Albert Mohler: Postmodernism and Society

Albert Mohler: Postmodernism and Society


We are living in strange times. Let’s just
admit it. You may have heard about the two elderly ladies. Excuse me, I realize in these
post-modern times, and postmodern sensitivities you can’t say that. You may have heard of
the two chronologically advanced females who were driving along on a highway and they were
pulled over by a police officer. The state trooper went up to the window and started
speaking to the chronologically advanced female driver. He said “Ma’am do you have any idea
how fast you have been going?” She said “Yes sir. I’m very fastidious about these things.
I was going twenty miles an hour.” He said “Yes, I know you were going twenty miles an
hour, that’s why I pulled you over. This is the interstate highway system. On the interstate
highway system the minimum speed is thirty-five miles an hour, forty-five in most places.
You have failed by driving too slowly.” Just then he looked in and saw the other chronologically
advantaged female who was the passenger. Her eyes were wide open like saucers. Her hair
was sticking out on end. Her fingers were embedded in the dashboard of the car. She
didn’t even appear to be breathing. The officer said “What’s wrong with her?” The lady said
“This is an interstate highway?” “Yes ma’am.” “I distinctly saw the sign twenty – twenty
miles an hour.” He said “No ma’am. This is interstate twenty.” He said. “But what’s
wrong with your sister?” She said “Well I guess the best way to explain this is; we
must have gotten on Interstate twenty off of SR 136.” Now, that’s where a lot of us
live. We’re living at 136 not at 20. We’re living in one of these hinge points in human
history where we know that big things are changing. Seismic shifts are taking place
all around us that are changing the landscape, the terrain of what is known, and what is
familiar. And we have labels we try to use for this such as “postmodern.” You know the
very fact that we use that label requires some kind of definition, and it is helpful
for us to try to put some fabric to the texture of what we’re talking about here. It means
“after the modern.” Now that solves it. Postmodernism is one of these awkward topics and frameworks
of discussion because it is so ill defined. There is a sense in which modernity associated
with the enlightenment, with the rise of industrialization, the rise of science and the rise of logic
and the gestalt of human control and huge theory. We understand that there was such
a time and we understand that there is now disillusionment about that time. We understand
that we no longer have the confidence that people as a culture once had in technology.
But then again we really do still have much of that confidence. And we understand that
there was the death of the idea of progress early in the twentieth century. If nothing
else, the killing fields of World War I brought to an end the kind of unrealistic optimism
that was at the heart of the early phase of modernity. We understand that the Enlightenment
in terms of its massive philosophical shifts did not bring about the kind of human liberation
that it had promised. And yet we still want modern medicine, not postmodern medicine.
Most of us want decidedly modernist bankers, not postmodern bankers. We’re going to talk
about why that is so. I want to talk about several features of whatever postmodernism
is. The first feature is the deconstruction of truth. Throughout most of human history
people argued about the nature of truth and which proposition was true, not whether truth
can be known. The Christian tradition understands truth as established by God and revealed through
the self revelation of God in scripture. Truth is eternal, fixed, and universal. Our responsibility
as Christians, we understand, is to align our minds with the truth revealed by a self-existent
God. That is so foreign to the concept of postmodernism. As postmodernist philosopher
Richard Rorty asserts “Truth is made rather than found.” You think about that equation
for a few moments and it begins to make sense when you consider much of the entertainment,
much of the conversation, much of what we hear around us. Truth is made not found. The
idea that truth is socially constructed is at the very heart of postmodernism. That truth
claims are disguised claims to power. That claims to truth are actually exercises in
the majority seeking to suppress the minority, in the empire seeking to suppress the colony.
It’s the majority seeking to isolate, subjugate, to oppress, and that’s why you come across
all the jargon of postmodernism with its totalitarian claims of oppression, with its hegemonistic
language. Michel Foucault one of the most significant post-modern theorists argued that
all claims to truth are constructed in order to serve those in power. Then you understand
why the great project of liberation will be deconstruction. If what is presented as truth
is constructed in order to oppress people, then liberation comes in deconstructing those
truth claims. And so in the west, especially in the universities and the academy, we’ve
seen this project of trying to deconstruct the big issues, the big frameworks, the big
claims of western civilization. Christianity is very much at the heart of that. If all
truth is socially constructed then all truth is necessarily relative to whoever is doing
that construction. Whatever society does the constructing, whatever unit or sub-group of
society does the constructing, it’s merely a relative claim. Little imagination is needed
to see that this radical relativism is a direct challenge to the Christian gospel. Secondly,
the death of the meta-narrative. Now this is take-home stuff. This is the kind of stuff
I’m sure you’re talking about around your dinner table every night. “What are you
concerned about sweetheart?” “The death of the meta-narrative striking at the very
core of my existence.” Well, it would if you understood it. If you understood the claims
being made here. Post-modernists accuse the oppressors of using a specific mechanism of
oppression which is the meta-narrative. That’s the explanatory theory of virtually everything.
