On being Christian in a postmodern context

I want to highlight a recently (re-)posted article by Joseph Bottum at First Things.  He reflects on being Christian in light of both modern and postmodern sensibilities.  I admit that philosophy is not a strong point of mine, and I will need another couple of readings to really digest this, but it is worth your time.  Here is a sample:

Of course believers are tempted, when they hear postmodern deconstructions of modernity, to argue in support of modernity. After all, believers share with modern nonbelievers a trust in the reality of truth. They affirm the efficacy of human action, the movement of history towards a goal, the possibility of moral and aesthetic judgments. But believers share with postmoderns the recognition that truth rests on a faith that has itself been the sole subject of the long attack of modern times. The most foolish thing believers could do is to make concessions now to a modernity that is already bankrupt (and that despises them anyway) and thus to make themselves subject to a second attack—the attack of the postmodern on the modern. Faithful believers are not responsible for the emptiness of modernity. They struggled against it for as long as they could, and they must not give in now. They must not, at this late date, become scientific, bureaucratic, and technological; skeptical, self-conscious, and self-mocking.


5 thoughts on “On being Christian in a postmodern context”

  1. What frustrates me about an article like this is not the analysis and conclusion, it’s the style.

    If there’s something worth understanding and believing, I would expect at least an effort to share it in such a way that a wider audience can grasp it and wrestle with it.

    It may not be as palatable to the intellegentsia already well versed in philosophical and theological thought and history, or even perceived as too “dumbed down” in the author’s mind to share the compexities of the subject matter adequately, but at least it has a chance to get some traction.

    I really wonder sometimes about the actual motive. Is it really to gain this traction and have a deeper impact, or is it just to appear smart and gain recognition?

    1. Josh,

      Thank you for stopping by. I share your concerns that something like this is difficult for a larger audience. It was difficult for me (part of the reason I confessed that philosophy was not my strong suit). But I think it is worth the effort, in particular for those who are trying to think through how Christianity should work in various milieus.

      I liked that Mr. Bottum did not give us an uncritical endorsement of either the modern or postmodern mindset. Too many Christians have done so, and the consequences are obvious. Modern, liberal Christianity that we’ve seen for decades is bankrupt; it quite often ceases to exist for the sake of Christ, but rather faith becomes a way of self-actualization and perhaps social justice.

      The postmodern angle can also be problematic. I think the author is right that we have more in common with the the Pomo’s than the moderns, but we still must do the hard work of figuring out where there are parallels and where there are problems. For someone that hasn’t read a lot of Foucault and other Pomos, like myself, Bottum’s analysis is quite useful. Christians cannot take the left wing postmodern account to ourselves – the way of the french deconstructionists – because that is the road to Nihilism (paved by Nietzsche).

      But neither can we take the right wing of postmodernity at face value, in the way of someone like Alisdair MacIntyre and his followers. This is because, as Bottum says, we are all in some sense moderns, and attempting to retreat into the safe-haven of premodern traditions is both dishonest and impossible.

      Anyway, just my two cents. I will say that this is an article that makes me thankful for wikipedia!

  2. I have no objections to Bottum’s main arguments (although I can imagine what a counter argument from a thoroughly postmodern perspective would look like).

    I still think he could have said the same thing in the way you just replied to me.

  3. I consider myself more postmodern than modern, so this is a strange read for me. (I only read the excerpt. I checked the full article: tldr.) For example, I affirm “the movement of history towards a goal,” but for a vastly different reason than non-Christian modernists. I consider their affirmation of this as being wrong. (Am I allowed to do this by postmodernism?)

    Honestly, it’s hard for me to separate modernism from fundamentalism. They both claim to have indisputable answers, and I beg to differ.

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