by Bill Nugent
Let’s take a look at two serious challenges to our faith called modernism and postmodernism.
Modernism can be defined as the view that absolute truth can only be discovered by reason (rational thought). Modernists reject the traditional Christian view that absolute truth (morality) is given by God in the form of the Ten Commandments and other statements in the Bible. Modernists believe that there are moral values that apply to every member of all societies but these moral values are discovered by man, not given by God. Modernists deny that the Bible is inspired by God and they undermine the faith of millions.
Modern liberalism can be traced back to David Hume (1711-1776) who wrote that morals can be discovered by scientific experimentation. Another modernist, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), introduced a radical utilitarianism that said a right action is an action that brings the greatest amount of happiness to the largest number of people.
Even though they rejected the Bible, most 19th century modernists regarded homosexuality as being both unnatural and irrational. Early modernists also opposed abortion because they considered a preborn child to be a living human being. Even prominent Secular Humanist Horace Mann (1796-1859) vociferously opposed abortion. Utilitarians and other 19th century modernists believed that humans were never to be the means to an end. In other words, never kill a human being, even a preborn baby, in order to make other human beings happy.
Modernists agreed with Christians on the unique value of human life although they came to their position by different means. This quaint, restrained phase of philosophical liberalism was not to last long. Modernism and its appeal to reason was soon to be swept away by postmodernism with its appeal to unbridled human passion. Postmodernism became the dominant philosophy of the 20th century and made it the bloodiest of all centuries.
Postmodern philosophers teach that there is no absolute truth or morals. No moral code applies all people in all societies. To them there is no law above man’s law. They claim that truth, if there is any, is not revealed by God or discovered by man’s reason. Truth is created by each individual human mind. Each person has their own truth. Even the concept of social justice is viewed by the postmodernists as a mere social convention. All cultures are equally good. All lifestyles are equally valid. It all sounds very tolerant and liberating but young people exposed to it are set adrift. They reject all absolutes and embrace apathetic nihilism only to become disillusioned with nihilism and turn to some very strict absolutes. The yearning for guidance and structure leads the young to authoritarian cult leaders or to embrace totalitarian political philosophies such as communism or fascism.
A prominent postmodernist philosopher was Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). His philosophy is essentially a radical existentialism. Existentialism is a philosophy that exalts the self and exhorts people to boldly throw off social conventions. Nietzsche so disdained the term “morals” that he gave us a new term “values” for what he thought should be the norms of a society. His writings were a major underpinning of a youth movement in Germany. German fascism, called Nazism, was a legacy of Nietzsche’s postmodern thought. Hitler distributed copies of Nietzsche’s books to his entire officers corps.
In our own postmodern society the universities teach ethics or values without any appeal to revelation or reason. There is only an appeal to a vague intellectual fad called “political correctness.” Political correctness claims to be tolerant yet most universities won’t tolerate a conservative Christian speaker on campus. Such speakers are shouted down or worse. Political correctness is only a fad with no moorings and it is sure to mutate into something very different as time goes on. The recent past has shown us that postmodernists have tended to embrace totalitarian political ideologies. Ironically, postmodernism, which denies all absolutes, in the end tends toward the acceptance of a very strict absolute.
Some good books to read on modernism and postmodernism are A SHATTERED VISAGE: The Real Face of Atheism by Ravi Zacharias and IS REALITY OPTIONAL? by Thomas Sowell.