Thursday, October 23, 2014

Secular Pre-Modernism

1. If you know how I think, I use the model of pre-modern, modern, and post-modern as a framework for how people process reality. Here's the decoder ring for the way I use these terms:
  • pre-modern - "first naivete"; this is when any of us--and let me stress that we all do this, no matter how educated or reflective a person becomes--when any of us project meaning onto the world or onto a text without knowing we are doing it. We are unreflective about our knowing of the world. We make assumptions of which we are not aware. We don't recognize the glasses we are wearing. We don't realize the element of subjectivity we are bringing. We see things that aren't there--they're in us.
  • modern - the modern turn is when we become reflective about the matter we were previously unreflective. So I used to read Matthew 5:45 to say that God allows bad things (rain) to happen to good people. Then suddenly (embarrassingly after I had a PhD in NT in hand) I realized that rain was overwhelmingly good in an agricultural world like Palestine that sometimes had drought! I became reflective ("modern") after not even knowing I had been unreflective ("pre-modern").
  • post-modern - "second naivete"; as I speak of postmodernism, it can involve a reflective return to some of the pre-modern interpretations I had before I was reflective on some issue. I recognize that I can still read Jeremiah 29:11 about me even though that's not what it meant originally. But now I do this knowingly rather than in ignorance.
That's all set up.

I'm sorry that I so often point out areas of unreflective thought among Christians. I just hate making God look stupid. And anyone who knows me knows that I hate this most about myself, when I make God look stupid.

2. But today I want to rag on the secular world, because being pre-modern is not a Christian thing. It's a people thing. We are all, by default, unreflective about the opinions we hold. Most of us do not, by nature, try to look at things from other points of view. We are a herd animal, whose nature is to exclude those who aren't in our group and assume the values and perspectives of our herd, whatever it may be.

For example, I know there are plenty of atheists with a strong sense of morality. Some of them are reflective about this--they might attribute it to evolution (it helps the species survive) or to a choice (an existentialist decision) or to sentiment (I can't tell you why but it feels good).

But even more non-theists are completely pre-modern about their morality. So what is the basis for an atheist to argue against genocide? I'm not sure there is any other than it violates our gut feeling as a post-Christian culture. As MacIntyre would say, we have the fragments of an earlier morality with no justification for them.

And what of rights? What is the basis for believing in human rights from a reflective standpoint? Why should we stand up for the weak or the excluded? Because they have rights? Who said? Where is this imaginary force field that keeps us from oppression? Evolutionary success? Sentiment? A social contract?

Again, there are vast aspects to secular society that have no real basis in the world itself. They are more the pre-modern fumes of a previously Judeo-Christian culture. As Nietzsche would say, as long as the supermen can continue to convince these pre-moderns that these things are real, we'll be okay. but the madman warns of holocaust.


John Mark said...

Brilliant post. Thanks. I struggle to connect your categories with my own way of thinking about premodern/ postmodern. But I get what you are saying (because I have been reading you for a while now :)). Dallas Willard said that civilization, or what we call civilization, is only a veneer and one that could be ruptured pretty easily (I'm paraphrasing) to reveal a subterranean world of chaos and violence. Thanks again.

Ken Schenck said...

:-) It would be interesting to have a discussion on what people think postmodernism is. My definitions have a unique flavor, but I think a philosopher might be able to map them to more conventional ones.