It’s the big story. Examples of meta-narratives would include Marxism. Marxism was perhaps
the greatest intellectual and spiritual challenge to Christianity as a meta-narrative for about
a hundred years. Marxism has everything. It has a complete worldview. It has an explanation
of what we would call sin. It’s oppression. It has an explanation of why inequity exists.
It’s because of the oppression of the proletariat. It has an explanation for eschatology. What
is it looking forward to – the emergence of the new communist man. It had everything.
Christianity of course is a meta-narrative. It explains why anything exists. Christianity
has an answer for what it means. Christianity has an explanation for what is broken. Christianity
has an explanation for how it can be fixed. Christianity has an eschatology. Meta-narratives
would include the western confidence in progress that did die early in the twentieth century.
Technology is itself in its own form a meta-narrative that all things can be solved by technology
or by modern science. What we have according to the postmodernist now is the death of all
the meta-narratives. Jean-François Lyotard, one of the most prominent of the postmodern
theorists, explains postmodernism as simply this. He says “I define postmodern as incredulity
towards meta-narratives.” The big story is dead. Now again as an apologetic challenge
for Christianity it’s hard to find one more significant that this. If the meta-narrative
is dead, then all we’re left with rather than the big story of the Christian gospel is little
stories. These little stories have to do with “Well, here is my truth, and you have your
truth.” This group has its truth. Another group has another truth. The third hallmark
is the demise of the text. There has been a lot of work done recently on Christianity
and the book. Three or four excellent monographs, books that have come out just in the last
several months on Christianity and the book indicating that again the very emergence of
the book as we know it, as a text, a codex between covers was very much due to the Christian
love of learning, and to the Christian desire to communicate in rational form, in literary
form. The kind of conversation that would go on not only between individuals, but between
centuries. And you know that we believe that the text is an objective thing. But postmodernists
suggest that the text is actually there to be dissected. The text itself is dead because
the author is dead. The reader now establishes the meaning and no controls limit the meaning
of the reading. Jacques Derrida the leading literary deconstructionist describes this
move in terms in what he called the “death of the author.” So, we look at a text now
and we say “It doesn’t really matter what the author meant, it only matters what now
I mean, what I read out of this text.” Now before we start looking at the academic left
and start saying “Oh how prone to postmodernism you are.” Let’s look a little closer to home.
How many evangelical bible studies are postmodern in this sense? You get a bunch of evangelicals
and they are sitting in a home, and they each have a Bible in their lap, and they are sitting
around in a circle. “Bill why don’t you read this verse?” Bill reads the verse. “Alright
Bill, what does this mean to you?” “Well what this verses means to me is…” Having absolutely
nothing to do with the text. “Well let’s go around the circle and see what it means. Shelia
– what does it mean to you?” Have you ever been to one of those things and you just want
to stand up, rip your clothes, and say “I love you, I care about you, but I don’t care
what this text means to you. I care what this text means.” See we’re living a lot closer
to this than we’d like to admit. The text according to the postmodernist reveal a sub-text
of oppression. And again what must be done is deconstruction. You have to deconstruct
the text. So you have to find things there that were never there. If you want tenure
in a major university, do not write your dissertation on Romeo and Juliet in terms of actually trying
to deal with the text. Write about Romeo and Juliet as a hegemonistic attempt by Shakespeare
to unveil the anti-transvestitism of Elizabethan England, and you’ve got tenure. The fourth
issue is the dominion of therapy. Everything in postmodernism is reduced to the therapeutic.
This worldview infects the entire society. It’s all about therapy. When truth is denied
all that remains is therapy. The crucial questions shifts from what is true to what makes me
feel good. Philip Rife, one of the most insightful prophets of our time described this as the
triumph of the therapeutic. He used a metaphor we can all understand. He said “At every great
epoch of civilization, there is a form of architecture that symbolizes the age.” He
said “If you look into times of old, you will see that the most important building was a
temple, indicating that the community, the society saw that as what was most important
– worship. Even in the medieval era if you looked for the building that would symbolize
the entire civilization, it would be the cathedral with its gothic arches reaching up, testifying
to the transcendence of God.” He said “In the modern era, the great building that would
represent the time would be the United States Capitol Building, the place of legislative
assembly, the place of democratic deliberation. That would define in so many ways the modern
era.” He said “If there was any one building that represents our era now, it is a hospital,
because the only thing that we know about ourselves is that we know that we are sick.”
