CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

When Truth Disappears

Jul 1, 2010

Ideas have consequences and bad ideas have bad consequences. Unfortunately in the secular West, the rejection of God – which was meant to bring freedom – has simply resulted in bondage: bondage to bad ideas, bad thinking and bad worldviews.

A reigning worldview in much of the West – at least on most university campuses – is postmodernism. Along with its half-sister, deconstructionism, it has had a very strong, and negative, impact. A major casualty of pomo and decon is the very concept of truth.

The concept of objective, universal and unchanging truth is now more or less rejected, and in its place are simply ‘truths’. We all have our own truth, and no one’s truth is better than another’s. You have your story, I have mine, and that is all there is.

Metanarratives, or grand, overarching stories which are universally true, have been rejected for individual or cultural stories. We are told to be suspicious of such mega-stories, and of all claims at having the correct interpretation of things.

Indeed, deconstructionists insist that there is no one correct interpretation of a text (which can be anything: an idea, a book, a work of art, or a piece of music). Meaning is given to the text by the reader – there is no objective meaning to the text. Readers define and create textual meaning.

We are told we cannot grasp the mind or intention of the author – whether in literature or reality. There is no truth “out there” waiting to be discovered. Each of us “reads” reality from our own perspective. It all sounds pretty nifty in theory, but of course no one can live as a consistent postmodernist or deconstructionist.

Reality has a good way of standing these foolish worldviews on their head. If a trendy decon type goes to a bank and seeks to cash a $10,000 cheque, but is given instead ten dollars, he will be the first to make a stink. But under his own worldview, the bank teller could simply say, “Well, you have your interpretation and I have mine. None is better than another.”

Stupid theories always bang their heads against the realities of life. If we treated the instructions on a bottle of medicine as the deconstructionists would have us do, we would be in big trouble – maybe even dead. If it says do not exceed more than 10 mils per day, we better well assume the text means what it says, and is not open to anyone’s fanciful interpretation, such as 100 mils.

And no judge in a court of law will be very impressed with the excuse made by the pomo speeder: “But your honour, the sign said 60 mph, but I determine what the meaning of the text is. After all, there is no inherent meaning to any text, so I read it as 160 mph.”

Of course it is obvious that along with this rejection of objective truth and a commonly shared meaning, the basic laws of logic must go as well. Logic presupposes truth, but when everything is relative, then logic can no longer be appealed to. Thus fundamental laws like the law of non-contradiction have to be jettisoned.

This law simply states that A cannot be non-A. In the words of Aristotle, “one cannot say of something that it is and that it is not in the same respect and at the same time”. No two contradictory statements can both be true at the same time and in the same sense.

I am either now typing away on my keyboard or I am not now typing away on my keyboard. Both statements cannot be true simultaneously in their description of what I am currently doing. To seek to affirm two mutually exclusive truth claims may appeal to the pomo crowd, and many adherents of Eastern religions, especially Zen Buddhists, but it simply does not wash with reality.

So great has been the insidious spread of pomo and decon madness, that we find examples of this plague everywhere. Fuzzy and illogical thinking is rampant in our society, and politicians are certainly not immune from this intellectual disease.

Consider the recent remark by our new Prime Minister. Speaking of her atheism – although careful not to use the A word – she was happy to parade her religious past, even though she has now rejected it entirely. She told the ABC, “I’m a non-practising Baptist”.

Sorry, but for anyone who takes the Judeo-Christian worldview seriously, there just is no such thing as a non-practicing Christian (regardless of the denominational stripe). One might as well describe oneself as a non-practicing virgin. Or a non-practicing teetotaler.

If one is a real Christian, one is a practicing Christian. But the complete breakdown of truth and absolutes is not just a feature of the secular world. Sadly the church has imbibed deeply of this relativism and intellectual suicide. Many so-called believers are simply eclectic and syncretistic, believing they can juggle mutually contradictory beliefs.

I have met all sorts of these folk, from those who tell me they are Christians who also believe in reincarnation, to those who claim they are believers who are not bound by Scripture, and so on. There is even a group called “Atheists for Jesus”. I kid you not.

These folk profess to be followers of Jesus but believe things and do things which belie such a profession. Indeed, both Testaments make it clear that our walk and talk must be in sync, and any contradictions are indications of a lack of true faith. Indeed, there is much that flatly contradicts the remark of Ms Gillard in particular and the syncretists in general:

Joshua 24:15 Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.
Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.
Matthew 12:30 He who is not with me is against me.
John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Acts 4:12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.
1 John 2:4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
1 John 4:6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
1 John 5:11-12 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

All these passages assume that absolute truth exists. They all assume the law of non-contradiction. They all assume that religious pluralism is wrong. They all assume that life is about important decisions, not mushy compromise and eclecticism.

These and many other passages are based on the notion that truth exists, truth is knowable, and to reject truth is to embrace falsehood. Thus Christianity is overwhelmingly a religion based on exclusive truth claims. Such strong and uncompromising assertions of truth were not popular in Jesus’ day.

And they are not popular today. Anyone affirming truth will be called intolerant, judgmental, and unloving. So be it. The proclamation of truth resulted in Jesus being crucified, his disciples persecuted, and his church rejected. That will always be the case.

But as truth goes missing, it is time for God’s people to stand up and be counted. Christians are always the true radicals, the true revolutionaries. We go against the prevailing worldview and the spirit of the age. We proclaim black and white in an age of 99 shades of grey.

And that’s the truth.

