Understanding and relating to the new world view

Is there another era after the postmodern era? The author discusses this question.

Aleksandar S. Santrac, DPhil, is Associate Professor of Religion, Ethics & Philosophy, University of the Southern Caribbean

In his work City as Landscape: A Post- Postmodern View of Design and Planning,1 Tom Turner stresses that “The modernist age, of ‘one way, one truth, one city’ is dead and gone. The postmodernist age of ‘anything goes’ is on the way out. Reason can take us a long way, but it has limits. Let us embrace post-postmodernism—and pray for a better name.” Modernism roughly covers the period from the emergence of philosophical rationalism of the seventeenth century through the end of the twentieth century. Many believe that the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 symbolically represents the starting point for a new era of postmodernity, although French philosophical postmodernism came on the world scene in the seventies. Logically, every system of thought and every cultural phenomenon has its limits, as Turner argues. It seems that today the postmodernist emphasis on pluralism, perspectivism, subjectivism, and antirationalism does not satisfy intellectuals who always search for a new criticism.

Much has been said about postmodernism. My purpose here does not include the discussion of the features of this widely accepted contemporary worldview—or mix of many worldviews.2 I would like to address the question of the nature of the trend that ideologically and historically3 comes after postmodernism and its implications on the life and mission of the church. In this succession of cultural periods, what really comes after postmodernism? There are no books explicitly written about postpostmodernism (PPM). It would be difficult to summarize the characteristics of the new “movement.” However, there are some basic noticeable changes in society that might be described as the emergence of PPM.

Very often the relationship between PPM and postmodernism is analogous to that between postmodernism and modernism. It reacts to and is critical of features of postmodernism. Speaking about the ideological content of these philosophical and cultural trends, one could affirm the following sequence of thought. While modernism ruled with an iron fist of reason and objective truth and postmodernism with a hard-core critique of rational capacities, subjective perspectivism, and total relativism where anything goes, it seems that PPM rules and will rule with performatism, new transcendency, and new utopia. Let me tentatively explain these three as the most important tenets of PPM.

Tenets of post-postmodernism

First, performatism. Performatism is a kind of demonstration of the effect. We all know that performance is something that needs to attract attention. The movie industry plays with the application of this principle. While postmodernism denies the possibility of objective truth and affirms destruction of truth, PPM plays with the remaining pieces of truth as effects without any meaning. Through a critique of the concept of truth and final purpose of reality, the interplay between signs and symbols becomes very important in this performative perspective. In this context, the success of The Da Vinci Code was expected.

Secondly, new transcendency is, in a sense, a continuation of the postmodern “open door” for the irrational and the supernatural. Where postmodernism with its total critique of ratio just opened the door for the supernatural, PPM entered with powerful and deep interest for the mythical and mystical. Today, people are not interested in rational presentations of reality. Recent novels and movies like The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series demonstrate an interest for a new perspective on reality that could be called religious fiction.4 While the science fiction of postmodernism criticized the rational approach to science and its limits, religious fiction in PPM tries to criticize official forms of religion and lead people to a new transcendency of myth and religious mystical and mythical stories.5 Stories and heroes that resemble the myths of the Middle Ages have returned to the contemporary scene. While postmodernism rejected religion and affirmed total immanence (from the perspective of this world only), PPM offers the possibility of a transcended world of religious fiction in which humanity has lost the real present or future perspective. It is quite certain that PPM restores the concept of objective truth, but, unlike classical and modern philosophy, can neither validate nor invalidate religion.6 Since some objective truth exists—but there is no trust in official forms of religion—myths logically fill the gap of people’s interest for something stable, or just seemingly steady. Myths of the past in the new clothes of fictional religion become the imaginary world of comfort and escape for disillusioned humanity. It seems that PPM could be labeled as Neoromanticism, Neoimpressionism, and Neoclassicism7 with the strong emphasis on feelings caused by the emergence of a new and mythical approach to religion.

Finally, new utopia has become closely connected to the idea of new transcendency. Postmodernism had a strong anti-utopian perspective. Postmodernists did not believe in a realized ultimate world. They did not support the idea of progress towards utopian society of total tranquility and peace. This is why postmodernism criticized communism and Christianity. PPM, however, with a new transcendency offers a new challenge of a desire for the utopian world.8 With all the problems that planet Earth has, this is not strange at all. Religious scientists convince us that science and technology failed in the realization of this utopia, and they affirm that “religious consciousnesses” of humanity would lead us to the point of ultimate eternal peace. Not to mention that this seems like a New Age perspective that unfortunately has become compatible with the perspective of a substantial part of the Christian world.

Speaking about political changes, there are some indications that PPM transforms society into a multicultural phenomenon ruled by the Neototalitarian ideologies.9 It seems that after tolerance of postmodernism, the “ghost of the past,” totalitarian spirit appears again in many forms on the world stage.

How should Christians view, respond to, and evaluate PPM?

PPM and Christian faith

Since we already live in the PPM era, it seems crucial to affirm some basic points of dialogue between biblical Christianity and PPM.

Unlike PPM that only partially reacts to the postmodern subjective approach to the truth, the Scriptures affirm objective revealed truth and not just performative or subjective value of facts. God is real and actively involved in the world and not just a necessary effect or imaginary figure. Christ never acted with performance for its own sake in order to astonish and shock His followers. His miracles were signs of spiritual truths. He spoke truth and acted in truth, and truth was the appealing force (see John 7:16, 17; 8:31, 32). Nowadays, in the PPM culture of performance, it is not hard to imagine the powerful delusion of the antichrist’s miracles.

