Fortunately, postmodernism is on its way out. But much like the devil being bound in Revelation and destroying half the stars with his tail on his way down, postmodernism is still exerting influence even as it draws its final breaths. It knows its defeat is imminent, and it is raging to wreak as much havoc as possible before its demise. What will arise in the vacuum it leaves might be equally as vacuous, absurd, or annoying; but one victory at a time. As we are still picking spoiled remnants of the Enlightenment out of our beards, we will be straining out postmodern influence for many years to come. This is especially true in the church at large, as the church always lags a few years behind academic and cultural thought.
In his recent book The Intolerance of Tolerance, D.A. Carson explains that though postmodernism as a movement is dead, its influence is still widespread. The premise of his book is that “tolerance” has come to be the dominant idiom of our time, even as its definition has changed over the centuries. The old meaning of tolerance is defined as holding to the truth while acknowledging the reality of other people holding to other truth claims, with room for respectful disagreement and criticism. The newer definition of tolerance is that of claiming that all truths are equally valid except for those that are intolerant. In more extreme cases, the new tolerance does not acknowledge any truth, and labels any religion or system of thought claiming truth as intolerant. Thus, voicing any disagreement, criticism, or claims to exclusivity is ironically demonized as intolerant, leaving no room for anything but “tolerance,” which is no truth at all. Full speed ahead to the absurd. The following quotation is worth reading, and Carson uses “tolerance” here in the newer way.
“Regardless of the widespread inability to agree on what it is, postmodernism has exerted incalculable influence in much of the world. Disagreement over the essence of postmodernism cannot blind us to its effect. Almost all sides agree that as a movement postmodernism is dead. Except in some American undergraduate programs, its luminaries are no longer read – certainly not in Europe, whence most of them sprang. Yet the effluents of postmodernism, however defined, are still very much with us, shaping our thoughts and cultural values. What cannot be denied is that, in its wake, countless millions of people find it difficult, at least on some subjects, to think in terms of truth and error, much preferring to think in terms of differences of opinion, of varying perspectives. The dawning of postmodernism coincided, at least in part, with the increasing diversification of the populations of many of the world’s metropolises. The impact of this increasing empirical pluralism is multiplied many times over by the digital revolution: with minimal effort we find ourselves exposed to an incredibly broad diversity of cultures, opinions, interpretations of history, languages, and so forth. Moreover, in the virtual world we can create our own realities. All of this conspires to push questions of truth to the margins while magnifying the importance of tolerance…Regardless of the terminology pragmatism now commonly eclipses both nature and religion as cultural authority. But if in its most aggressive forms postmodernism has declined, it has left a residue of subjective eclecticism that fosters the elevation of tolerance to the enthroned status of supreme virtue.” (pp. 73-74)
Further, to borrow a C.S. Lewis-ism, postmodernism is built on ladders in the air. The postmodern emperor has no clothes, to mix metaphors. The absurdity of postmodernism has been staring us right in the face, and it is finally starting to show. As leftist scholar Terry Eagleton writes:
“For all its vaunted openness to the Other, postmodernism can be quite as exclusive and censorious as the orthodoxies it opposes. One may, by and large, speak of human culture but not human nature, gender but not class, the body but not biology, jouissance but not justice, post-colonialism but not the petty bourgeoisie. It is a thoroughly orthodox heterodoxy, which like any imaginary form of identity needs its bogeyman and straw targets to stay in business.” (qtd. in Carson, pp. 82-83)
We must keep fighting to expose the bogeymen and straw targets of postmodernism for what they are. The best ammunition against such absurdities is the gospel, and especially the “foolishness” of the forgiveness of sins and the incredible triumph of the resurrection.