[1360 words]

10 Responses to When Truth Disappears

  • One of the most prominent demolishers of PoMo balderdash was the outstanding philosopher John Searle;

    “I think it’s ridiculous,” he says. “The difficulty is that most of our discourse, and indeed most of our life, presupposes that we are dealing with an objective real world. If you ask me how to get to the next town, or what time the plane leaves, or ask the doctor if you have cancer, or just ask me to pass the salt, there’s no way that any of these utterances are intelligible without the presupposition that there is a real world. This view-that there’s a world that exists independently of us – is called ‘external realism.’

    There is a great interview with him here;

    reason.com/archives/2000/02/01/reality-principles-an-intervie

    Interestingly he also thinks highly of F. A. Hayek

    Damien Spillane

  • Edwardo De La Fuento wrote an interesting piece in The Australian recently about the great parasitic problems of postmodern influenced professors in the universities and the proliferation of meaningless degrees by the over-educated;

    “ONE of the many things ailing the present university – and the list is long – is the emergence of what we might term vampire disciplines. These new disciplines are parasitic on existing bodies of knowledge and tend to justify themselves in terms of critique, deconstruction, contextualism, discourse analysis and other approaches that don’t add very much to the total sum of knowledge a society or civilisation possesses about itself.”

    www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/opinion-analysis/vampires-latch-on-to-learning/story-e6frgcko-1225871243920

    Damien Spillane

  • ” …deconstructionists insist that there is no one correct interpretation of a text (which can be anything: an idea, a book, a work of art, or a piece of music).” – Jolly unfair on bus tickets and shopping lists, Bill; they’re just as valid as the works of Shakespeare! No, Bill, this is an excellent summary and intro to a very complex area of “thinking”. Pomo and Decon will not last very long; as you say, reality will not let it. The thing about the first Deconstructionists (like western Zen Buddhists) is that they were a protest against the Establishment; now they are the Establishment (in academia), but they will be yesterday before we know it (“isms” becoming “wasms”, as somebody said).
    John Thomas, UK

  • A friend of mine recently termed a particular argument he’d heard as a “po mo con job”, and I’ve now adopted that terminology myself. Yes, most of it *is* a con job. However there still are some valuable ideas (i.e. the less radical ones) which are found in post-modernism and I think we ought to be a bit careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. For example, there are some valuable insights in Kierkegaard, the ‘father of post modernism’. But I suspect he may have disowned most of his progeny.
    Stephen Frost, Melbourne

  • Good article Bill, but I have to offer one correction. The group “atheists for Jesus” is actually a group (well sort of, it is a bit tongue in cheek) that says they like the moral teachings of Jesus but don’t much like his followers. That is the core of what they are on about, and on some level they often sadly have a point.
    Jason Rennie

  • Thanks Jason

    But if you are looking at their actual website, this group is far more sinister than you lead us to believe. They are basically an ultra-liberal bunch who are pushing are the wrong (heretical) views about Jesus, including denying his deity.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill,

    Oh I agree don’t get me wrong. Of course they deny the deity of Jesus etc. Sorry for the confusion. I didn’t meant they weren’t doing that, I wouldn’t expect a collection of atheists to subscribe to an orthodox teaching about Jesus and his deity etc.

    But I don’t think they are overly sinister as such, they are called “atheists for Jesus” after all. They aren’t pretending to be Christians.

    Although I can understand your concern. I just checked out the website, this line from the article on the opening page just about made me snort my afternoon coca-cola out my nose.

    One of the major problems that we face going forward, is that many moderate and liberal Christians are unsure about how they should deal with the fact that almost all of the positions that are held by the Religious Right (positions that the moderate and liberal Christians oppose) can find support in the Christian Bible.

    That has to be one of the funniest and most honest comments I’ve ever read. I’m not sure what that says about these “moderate” and “liberal” “christians” though.

    Jason Rennie

  • Excellent Bill and I fully agree. I loved the non-practising teetotaler! Hic!! Just as an aside, I raise one small point concerning the impossibility of opposed views being equally true. A Christian mathematician/physicist found his insight into quantum mechanics revealed to him quite clearly that free will and predestination are not mutually exclusive, as some who argue against Christianity claim.
    Anna Cook

  • Thanks Anna

    Yes, the relationship between election and free will may be difficult to resolve, and may seem to be paradoxical, but it is not logically contradictory.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Post-modernism: Sophistry Under a New Name

    The issue at heart with post-modernism is the misconception that humans own ‘Truth’, that is, we are able to define our universe as we each individually perceive it. There is a Buddhist proverb that expresses this ideology quite succinctly: One day three blind men were walking along and they bumped into an elephant. Being blind they were not too sure what this creature was, so they each endeavoured to feel around and discover for themselves what was obstructing their path. The first man felt the trunk of the elephant and declared “it is a python”, the second felt the tusk and replied “no you idiot, it is a plough!”, the third felt the ears and was convinced otherwise, “this is a banana tree you fools!”. So very soon our blind men fell to fisty-cuffs to resolve the matter, none of them becoming the wiser nor were they able to resolve their disagreement. This anecdote is used by the ‘po-mo’ movement to drag down the dialectic method of reasoning – ‘You could be all wrong so why bother? Every-one is right in their own mind, so let’s just agree to disagree’. The problem with this methodology is that ‘Truth’ is outside the human experience – no matter how convinced each blind man is about the elephant being something other than it is, their personal conviction will not stop them getting trampled! I call post-modernism ‘sophistry’ because, as with Plato’s name-sake contemporaries, it is not the value or accuracy of an argument but the force of conviction that decides who is right; after all, you don’t want to offend anyone…
    Jai W. Steinmeyer

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