Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Is Faith Obsolete?

I teach the Hermeneutics course at Bethany. It's always gratifying to see the students deepen their understanding, not only of the Word but of how to more effectively study the Word. Hermeneutics are the methods and principles of properly interpreting the meaning of a text. It is not a strictly theological discipline, all literature must be interpreted, and thus rules of intepretation (hermeneutics) are required. When I was a freshman at the University of Colorado I quickly figured out who the English majors were, they all carried around copies of E.D. Hirsch, The Validity of Interpretation, probably the most important hermeneutics text written in the last 100 years.

I'm going on about hermeneutics because literary analysis lies at the heart of the philosophical revolution we call postmodernism. The battle for truth in the Western world is centered in the interpretation of the major documents that have shaped our civilization. The leaders of the postmodern movement took an entirely relativistic approach to our most important writings. And based on their postmodern beliefs, "deconstructed" them. That is they interpreted them as tools for the oppression of women and minorities. In addition, they based their conclusions on two principles. First, the winners get to write the history books, and second, the powerful use their "history" for suppression of minorities and for personal gain. Because postmodernists are deeply relativistic, they deny the very idea of truth, and are left with the cynical view that everything boils down to propaganda.

Postmodernism is nothing less than radical skepticism. And while this is bad enough, it seeks to justify a "might makes right" approach to politics and governance. If the winners get to write the history books, then it is legitimate to pursue positions of power to enable the advancement of one's agenda. After all, our society was constructed to maintain the authority and privilege of white European males. This distorted and deeply cynical understanding of "power" is the reason our major universities have all the studies programs (Gender Studies, LGBT Studies, Native American Studies, etc.). This distortion in the concept of truth (and of political power) does not bode well for the future of American education and thus for American society.

We are already seeing the effect of postmodern thought on law and politics. On law, it is the sense that the law should change with changing social and cultural conditions, thus the acceptance of abortion as a constitutionally protected right and the growing number of judicial decisions favoring gay marriage. In politics it is the emphasis on creating the "narrative" that will enable the party to maintain its hold on power. Because postmodernism denies the concept of absolute truth, it views words not as conveyors of truth but as tools of manipulation and power. In one sense, Barak Obama is the first truly postmodern president. He, and those who support him, believe that if they craft the right message with the most compelling words they can gain and maintain their power. Thus, when the President spoke of "hope," "change," "fairness," and "American values," those words were just expressions of postmodern constructivism (the capacity to construct the meaning of "truth"), and the desire to use words, not to speak truth but to gain and keep power.

I have felt for some time that while existentialism took its cue from the French philosophers, Camus and Sartre, postmodernism is an expression of Nietzsche's will to power. Gene Edward Veith, Jr. in his book, Postmodern Times, describes the difference.

Whereas modern existentialism teaches that meaning is created by the individual, postmodern existentialism teaches that meaning is created by a social group and its language. ..The old existentialists stressed the alienated individual, dignified in lonliness and nonconformity; postmodern existentialism stresses social identity, group-think, and fashion sense. Postmodern existentialism goes back to Nietzsche to emphasize not only will, but power.

The frightening thing about postmodernism is its social dimension; its emphasis on speech codes and politically correct behavior which is unashamedly imposed on the faculty and students of an entire American university. Gene Veith explains, Those who do not believe in truth are more likely, I believe, to lie. Those who believe that moral values are nothing more than the imposition of power may be more likely to use power to suppress thier opposition, whether in politically correct academia or, when they have political power, in acts of tyrrany.

We must be ever vigilant in the defense of truth, God's truth. The great power of the Bible and the reason so many millions have built their lives upon its teachings is that it corresponds to the realities of life and the human condition. The Bible lays out the path to a full and fulfilling life, and protects from destructive behaviors and attitudes. A significant reason that our society has become increasingly dysfunctional is that we have moved so far away from the influence of biblical teaching.

We must regain confidence in truth, and the best definition of truth describes it as that which corresponds with reality. The Bible points us to God and His life changing grace, and every day millions of Christians around the world demonstrate the absolute validity of its teachings. As we walk in faith and obedience we find the truth of the Bible confirmed in our personal experience. As Paul writes, we then become "a letter from Christ"," written not with ink but with the Spirit of the Living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of the human heart." (2 Cor. 3:3) The time in which we live demands that we not only declare the truth but that we live the truth.

1 comment:

Scott Groethe said...

Great post - I liked the phrase "we must regain confidence in truth"

Of course we can't do that brute force but must win our friends, fellow followers of the Lord, neighbors and people generally to that.

I believe it's relatively simple and doable to convince the average person that believing in relative truth doesn't work, it doesn't work in marriages, it doesn't work when you raise you kids. Sounds good but actually impractical.

May all of us have the intestinal fortitude to share that simple truth to others. Charles Colson talked about the moral compass, the pointing to true north. Without a compass could navigation of airplanes or ships be even possible? Of course not. So relativism is shown to be what it is - a trendy position but untenable.

My favorite book on postmodernism and the effect on the academy is Elizabeth Kantor's book