, but I believe that they pass over those roots just as the shiny new 21st Century bridge passes over the wildlife refuge. The practitioners of such thought have much in common with the commuters on the US 169 bridge over the Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge: none of them believe that the original below them is of any importance to the shining newness above.

Neither of them seem interested in considering the roots -- the real roots -- of the postmodern bridge they so blithely travel over. Neither of them seems interested in noticing the reality of what lies below the construct they've worked so hard to build and whose ultimate future lies in crumbling ruin and reabsorption by the original reality from which both sprang.

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1 comment:

Paul said...

A couple of thoughts:

The denial of absolutes comes from a "hard" definition of postmodernism, one that says there is no truth. Saying there's no truth, though, is an absolute statement, which seems to me to contradict the original conclusion. I prefer a softer definition of postmodernism, one that says even though objectivity isn't possible for us, we can't conclude that objectivity doesn't exist. C. S. Lewis spoke similarly--though the language of postmodernism wasn't well articulated by the time he died--when he wrote of our not being able to see creation from outside (i.e., objectively) because we're part of it. I find postmodernism to be much friendlier to faith than modernism was.

As far as existentialism goes, I've never read an author who gets at the guts of faith better than Soren Kierkegaard, the founder of existentialism. His Fear and Trembling, a meditation on Abraham's response to God's request that he sacrifice Isaac, is incredible. (And, if memory serves, he coined the phrase "leap of faith.")