In contrast to PPM, the Bible does not speak about transcended myth as the invention of the human mind (writers of the Scriptures). Stories of the Bible are based on God’s genuine and true perspective of the inspiration process that is always truthful and reliable (see 2 Pet. 1:19–21).

Finally, unlike PPM, Christianity affirms the coming of the future world realized, not by historical development of human religious consciousness, but through divine supernatural action in human history, namely the second coming of Christ (see Rev. 19:11–16).

Thus, PPM and the Christian faith are basically incompatible worldviews. However, in our evangelistic efforts we might recognize points of PPM as a new possibility for mission in the twenty-first century.

Evangelism in the age of PPM

Evangelism in the twenty-first century needs to be performative with an emphasis on transcendency and utopia. What does this mean in view of the fact that biblical Christianity could not and must not sacrifice its content and power in Christ? How could we be relevant today in the context of the PPM culture?

In the modern world, Christ was presented as the Word. In the postmodern world, He was to be presented as an “Image.” In the PPM world, however, Christ as the cosmic Ruler and Savior who is coming again needs to be presented as performative power. The PPM period, in the perspective of Adventist prophetic revelation, accords with the rise of spiritualism. Spiritualism has to do with the controversy between two conflicting powers—that of Christ and Satan. Truth in Christ is successful as much as it demonstrates its power against the power of satanic lies and deceptions. This does not diminish rational adherence to the truth. On the contrary, it affirms a biblical-rational concept of the spiritual war between the powers of good and the powers of evil (see Eph. 6:10–18). Final evangelism, as we know, is possible only through power of the Spirit of the apostolic age. Affirming the biblical content of the preaching of Christ, Paul develops this idea in 1 Corinthians 2:4, 5, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (NIV). This power transforms, heals, regenerates, and creates a new being.

Christ is not myth, of course, but in the dialogue and encounter with the new transcendency of religious fiction we need to affirm biblical religious “fiction.” The power of the biblical story of Christ would be stronger than the powers of mythical stories invented by human minds. Since people are more and more interested in religion, very often counterparts of biblical Christianity and the church as an institution, we do not need always to present rational arguments about the truthfulness of biblical faith. We need to be a living performance of Christ. We need to live and die for the true story of the Scriptures. This authenticity of faith might offer the new power of biblical fiction.

Finally, Christ has promised a much more attractive and powerful world of realization than religious scientists who promise new utopias. The power of the true world is much more effective than the power of utopia. The second coming of Christ is plausible because people realize that this planet is rushing into self-destruction. They see the rise of neo-Marxist or religio-political powers that promise a new utopia, but they also see or will see that these promises stir vain hope, especially when the different tragedies of the planet will have multiplied. Next time you pray for the ultimate peace of this world, be aware of the issues at hand. There are two powers in the great conflict for the realization of the ultimate world.

Therefore, what comes beyond postmodernism might create an environment that could serve to advance the gospel. This is possible only if the disciples of Christ recognize the final wake-up call and receive the power that is beyond any power, whether in this world or in the world to come.

1 Tom Turner, City as Landscape: A Post-Postmodern View of Design and Planning (London: E & F Spon., 1996), 10.

2 The most comprehensive overview of the basic features of postmodernism from an evangelical perspective is still Stanley Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996). For a more concise overview of philosophical postmodernism, see Aleksandar S. Santrac, Deconstruction of Baudrillard (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2005), 7–19. The results of this study might be considered as a post-postmodern (PPM) reaction to Jean Baudrillard’s postmodernism. This reaction
includes an evaluation of postmodern ideas and “turning these ideas against themselves” (deconstruction idea).

3 I propose September 11, 2001, as a symbolic date of the commencement of PPM, although some argue that Turner’s book in 1996 deserves such a role. September 11 became the first shocking performative action (simulation within reality) and the beginning of unpredictable and uncertain history (maybe the end of history). After September 11, everything becomes possible, and humanity has no ground of hope or “anchor” of historical certainty. PPM basically affirms this uncertainty and performance as key postulates.

4 Religious fiction emerged out of the spiritual science fiction of the 1960s and 1970s. Good examples of this fiction were Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.

5 It is interesting that in one of the Post-postmodern manifestos, a belief in ghosts and miracles is explicitly mentioned (http://www.adamgottschalk.net/words/popomo.html, point 14 and 15).

6 See Morton A. Kaplan, “Post-postmodern Science and Religion,” International Journal on World Peace, 18, no. 1, (March 2001).

7 As Turner argues in City as Landscape: A Post- Postmodern View of Design and Planning, 8.

8 There are some new movements that want, for example, to restore communist and Marxist views (as a new utopia) against the postmodernistic perspective; see Antonio Callari, Stephen Cullenberg, and Carole Biewener, Marxism in the Postmodern Age: Confronting the New World Order (New York: Guilford Press, 1995).

9 http://anagennesis.townhall.com/g/bcdebeb9-fafb-47d8-8f63-78383b38a7d1?comments=true.

 

 

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Aleksandar S. Santrac, DPhil, is Associate Professor of Religion, Ethics & Philosophy, University of the Southern Caribbean

June 2008

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