Postmodern Cultural Patterns

The importance of understanding cultural patterns.

Miroslav Pujic, DMin, is the Ministry to Postmoderns director for the Trans-European Division of
Seventh-day Adventists, Hertsfordshire, England.

All statements are true in somesense, false in some sense, mean­ingless in some sense, true and false in some sense, true and meaningless in some sense, false and meaningless in some sense, and true and false and meaningless in some sense.”1

Really? While the above may be a parody of inclusiveness, mocking the idea that truth and false are opposites, postmoderns do tend to see less of a distinction. Contemporary culture has blurred some previously clear lines: docu-fiction, “reality” television (TV) that has scripts, celebration of crime, and amoral behavior. Much that we have learned from culture patterns says that image is all important, and this plays into postmodern thought. Since “everything is subjective,” the implication suggests that you can do as you please. Of course, following such a principle does not avoid the painful consequences of being so self-referenced; denying distinctions between good and evil does not make it right. But as a characteristic of post­modern thought, the impact of cultural patterning is important to understand and address.

Playwright Harold Pinter states it well: “There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.”2

Such propositions are hard for moderns who draw very clear boundary lines. While it’s important not to accept that good and evil can be interchanged, when it comes to perceptions of truth, we must admit that it is possible to see things in different ways.

The nature of TV programming is a great example of how cultural patterns work. As David F. Wells says, “In our postmodern culture which is TV domi­nated, image sensitive, and morally vacuous, personality is everything and character is increasingly irrelevant.”Whether a pop idol, reality TV star, or political figure, image and personality are top priorities. This needs to be understood, not necessarily endorsed. It is the culture in which we live, and knowing this comprises the way things work is vital to be able to address postmoderns.

Here is a summary list of statements that reflect a postmodern attitude:

  1. If it works for you, that doesn’t mean that it works for me.
  2. Does not like to be kept in a box; prefer no structure.
  3. Question everything.
  4. Objectivity is out, subjectivity is in.
  5. Tell the personal story.
  6. Never make a final list, have an open end.

Let’s examine these six postmodern statements.

Assertion 1 is undeniably true. But behind this, you will find an overem­phasis on subjectivity and a tendency to deny the applicability of a good example and objective analysis, as indicated in assertion 4.

The rejection of structure and “boxes” (2) can sound liberating, but all too often this results in the equally confining rule of the self. This need to be explored because, in the end, we all operate according to some kind of structure.

“Question everything” (3) sounds radical; but while a cultural pattern, this is a challenging maxim to live by. One response is to accept the questioning, but then ask for answers. Questions without answers are hardly helpful.

Since objectivity is out (4), then the personal-story emphasis (5) can be very helpful and used to share with postmoderns since this provides a vehicle to share important convictions.

The open-endedness aspect (6), while it may be challenging, does allow for continuing conversations. “All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values,” con­cludes Marshall McLuhan.4

Yet, in so many ways, Jesus did exactly what these postmodern statements indicate. He challenged contemporary cultural patterns. He rejected accepted traditions. He ques­tioned people’s priorities and religious beliefs. Most of all, He both understood and challenged cultural patterns. He was not afraid to identify truth, yet also recognized that people’s experience of truth was different. As a demonstra­tion, examine these words of Jesus and see how many correspond to the postmodern statements above:

“‘That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?’ . . .

“‘So don’t worry about these things, saying, “What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?” These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs’ ” (Matt. 6:25, 31, 32, NLT).

More than enough to challenge many of today’s assumptions!

Question: Why is it important to understand cultural patterns? How can we deal with those cultural patterns that challenge the way that we believe?

Ancient wisdom: “ ‘Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need’ ” (Matt. 6:33, NLT).

References:

1 “Principia Discordia,” Wikiquote, accessed Apr. 16, 2013, en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Principia_Discordia.

2 Harold Pinter, “Nobel Lecture: Art, Truth & Politics,” Nobelprize.org, accessed Feb. 14, 2013, www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes /literature/laureates/2005/pinter-lecture-e.html.

3 “David F. Wells Quotes,” oChristian.com, accessed Apr. 16, 2013, christian-quotes.ochristian.com/David-F.-Wells-Quotes.

4 “Marshall McLuhan Quotes,” SearchQuotes, accessed Apr. 17, 2013, www.searchquotes.com/quotation/All_media_exist_to _invest_our_lives_with_artificial_perceptions_and _arbitrary_values./133189/.


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Miroslav Pujic, DMin, is the Ministry to Postmoderns director for the Trans-European Division of
Seventh-day Adventists, Hertsfordshire, England.

June 2013

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