In the postmodern world everything is reduced to therapy, and everybody is sick. The diagnostic
statistical manual which is the official guideline to all psychiatric and psychological diseases
now includes you and me and all of us. If we say it doesn’t, that’s just another disease
you’ll find in there. Everyone is either in therapy or in denial. And the specific form
of denial – it’s a new disease all the time. I was reading on the airplane yesterday,
a serious article about pseudo Attention Deficient Syndrome. There are people who think the have
ADD or ADHD or ASPCA or whatever, but really don’t have it, but have convinced themselves
that they do have it. And soon there will be some kind of illness in the DSM for pseudo
pseudo Attention Deficient Disorder. It’s inevitable. Fifth, the decline of authority.
Now, this really follows when you think about logical progression. If the text is robbed
of its authority, the author of the text is robbed of his authority. It’s the whole issue
of authority. It is the root meaning of the word authority. Since postmodern culture is
committed to a radical vision of liberation, all authorities must be overthrown. Among
the de-throned authorities are text, authors, traditions, meta-narratives, the Bible, God,
and all powers in heaven and on earth. I know this is generational. But one of the great
philosophers of our time, Archie Bunker, once said to Meathead “Why is it all you non-conformists
dress alike?” And one of the problems with anarchists groups is that they all need leaders.
The decline of authority runs against the grain of human existence. And that is what
is interesting; we’ve now reached the point in postmodernism where they say “Okay well,
you can’t do without all authority, because after all, we have to decide who gets tenure.
So we just have to make sure it’s the right kind of authority. It’s a liberationist authority.
It’s an authority committed to a certain worldview. It’s the kind of issue that comes down when
you have a Supreme Court nominee. This last time, an interesting discussion, I won’t name
names, but a prominent United States Senator said “I will not settle for anyone to sit
in that seat who is not committed to a progressive understanding of the unfolding of human rights
in our times.” Again what they are doing is they are deconstructing authority but they
are actually not deconstructing all authority. They are just stipulating what kind of authority
they will accept. They are not going to accept an authority for instance that dictates sex
lives, rules about sex. Rules about issues that the postmodern world is convinced are
absolutely personal and off limits. Next the displacement of morality. If you do deconstruct
truth, if you are successful in your worldview in creating a system in which truth is made
relative, in which authority is overthrown, in which the text is dead, and thus all morality
is relative; you’re left with a situation of near total anarchy. Morality is after all
one of the fundaments of culture. But, in the postmodern world, it is discarded as oppressive
and totalitarian and invasive moral relativism marks post modern culture. Now that is not
to say that the postmodernists eschew all moral language. They use moral language, but
its moral language which they champion, which is again liberation from oppression. The only
morality that the hard line post-modernists will recognize is the morality of absolute
liberation from oppression. Someone once defined modernity as rationalized sexual misbehavior.
In many ways that is absolutely true. One of the things that would be fascinating to
trace would be the actual lives of these postmodern theorists. Michel Foucault, one of the men
I mentioned, perhaps the most influential postmodernist in American academic circles,
especially during the 1990’s died of AIDS. One of the absolute principles of his morality
was what he called polymorphous perversity, picking up from Freud. And what he called
the absolute mandate of transgression. You have to transgress moral norms in order to
prove that they are false moral norms. And he got involved in the worse and most grotesque
and unthinkable forms of homosexual misbehavior and died of AIDS. Postmodernism and the society.
I have good news and bad new. The good news is that hard line absolute uncut postmodern
theory is not something you are likely to encounter in your fifteen year old. It is
more or less isolated in the academy and in the intellectual elites. But here is the bad
news. It is filtering down. It’s filtering down, now it the hard line form. There aren’t
very many people sitting at the dinner table quoting Derrida Lyotard, and Foucault. But
their ideas are filtering down throughout the entire society and the civilization around
us. I just want to mention some signs of this. In the academy we have the absolute reign
of theory. The filter down process comes when the academic elites exert their influence
on the formative institutions of the culture. Let’s just speak about what those are: the
cinema, movies, architecture, art, entertainment, and of course education and the professions.
