Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Living in the Era of Postmodernism

One of the books that I've read in the last few months is Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture by Gene Edward Veith. Every historic era has a predominate worldview, which defines the culture, the history, the literature, the philosophy, the fine arts, the way the people make decisions, etc, etc, etc. In fact the book that I reviewed last week, The Universe Next Door by James Sire,  details these facts by covering the many facets of major worldviews over the course of history. In the chapter on the Postmodern Era, Sire in fact references Veith's book on postmodernism.

I have had the opportunity to meet Dr. Veith several times (although he wouldn't remember me because I have sat as an attentive listener in his audience) in my frequent visits to my son's college where Dr. Veith has spent many years teaching literature. While in the college bookstore one day my eyes caught this title about postmodernism by Dr. Veith. Curiosity drove me to purchase it because I knew how nebulous the postmodern era was to nail down, as Sire mentioned in his own book. Furthermore, I know that the better we as Christians, and especially homeschoolers, understand our world, the better we can properly respond to these present times.

Last autumn I read Veith's book, Postmodern Times. It was so clearly written and heavily documented that I thought I'd share this book as recommended reading for any Christian as well as any homeschool parent.


Veith clarifies that there is a difference between the words postmodern and postmodernism.  The -ism changes the root word incredibly. Whereas the Postmodern Era is a timeframe in which we all currently live,  postmodernism is the set of ideas that characterize this present age in everything from art, movies/plays, and literature, all of which influences the people, which in turn influences the government...which eventually becomes the history of the era that people of the future will look back on.

In short, postmodernism defines truth as being relative and has no moral absolutes. After detailing these concepts in full, Veith discusses the shift in worldview from previous eras of romanticism, Marxism, fascism and existentialism to the current one of postmodernism. Therefore Veith's book provides a window into further understanding past worldviews as contrasted with our current one.

Why is all of this important? Let's take some commonly understood concepts from the more traditional past and look at how they relate to the present concepts of postmodernism...as quoted from Veith's book :

"Since there is no objective truth, history may be rewritten according to the needs of a particular group." p50

"The traditional academic world operated by reason, study, and research; postmodernist academia is governed by ideological agendas, political correctness, and power struggles." p58

Why is the traditional being so quickly exchanged for postmodernist thought? In part due to the change in information gathering:

Neil Postman has shown how a society's information media affect the very way its people think. Reading a 300-page book demands sequential thinking, active mental engagement, and a sustained attention span. Reading also encourages a particular sense of self-one reads in private, alone with oneself and with one's thoughts. Watching television, on the other hand, presents information rapidly and with minimal effort on the part of the viewer, who becomes part of a communal mass mind. Visual images are presented, rapid-fire, with little sense of context or connection. p81

In short our brains are becoming rewired and quite subtly in many ways. Therefore Veith analyzes...both good and bad...the visual arts, performance arts, architecture, malls and theme parks, TV, movies, literature, etc in our postmodern world, analyzing the traditional ideas that remain v. the ideas of postmodernism that have emerged.

Then Veith examines postmodernism from our viewpoint as American citizens who participate in a representative republic established by our Founding Fathers: "Today postmodernist legal theory teaches that the Constitution is not a document setting forth absolute principles, but an organism that must be continually reinterpreted as society involves." p167

Next Veith analyzes postmodernism in our everyday world: business, a new social class, science, medicine, education, social policy, global environment, and religion..."Postmodernism shapes our lifestyles, the way we make a living, how we educate our children, and how we approach our personal problems and those of society." p175

Finally he addresses how to take a stand and live in a postmodern world...whether "to go along with the times or to counter them" p230 

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