I don't think I remember in my 45 years of being a Christian so much philosophy being discussed in churches and among Christians. In the past it was usually discussed with non-Christians, especially atheists. But now postmodern philosophy has invaded the church. Therefore, we all need to understand what it is. For the past two years I've delved into postmodernism and believe me, it "ain't" easy. Even philosophy professors in academic institutions admit it isn't easy to understand postmoderns like Derrida. I will try to help you with the little bit I've learned so far. I wrote this myself--I didn't copy it from Wikipedia or Philosophy for Airheads. I realized this is a VERY long blog but I am seeing that understanding what I am writing today is crucial for EVERY Christian in order to understand what is happening in their very own churches today. If you like history you'll like this post. If not, I tried to make it entertaining and funny.
I am what is called a Modernist thinker because I follow the ideas of Rene Descartes (1596-1650) and probably so do you if you are over 45. However, those between 45 and 60 kind of fall into a no-man's-land where they could go either way, or most likely to adopt a little of each philsophical period--both modern and postmodern. If you are over 60 like me, you probably most certainly do. So since I am a Modernist, which is another name for a Rationalist, which is another name for an analytical, reasoning sort of person, I will enumerate. Rationalists do the outline thing---like I. II. III and A. B. C. Postmoderns shudder at that. Modernists love the Four Laws--1. 2. 3. 4. with the stick-like figures. Postmoderns scoff. They want a continuous story and lots of really good art--ditch those cartoony figures.
So, here is the Modernist (me) teaching you Postmodern Philosophy in modernist terms (hopefully). But first, a little philosophical history to see how we got to where we are now.
1. The Greeks--Socrates started in philosophy what is known as reasoning and thinking things out. He also encouraged his followers to question stuff as that is what is involved in reasoning. The Athenian leaders didn't like this so they said to Socrates, "Hasta la Vista, Baby"(they poisoned him). His disciple Plato carried this on and taught that everything here on earth came from the Idea or Form. Augustine, a later Christian pastor and philosopher kind of Platonized Christianity and changed the Idea into God. Plato had a famous student named Aristotle who spent much of his life trying to find out how people could live in a good and right way.
2. The Scholastics--In the Middle Ages a philosophy known as scholasticism prevailed. They believed that Aristotle was "da man" and anything he wrote was truth. Thomas Aquinas was the one who "Christianized" Aristotle. Instead of rational investigation on what they actually saw, the Scholastics would refer back to other books and teaching that they considered authoritative (especially Aristotle, and of course the Bible and writings of church fathers and of course, popes). So, someone like Galileo, who investigated how the universe looked by scientific methodology, was on the outs. For example, Galileo disagreed with Aristotle's view of the universe and boy, did Galileo ever get it. Sadly, the Church (there was only one denomination at that time in Europe--Roman Catholicism) liked Scholasticism.
3. In the 16th century (the 1500's) two streams occurred, both allowing some rational thinking. On the religious level we had the Reformation where Martin Luther said we could finally read our own Bible and actually think about it. Also, the Rerfomationists weren't threatened by scientific investigation and discovery because they thought it would be neat to discover how God put together the universe and the earth and all of it's inhabitants.
On the secular level we had the Renaissance where some thinking was done too. A lot of technology was invented at this time which helped people think more later on. Examples of this were magnifying instruments such as the telescope and microscope and also the printing press. Musical instruments and various art media was also developed which led to great music and art both in the Renaissance and beyond.
4. Now enter Rene Descartes. He stayed in a bread oven a long time to think things out. He finally came up with a famous saying, "Cogito ergo sum." People in those days wrote in Latin when doing really academic or theological writing. Translated it means, "I think; therefore, I am." Or, "I think; therefore, I exist." You might wonder why he said this since he could just look at his arm and know he existed. But he was hard to convince. His method of investigation to prove something was to be the foundation of thought in most disciplines including Christianity until the 20th century, although there were some rumblings of what would happen in the late 20th century as early as the 19th century with a guy named Soren Kirkegaard who is considered the first existentialist. Then came the other existentialists like Nietzsche, Camus and Sartre. We can also throw in the transcendental poets both here in America and England.
5. Structuralism and Postmodernism--In the 20th century philosophers came up with a whole new idea since before Socrates. It was called structuralism and basically said, from Socrates on, philosophy was always concerned with finding the TRUTH and where it originated. Some thought it originated with the Idea, some thought it came from within, some thought it came from God, and so forth. Now with the postmoderns truth was no longer important. Their focus was on writing and speaking, and what the reader/listener thought was meant in the text. A text is anything written or spoken. They brought to philosphy something called structuralsim. In other words, what is the structure of the text?For them, THAT IS THE TRUTH. This is a very important concept to understand in order for us to know what is being brought into the church today. The structuralists were concerned with what is called binaries. Binaries are two things that are mostly opposites, like:
and so forth. If you read western civilization's great books you will immediately see that the first binary half is the point of view. For example. Most western European literature was written AND is from the point of view of white, free, adult men. But wonder if something was written from the view of the second part of the binary. What would it look like if something was written from a black slave woman? What would she say about things? And here is the CLINCHER:
Is her story any less the truth than the free white man's story?
Now, you are probably catching on to how political correctness came about. The academic world in the 1960's up to today really got a hold of this. The '60's children really liked it and as so many of them became professors they began to teach it to their students.
Deconstructionism--In 1966 a man from France named Jacques Derrida gave a talk at John Hopkins University in Baltimore. He rocked the academic world, not only in philosophy departments, but also in almost every other discipline. In a nutshell, his talk was about Deconstructionism. This is where you take apart someone's writing or speech and "deconstruct" it as to what the words mean to you, not necessarily to the author. In other words, here is this truth thingy again. What is truth? What the author means? Or what you think he means? Or what someone else thought it meant? But the really important thing in this philosophy is communities. I don't mean towns. By community postmodern philosophers mean groups you might be in. For example, you are probably in many groups such as your workplace or school community, racial/ethnic community, religious community, hobby communities and so forth. This is being brought into Christianity by "looking at" our historical faith communities.
Structuralism + Deconstructuralism in the church
OK...I am actually at the end of this post. If you combine all of these, what do you get? Well, read Brian Mclaren and other emergent village authors and this is what you get----What is truth really? Who decides truth? Does the medieval church decide? The Puritan Modernists? The emergent postmodernists? These are the questions they are asking. And this brings us to the two main generational conflicts. The over 60's are Modernists for the most part. The under-35's are postmoderns for the most part. The Baby Boomers and others who are in between age-wise, are kind of in the middle of this great philsophical transition, the first in about 400 years. So, this isn't just a generational problem--it's also a change in philosophy problem.
Well, I didn't get to Foucault or Lyotard which I need to so you will understand more how the under-35 mind works today and how that will influence the church and why they don't come to our churches. It isn't the music really. It's the whole mind think. So what do we do then? Well, that is my BIG question too and maybe we can work through this together. So, I will continue this in my next post.
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