What about art? Well, art was one of the first places that postmodernism showed up. It was
one of the first places where the label was actually attached to something. Modernism,
you will remember, was associated with people like Picasso or Paul Klee. Modernism was an
attempt to take a absolute posture of rebellion against Christianity, against the established
order, against monarchy, against what was understood as pre-modern. And so the modernist
artists used cubes and dark hues and sometimes very jarring images in order to make their
point. Picasso’s painting Guernica about an atrocity during the Spanish Civil war, it
may be one the most famous modernist paintings. But you know what, you look at that painting
and you can still recognize, even in Picasso’s style that this picture is telling a story.
You can still see a man, his arms out stretched as he is about to be executed by firing squad.
You can still understand that picture. It is a subversive picture. It was intended to
subvert the authority of the establishment, the authority indeed of the Roman Catholic
Church. But it is still telling a story, and you can still understand that story. Postmodern
art is not telling a story. It is not intended to be viewed in order to enter into a narrative
or to enter into the understanding of what the artist intended. Instead it is intended
to be jarring. It is intended to be disassociative. That is one of their favorite words because
it means you have no ability to connect the parts, because the artist didn’t actually
connect the parts. Postmodernist art doesn’t have meaning. It just makes suggestion. You
see this if you walk into art galleries. And if you haven’t done this, let me suggest
a great missiological opportunity is to go into some of the great art galleries, and
especially go into the art galleries that are selling stuff, not just showing it. Go
into the premier art galleries in Manhattan and look around. And you will see the most
amazing thing. You will see people staring at pieces of canvas and at artifacts and suggesting
how transgressive it is, and oftentimes transgressive is the only word that would come to mind.
Sexual organs, atrocity, just excrement, all celebrated as art. It shows up in the theatre
where plays have no point and have no meaning. There is no conclusion. There characters are
not even speaking to one another. It’s like a Harold Pinter play in which everyone just
shows up on one stage. The cinema, this is also a place where postmodernism began first
to show itself. People began looking at films and asking the question “What is the point?”
Well there wasn’t a point. There isn’t a point. Now, here’s good news and bad news. The good
news is that most of the films that are again pretty much uncut postmodernism; you’re never
going to see. They’re never going to make it down to your neighborhood cinema. They’re
going to be in the art houses and their going to be shown on the university campuses. But
the bad news is that if you want to be a producer or director that gets attention, with the
artistic community you’ve got to import this kind of thing. And what you must see as your
mission is to subvert. The director of Brokeback Mountain said his purpose in making the film
was to subvert. And, of course, that was apparent in the telling of the story. You have art
and cinema, theatre, visual art and sculpture. I mean, just go in our nation’s capitol and
you’ll see the transition from traditional art to postmodern art. You go to some of these
things and you look at them and say “this means nothing.” And the art community says
“Exactly! It’s worth four million dollars. Because this man or this woman, this artist
is the absolute representative of postmodern art.” One of the hallmarks of postmodern art is
what is called pastiche. It is a French word which means you paste things together. And
you know, that’s understandable if you are five. But postmodernism basically makes every
artist; the five year old is actually the quintessential artist. We’re living in very,
very strange times. Photography; if you every want a very interesting
exercise, go to a good library, especially a big university library, and look at the
English edition of the Soviet Encyclopedia. It goes by different titles because they’re
always coming out with a new one, so there is the Soviet Encyclopedia, then there is
the New Soviet Encyclopedia, and the Updated New Soviet Encyclopedia; there are no more
Soviet Encyclopedias. But the reason you want to look at it is for the pictures. Just look
at the photographs. You’ll notice between successive editions people appear and disappear
in the photographs. It’s really pretty crude stuff. But when you became a non-person in
the Soviet Union, you had to have your picture excised from the encyclopedia, and that’s
rather awkward if you’re pictured shaking Stalin’s hand. And you know the Soviet photo-re-touchers
weren’t too good at it. My favorite one is one that I actually photocopied because
it’s just perfect. There’s a hand in the picture that’s not connected to a person.
They’re having one of these great Soviet multiple handshakes and there are more hands than there
are people. And you look at that and you say “Well, we can recognize that this photographer,
this re-toucher, this publisher, this Soviet agent, in charge of this, has taken some one
out.” Well, you see with photography now you don’t have to take someone out so crudely.
