Many sociologists saw we have entered a new era called postmodernism. This era contrasts the “modern” one (covering the eighteenth century Enlightenment to the mid twentieth century) which saw science and logic as having concrete, absolute answers to all of our questions.
Postmoderns say moderns have not thought deeply enough about the world we live in; nor have they taken feelings and experiences sufficiently into account in their view of this world. Stanley Grenz and John Franke (2001) summarize postmodernism as “the rejection of certain central features of the modern project, such as its quest for certain, objective, and universal knowledge, along with its dualism and its assumption of the goodness of knowledge. It is this critical agenda, rather than any proposed constructive paradigm to replace the modern vision that unites postmodern thinkers” (21-22).
Moderns have largely limited their knowledge to empirical findings. The only things they tend to accept as real are those things that have a purely natural or physical explanation.
Postmoderns have dared to ask by what authority moderns make such absolute claims. If someone claims to have an experience “outside the cave” who are the moderns to dismiss it out of hand? Just because the moderns are limited to the darkness and limitations of the cave does this mean with certainty that nothing else exists?
When moderns evaluate the world around us they also lack sufficient categories to discuss purely subjective elements. Their absolutist approach to the world demands that they speak of absolute truth and morals. Any communication is seen to have only one legitimate meaning. What is the foundation or basis for these absolutist beliefs? Postmoderns say that moderns have yet to offer a sufficient foundation for their belief system.
This is not just an abstract, philosophical debate engaged in by pipe-smoking professors with elbow patches on their corduroy sports coats. The changes in the halls of academia are tangibly paralleled in our everyday lives. Postmodernism is both an academic trend and a popular mood.
To illustrate let us once again consider the ubiquitous nervous system of our culture — television programming. You turn on the TV and a couple on a talk show is discussing how they feel about their marital problems. The moderator eventually intervenes and tells both people what to do, although he gives no reason why they should do what he says other than that he believes it will “work” for them.
You change the channel and on another show the audience is wiping away tears as the host talks about getting in touch with our spirits, but this host nevers says how we can known we have a spirit.
Looking for something else you change the channel again. On this one a guest psychic is telling people about their lives. The psychic just seems to “know” these things. No one on the show appears to care how.
Finally, you decide on a sitcom. The characters are cheating, lying and having casual sex outside of marriage. It is all supposed to be harmless and funny.
Our culture has changed. At one time people would have asked why they should do what the confident expert says. They would have asked with the other host meant by “getting in touch with your spirit” and they would have been more skeptical of the psychic’s claims. Fifty years ago the conduct of the sitcom characters would have been portrayed negatively and would have led to dire consequences in the episode.
It seems like these days people are less rational and more subjective and the more subjective we become the more we tolerate behavior that once was frowned upon. We have grown weary of the limitations of “cave life.” Truth and morals are no longer seen as universal and absolute. People can have conflicting ideas but both are “true for them.”
One poll conducted in 1991 found thaqt 66% of Americans believe “there is no such thing as absolute truth.” 72% of those between the ages of 18 and 25 reject all notions of absolutes (Barna 1991, 83-85).
Many people today are rebelling against the old limitations of modernism. The postmodern branch of architecture designs buildings with random, unpredictable appearance. Rather than teach traditional math skills, today’s teacher may use an ethically sensitive math curriculum that focuses on approaches to math found in various cultures.
Generation Years, now in their twenties, spend many hours on Myspace and YouTube, but do not seem to care much about grammar, punctuation, or spelling. We are forging new, more intuitive paths and many of the old concerns with rules, logic and morals are largely passé.
Postmoderns are more concerned with stories than with ideas and logical argumentation. Propositions are too concrete and seem too absolute for postmoderns who prefer to speak about narratives. They find personal anecdotes more persuasive than research or evidence.
Peters and Waterman (1982) advise contemporary business to recognize this phenomenon and appeal to customers through stories rather than information: “‘Does it feel right?’ counts far more than ‘Does it add up?’ or ‘Can I prove it?’ … Simply said, we are more influenced by stories … than by data … people reason intuitively” (55). The mind is no longer and absolute tyrant. Postmoderns think and feel their way toward truth.
Some postmodern thinkers go as far as to say that all we really have are stories. For example, rather than speak of the proposition that all men should be equal in the eyes of the law, these postmoderns claim that all we can legitimately speak of are the stories or experiences that cause people to feel this way. They insist that these stories of narratives may provide meaning to our community and us but they do not teach universal truths. No person, church, or organization, they says, has “metanarratives.”
A metanarrative is an all encompassing view of truth and life such as Christianity or Communism that claims to have absolute truths that apply to all people of all cultures and times. The French philosopher Jeans-Francois Lyotard said, “Simplying to the extreme, I define postmodernism as incredulity toward metanarrativese” (1984, xxiv).
In other words, truth is not above people and cultures; it is created by them, and different people create different truths. One culture’s narrative which asserts polygamy as just as valid as cultural narratives that see monogamy as the only valid option. Finding truth is like choosing a TV show to watch. There is no ‘right” one. We just pick whatever we like best.
The postmodern era is one in which we challenge long held assumptions, value our own experiences, respect the experiences of others, and seek for trans-rational answers to questions about life’s meaning and purpose. Modernism is a dry well in the search for such answers. The notion that we are just a chance assemblage of molecules makes us no more significant than a dirt clod.
Our heart tells us there is more to the story.