Tag Archives: modernism

Our God: the Nothing

nothingmain105942115David Bentley Hart, in his essay “Christ and Nothing”, offers an eloquent condemnation of the modern idolatry of the unconstrained will which chooses morals according to preference:

It seems to me much easier to convince a man that he is in thrall to demons and offer him manumission than to convince him that he is a slave to himself and prisoner to his own will. Here is a god more elusive, protean, and indomitable than either Apollo or Dionysus; and whether he manifests himself in some demonic titanism of the will, like the mass delirium of the Third Reich, or simply in the mesmeric banality of consumer culture, his throne has been set in the very hearts of those he enslaves. And it is this god, I think, against whom the First Commandment calls us now to struggle.

If you aren’t familiar with Hart, I encourage you to take a look at the full article. It takes a few sittings to get through, but is a brilliant commentary on modernism as a reaction to Christianity.

Reconciling Our Minds

Kant, for those who don’t already know, is considered to be the original source of the modern separation between fact and value. He envisioned a clean break between that which can be known through the senses, and that which cannot.

This black and white view has been thoroughly absorbed by modern thought. Secular materialists have based their entire position on it, of course, but it seems no less prevalent among the romantics. They argue that the realm of meaning and value are purely matters of emotional and aesthetic experience.

As is probably obvious, I’m increasingly convinced that we need to reject the idea of a simple divide between fact and value. Empiricists have long pointed out that there is a great deal of practical biological consideration which goes into our concept of ethics. Romantics, in turn, have pointed out that a great deal of abstraction and interpretation goes into our science.

To me, it seems obvious that the attempts of one side of the fact/value split at dismissing the other have been failures. Rather than sit with the romantics, denying the importance of science, or with the materialists, denying the reality of moral fact, we need to question the idea of a clean divide altogether.

This would take us back to something like the notion of truth in the middle ages, in which neither the validity of the senses nor of moral and spiritual experience are singularly trusted. In that world, this would be a key part of the doctrine of the incarnation (that the bridge between the physical and the non-physical can be crossed).

This idea, so often contemptuously dismissed by modern people, is far more probable than the alternatives on offer. The longer I’ve examined it, the more inescapable it seems.

Are we Post-Modern?

Postmodern DemotivatorThis is a question I wouldn’t have thought to raise myself, but, having heard it, I did find myself intrigued. The speaker in question pointed out that no one is post-modern about reading the directions on a medicine bottle – that science should be accepted, and the non-scientific is meaningless. As such, he claimed that our current cultural perspective is very modernist.
Of course, this struck me as an oversimplification. While it is true that modernist thought emphasizes the importance of scientific discovery, it does not allow for the disregard of meta-narratives that occurs within post-modernism. This is a difference which, I feel, is very relevant to our culture.

The most succinct way I’ve heard it put is, unfortunately, also the most cynical:
No one is post-modern on issues (s)he really cares about.

I’ve often had the thought that post-modernism is, for most of us, more an excuse to avoid debating what is true than something we actually believe. It’s simply much easier, and superficially pithy, to say “you do it your way and I’ll do it mine” than to hash out the differences. Even agreeing to disagree means at least two things. (1) Stating directly that you think a person is wrong, and (2) hashing out a seemingly limitless pile of arguments regarding truth.
Neither of these things are comfortable, and I can definitely understand the appeal of stating that there is no truth.

But is “there is no truth” a true statement? While this is hardly the mantra of philosophically sophisticated proponents of post-modernism, it is a common implication from laypersons. Our culture seems to house a disturbing indifference toward the idea that there is no truth – no objective ethical standards, and no ultimate narrative of life and its meaning.
Personally, I do find it hard to believe that anyone truly accepts these ideas. The closest I’ve come to accepting them have been among the most horrific times in my life. Nor do I think it likely that the oppressed peoples of the world will be nearly so amiable to moral relativism as those of us who are complicit in that oppression.

I think I do, in fact, believe that our commitment to post-modernism is largely a matter of courteous talk. Try though we might, we believe certain things to be true. Rather than deconstructing our own beliefs for the sake of another belief (in post-modernism), I’d much rather that we simply found a way to separate “your claim is false” from “I judge you to be inferior”.

Were we able to do that, all this talk of there being no truth, or multiple truths, would become unnecessary.