In postmodern photography you’re not attempting to tell, through representational film, what
happened. You’re now seeking to make a statement about what is possible; and so postmodern
photography is another one of these things that again is supposed to transgress. And
it can be done with such manipulation especially in the digital age, that it can make things
appear as if they are real when we know that they are not. We can make things happen so
that it appears someone is present when they are actually absent and absent when they are
present. We can change the scenery, we can change the perspective. And all of that plays
into the very field of postmodern art. In music, postmodernism has filtered down, especially
through the atonality of postmodern music through composers such as Philip Glass. Daniel
Albright describes, and you’re going to love this, describes postmodern music as marked
by three things; you’re going to love this, bricolage, polystylism, and randomness. Now
bricolage is like pastiche, it just means you add all the stuff in. It means you no
longer have to play by the rules. You can take a little bit of classical, you can take
a little of baroque, you can take a little bit of this; and by the way there’s not much
of classical and baroque that they add in, but you can take a little of this and a little
of that, you can add it all together, and you have the postmodern symphony. It is made
only more perfect if you can add a bellowing cow or something like that that’s supposed
to be disjarring again in order to make the postmodern point. In literature, the novel
has been completely transformed. Literature has been nearly completely transformed by
the postmodern turn. Just look at the shift from someone like Dostoyevsky to Philip Roth.
Just look at the postmodern writers and narrativists of our time who write stories that have no
particular meaning, except to subvert the existing morality, except to subvert the claim
that there is a metanarrative, except to subvert the idea that there is meaning in life, except
to subvert the idea that there is anything more transcendent than sex. Modernist literature,
that which is before whatever postmodernism comes, was a literature that specifically
sought to subvert Victorian values and Victorian morality. And so you had figures such as well
Virginia Wolff, being the great example. By the way, if someone asks “Whose afraid of
Virginia Wolff?” you should say “I am.” We as Christians should be very concerned about
that worldview because it was a worldview written as A. N. Wilson historian says, “After
God’s funerals, after the intellectual elites in Britain had lost confidence in the very
existence of God.” And thus they saw morality as now again a form of oppression, they saw
Victorian morality, they saw conventional Christian morality, as something to be subverted.
And so they sought intentionally to do that through the story line of their characters.
But in a postmodern novel you don’t even have to directly subvert it. And there is no particular
story line that necessarily matters. And at the end of the great modernist novel there
was either an absolute reconciliation or a suicide. But at the end of the postmodern
novel there is nothing but sheer confusion anarchy and despair. Nothing good is resolved;
nothing either comes to an absolute conclusion of good or of evil, and thus the postmodern
novel. The other thing that marks postmodern literature is playing with language, because
the language itself is understood as oppressive. And so you play with language and you use
a lot of hyphens. You start putting hyphens in words and you start putting words together
with hyphens and before long you begin to sound like a postmodern theorist in the academy.
You just put all this stuff together. You play with words. You have disjunctive conversations.
You have characters that aren’t even talking to each other, thus the postmodern novel.
One of my favorite places to show the impact of postmodernism is in architecture. This
is something, more people perhaps can understand. Postmodern architecture is often very attractive
to people. They like it. They often confuse it with something else. Postmodern architecture
is just like the music. You remember bricolage? You just add everything together. Polystylism
you mix all the styles. You remember what I said about postmodern art, visual art, Pastiche.
You just paste it all together. Well welcome to our world. Welcome to what’s going on in
modern architecture. Look at what is happening. The first great postmodernist building in
the United States was probably the AT&T building in Manhattan, designed by Phillip Johnson
of Johnson Burgee and Associates. That firm was known for modernist architecture. In the
mid point of the twentieth century, if you wanted to build a great modernist building,
these great steel and glass towers, you called Johnson Burgee and Associates. But they developed
this building. Philip Johnson developed this AT&T building in 1986 in New York City. In
1984 it was started in 1986 it was completed. It’s a great modernist tower until you get
to the top. Some of you have no doubt seen it. And at the top he put a Chippendale crown.
Now it’s very interesting. In other words, you have this great steel, concrete and glass
tower, nearly a hundred stories tall, and at the very top you have a cornice, a Chippendale
artifact. It just looks like it was kind of placed there. Like it started out being a
building and ended up being a grandfather clock. People started looking at that and
going. “That is absolutely phenomenal. That’s amazing. Who would have thought of putting
that up top?” Of course most people at the beginning were going “yeah who would have
thought!” But what happens in the art world is when people coalesce around the idea that
this is the trend, all of the sudden they go from “Who would have thought!” to “Who
would have thought? This is genius. This is sheer genius at work.” So you ended up with
all of this. Michael Graves the next great post-modernist architect began building the
Seattle Public Library and the Humana Headquarters and other buildings and he would build one
side of the building in Classical architecture, another side of the building in modern architecture,
and another side of the building. Until you walk around and you realize this building
isn’t a thing, it’s all kinds of things. Perhaps you’ve landed at an airport or you’ve been
at a great public building, and you walk in and here is a Corinthian column standing all
by itself, looking rather lonely. We’re not in Corinth. There is no structure, no portico.
