What I think I’ll do for the next few blog postings is take on the subject of “meaning” – as in, “what is the meaning of life?” You may be wondering if I have a little too much time on my hands. Hardly! But this sparks my interest, and so I’ll share a few thoughts and we’ll see where this goes …
We live in culture that’s been nearly overrun by the idea that “there is no absolute truth.” If you’re over 40, you find that thought a little bizarre. If you’re under 40, you’re not all that surprised that such a notion as the un-know-ability (my term, and admittedly a strange term) of truth has caught on. You’ve heard some version of “we can’t really know that” – at least in the public square – for much of your life. If you’re 40, well, I don’t know exactly how to classify you. (But enjoy it.)
“There is a God to whom we will one day answer.”
“We can’t really know that.”
“There is a right and wrong.”
“We can’t really know that either.”
This is the spirit of postmodernism. It’s the spirit of our age. But, when it comes to real life, people seem to apply “we can’t really know that” rather selectively. When you ask your dentist if you have a cavity, he or she is unlikely to respond – at least after an x-ray – “We can’t really know that.” If you hear that from your dentist on a regular basis, you might want to find another dentist. Quickly. On a level deep down in our souls, we inherently recognize that “we can’t know that” is far from satisfying. And far from helpful.
But postmodernism contends, with everything in it kicking and screaming, that there is no absolute truth.
How did we land here? Well, for starters, the Enlightenment failed to deliver. After the “dark” Middle Ages, people in Europe – and later in North America – believed that the path forward for the human race was the illumination of intellect and culture. Think about the late 17th century and the early 18th century, particularly, and on a broader scale think about what some historians call the “long 18th century” – stretching from about 1685 to 1815. Why were those years so important? Because everybody believed that the world was getting better. It was the “Age of Reason,” and it meant the reorientation of communications, philosophy, politics, and even science according to all of the new discoveries that were being made – and on the basis of all of the truth that was being learned and absorbed because of all of those amazing discoveries.
Even in the 20th century, when I was born, I have a vivid childhood memory. The mother of one of my friends died of cancer. Her death shook our little town, as she was admired by many, and she left behind young children. As a kid, I distinctly remember thinking: “I will not have to worry about cancer when I grow up. It will be cured.” That was an example of the “modern” mind, wasn’t it? I was sure that the answer to our problems would be found in the gaining of new information – which must surely be right around the corner.
But modernism didn’t deliver. At least in part, that’s why we’re here in this world of postmodernism.
I’d be stoked to hear your thoughts on the subject, and we’ll pick up here next week.
Much love in Christ,