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Features of Postmodernism
February 13, 2013 George Ouma

Features of Postmodernism

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In postmodernism there is a change in orientation (paradigm) which is evidenced by the widespread acceptance of the collapse of the attempt by those within modernism to build a rationale for values and ultimate meaning. Out of its commitment to relativism and pluralism, postmodernism rejects all notions of objective truth, hoping that in subjective truths human beings may realize a modicum of personal meaning, and fulfillment which is unattainable through modernism.

Postmodernists are essentially modernists who have correctly diagnosed the bankruptcy of modernism and have abandoned its claim to be able to achieve meaning. Thus “[P]ostmodernists produced blatantly self-centered works and abandoned the goal of improvement” (Whitehead, 236). In their disillusionment they have substituted a quasi-mystical, quasi-transcendent, scaled-back, severely-reduced egalitarian philosophy in the attempt to satisfy the need for meaning.

The most destructive wing of postmodernism despairs even of the possibility of meaningful personal truths and argues for an ultimately nihilistic view of life. It is difficult to describe postmodernism according to common tenets. Some in its constructive wing are willing to admit common-sense core values—“belief in a centered universe, in a centered self, and in a meaningful history, and which consistently preserves the practical importance of beliefs about freedom, good and evil, purpose, reality and truth.”[i]

Postmodern thinkers seek a grand unifying of meaning under a broad and fuzzy “Cosmic Totality.” In this mindset they hold that all is one; humans are divine; salvation is through intuitive knowing; desire, choice, and the erotic liberate; reason kills because it organizes, systematizes, and fragments reality; traditional sexuality is confining and oppressive.

In postmodernism there is a reversal of modernism’s placement of maleness over femaleness, contract over choice, sense-perception over intuition, objectivity over subjectivity and objective facts over personal values. Postmodernism rejects the existence of a “metanarrative”—“an interpretive structure which gives meaning to reality and common experience” (Phillips, in Dockery, 132). What survives are only multiple perspective and diverse stories, each of which is equally viable and personally meaningful (i.e., true). Universals are an illusion.  They adhered to; they only oppress and terrorize the person and society as a whole. In postmodernism there is the removal of all foundations (White, in Dockery, 169), there is no proper starting point or a specifically prescribed direction for moral practices. The “[C]ontemporary youth have virtually no idea of where they came from, who they are, or where they are going” (Whitehead, 259).

In the spheres of the non-existence of eternal truth, there is only an endless succession of “nows” and accordingly, a collapse of the importance of history. The worldview of the North and South poles must give way to the stories of marginal groups. Society should be structured according to multi-cultural political, social, and educational agenda where free expression and multi-perspectivalism prevails. The philosopher in the current world is a reporter who mirrors society. What “is” is constituted by the data from pools, sociological studies and ,psychological patterns. That which is, is “normal,” and what is “normal” is “good.” There is a secularization in which morality and truth are more often the property of the media than the church (White, in Dockery, 170). Thus the ideas of a religious nature are filtered out of the public square.

There is a radical holding to pluralism in postmodernism since they regard it as a reality. This point of view is argued further to imply that not only do differences exist (as they always have), but no view of reality can claim to be true or is true.  There are rapidly multiplying options at all levels, especially in world views, faith, and ideologies. Instead of religion being a canopy that covers the contemporary culture, there are millions of small tents.

There is a syncretism which wants to mix and match, pulling together different threads in various religious in order to create a personal religion that suits an individual taste. Christianity becomes simply one of many competing worldviews, no better or worse than any other (White, in Dockery, 172). Religion is a matter of personal choice or preference and lacks any common binding quality. The result is that one’s personal faith is often suspended in relation to business, politics, of even marriage and the home. Personal faith is only one of many pockets of experience which make up the unrelated composite (White, in Dockery, 171). Unfortunately, what emanates from is that in this milieu, faith is trivialized to the realm of personal opinion.



[i] (Carl F. H. Henry, summarizing David Ray Griffin, in The Challenge of Postmodernism, ed. David S. Dockery, 2nd Ed. [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001], 43).


Comment (1)

  1. Kurt Jaros

    George, I was wondering if you could describe for me what you think are the bankruptcies of modernism.


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