christianity in the postmodern world
“What is Truth?” asked Pilate as he was investigating the words of Jesus at the trial. He was not the only one who was curious about that concept. Ever since the ancient Greek philosophers like Plato and even before them, people were interested in finding out what is a reality, what is true, what is the Truth?
The reasons for such a quest are understandable. It is much easier to live when you know the truth (or think you know it) because it gives you the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything (and, hopefully, it is not 42.) The truth will set you free, said Jesus, and He knew that from experience. By using objective truth as the standard or as a starting point, you can develop the rest of the philosophy; without that measuring tape, one might as well just die, since what’s the point to live without purpose, without freedom?
There’s one problem, however. How can you know that your truth is really the Truth? There were so many beliefs in the history of mankind, all different from each other and some completely opposite, that in the end, one starts to think that absolutes are non-existent and that all truths are, in essence, subjective or relative, depending on the circumstances. This is where Postmodernism comes into full light.
The main idea of the postmodern philosophy is that there is no real truth per se, or, rather, you create your own truth (reality) that you should not push onto anyone. All we know are bits and pieces of a whole, but we will never be able to perceive that wholeness in its completeness. Human knowledge is limited and we all are walking in semi-darkness.
When it comes to interpretation of the Scripture and Christianity, in general, postmodernism is a wolf in a sheep’s clothing. On the outside, it looks very appealing, very tolerant and loving towards those who think differently. It is accepting everyone with their beliefs. Perfect harmony. Not.
In reality, what it does is it mixes up beliefs in such a way that if one is not a Bible scholar or theologian (and even for them) it becomes very hard to discern the truth of what we should believe in, since, again, believing something would require some kind of truth and it is absent in this philosophy. At the same time, you would not consciously believe in something that is obviously untrue (unless you are trying to escape the reality and just hide behind the illusions your own mind has created but that is a different topic.)
Some parts of the Bible indeed are allegorical. For example, the creation of the world in six days. While I believe that our God, who is omnipotent, could have done it exactly like it is written in Genesis 1-2, I also believe that He, as the Creator of the Universe, did not come up with all the scientific laws after He created the earth. Therefore, the literal six-day process is rather an allegory for the evolution of the world. However, this does not mean that the entire Bible is purely allegorical and can be subjected to any kind of interpretation that is convenient for the interpreter. Unfortunately, this extreme has been abused by the religious leaders who, in their strive to gain power over people (especially in times when commoners could not read and priests were the few who were honored to get education), used Scriptures as was advantageous for them (for example, selling those pointless “indulgences” that only gave an illusion of forgiveness to those who bought them and fattened the moneybags of those who sold them). Postmodernism swings the pendulum to the other side – there is no truth that we are able to understand, so the Bible is just a collection of good sayings and you can choose which ones you’re happy to live with and live by; don’t worry about the rest, it is not important since there’s no absolute truth anyway.
Another great chasm between Postmodernism and Christianity, which is probably the biggest one there is, is the irrelevance of God, or, as some term it, His “death” (without resurrection concept included.) Rationalists like Spinoza, Leibniz, and Descartes all included the notion of God in their philosophies because he was a logical necessity. Somebody had to be there to govern all this world and to make it. With the postmodern ideology, God with his absolute power and knowledge becomes something that oppresses human freedom of choice and will and therefore, gets thrown out of the equation. Considering the history of Christianity (and its roots in Judaism before it), there were indeed many rules and regulations that Jesus came to abolish (and that usually is the main instrument people use to promote postmodernism in Christianity without stopping to think what it really means). However, what postmodern Christians fail to take into account is that Jesus did not simply say that all rules and commands are wrong. He trimmed them all down to two main commandments: love God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself. The total number of rules became drastically less (two instead of 613), but these two contain the essence of all the others.
Well, the postmodernists may say, these rules are good, but technically, you can follow them any way you want, depending on your personal background. Just as if there is a mountain and at the peak of that mountain is the meaning of life. You cannot see the entire mountain because you do not have a proper vantage point and the peak is hidden in the clouds. Therefore, to find that prize, you need to climb up. Many religions and cults of the world offer paths to enlightening and some are more exclusive than other. What postmodernism does is it says that you can use any path up the mountain. The only problem is that you will not get to the peak because that mountain is peakless, it just gets higher and higher, leaving you just one bit away from the tip and one bit away from understanding life.
Admittedly, the influence of the postmodern philosophy was not all bad. Among other things, postmodernism has changed (or, started to change) the approach to leadership and gender roles in Churches. Since time antediluvian, the society has been mostly patriarchal. Yes, there were priestesses every once in a while and we read about prophetesses in the Old Testament. Nonetheless, women were mostly oppressed or considered a weaker sex, not able to carry out the full responsibilities of such an important and holy role as a priest. That has changed.
These days, we see women getting a voice, social rights, and business recognition. This came about thanks to postmodernists like Julia Kristeva, Angela Davis, and other feminists. Their actions did bring about many positive changes, even if sometimes they went slightly overboard with it.
Talking about Christian setting, while many of the churches are still reluctant to let go of the fundamentalistic worldview, Church of the Nazarene officially allows women to be a pastor or in leadership position since the very foundation of the church and I think this is a right movement (even if I am biased in this regard). Gender should not be a decisive factor in whether someone can be or cannot be used by God to preach His word among the nations (after all, He even spoke through a burning bush and a donkey). Granted, an important factor to keep in mind here is that the worldwide feminists’ movement should not take the matters to another extreme where men are considered a weaker sex. Women and men are different not just in the body parts, but also the way their minds work. God created us complementary to each other and retaining this balance is beneficial for all because it allows to look at matters from different sides of the problem, a very helping thing in finding solutions.
There are many things where postmodernism goes against Christianity’s grain, but there are also positive sides to the philosophy that help to promote the Gospel. Considering that postmodern thinkers tend to be more on the empiric side rather than rational, stories matter to them more than dry rules and the Gospel itself is a story of Jesus’ life and the adventures of His apostles. Eugene Petersen’s Message version of the Bible becomes a very powerful tool that can interest people who are keen on relationships. Also, besides reading the Bible, sharing the Gospel also means telling people about the relationship they can have with God.
Jesus said: “I am the truth, the way, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.” That is what I believe. I also believe that all the other religions that teach about God have a glimpse of Him as well because I believe He is the only God there is, therefore, whenever people are talking about gods of some religions, they are somewhat right. But I believe that not all paths actually have the opportunity to lead one to the peak of the mountain and Jesus is the Way to the Truth.