It’s not accompanied by other Corinthian columns. It doesn’t look like a Greek ruin. Then right
next to the Corinthian column is a great concrete red ball that looked like a child had left
it, this would weigh several tons. It is sitting there by the Corinthian column. Then you notice
the building isn’t straight. The building is leaning. And you notice that it is leaning
on one side in this direction, and on the other side it’s leaning in another direction.
And then you go into the foyer of the building and there is a piece of Greek statuary from
Athens in the second century BC. And you look at that and you say “Well, what does that
have to do with this?” And then on the wall there is a modernist painting. And then there
is a waterfall you notice that is running under your feet, because you are actually
standing on glass. There is water running underneath. Let’s just add everything. Robert
Venturi, one of the great post-modernist, I say great in terms of influence, one of
the great post-modernist architects, had the motto “Less is bore.” Less is bore. Let’s
just add everything. You can break all the conventions. You can throw away the seven
books of architecture of ancient Rome. You can throw away the guidebooks of Palladio.
You can do away with all of this and just have everything all at once. One of the reasons
why I like to point to architecture is because architecture demonstrates where postmodernism
shows up and it also demonstrates conclusively where postmodernism is a lie. Everybody building
one of these major buildings wants a postmodern architect. But follow me closely. No one wants
a postmodern engineer. You see, you want absolute truth when you get to engineering. You want
somebody who is able to add and use a slide rule. You want somebody with thick glasses
and a pocket protector who believes in absolute truth. You want them working the numbers.
You want them coming up with the lines. You want all this happening. Why? Because you
don’t want it to come down on your head. Because you can lie with the way the building looks,
but you can’t lie with whether or not it stands up. About three years ago a major terminal
building at Orly Airport in Paris fell. You know why it fell? It fell and it killed some
people when it fell. You know why it fell? It fell because the post modern architect
didn’t like where the engineers wanted to put a column. So he removed it. So guess what?
Gravity is a very determined opponent of postmodernism. Gravity exists in order to prove the imbecility
of postmodern architecture. Gravity says “You can tilt your building, but you better have
a counter weight on the other side, or you’re going to be looking at a lot of pavement real
quick.” You see the lie of postmodernism is that you can’t consistently apply it. No one
wants a postmodern cardiologist. You know with postmodern art you kind of hold it up
and you can move it this way or that way and all you do is multiply the possibilities of
interpretation. But you don’t want your cardiologist going “I like the X-ray this way. You read
the CAT scan to say four blockages, but I read it to say it’s the heart of a fifteen
year old runner.” No one wants that. No one wants a postmodern banker. No one wants a
banker who says “Hey, you think two plus two equals four, but that’s hegemonistic. I’m
not going to play that totalitarian game. We’ve been oppressing people for too long
with that kind of math. From now on in my bank, when it’s your money two plus two equals
three.” The hypocrisy of postmodernism shows up with
the fact that postmodern theorist can’t live with their theories. In the academy, of course,
postmodernism has had far more to do with the soft disciplines, than with the hard disciplines,
far more to do with the humanities that with physics. Alan Sokal, a few years a go, a physics
professor at New York University decided he would do a little experiment. He wrote an
article filled with abject nonsense – absolute nonsense. It now goes down in history of academic
life in America as the great Sokal hoax. He wrote an article filled with such nonsense
as in his words he said “liberally salted with nonsense.” He sent it to the postmodern
journal published by Duke University known as “Social Text.” The title of his article,
you’re going to love this, is “Transgressing the Boundaries Toward a Transgressive Hermeneutic
of Quantum Gravity.” Let me just tell you, it doesn’t mean anything. There is no such
thing as quantum gravity. But the people at Social Text did not know that. He wrote thousands
of words on transgressing the boundaries through a hermeneutic of quantum gravity. He illustrated
that hermeneutic, and hermeneutics is everything. Interpretation is everything. When the text
is dead you’re left with nothing but hermeneutics, the process of interpretation. He toppled
democracy. He overthrew morality. He led a complete political and social revolution in
his article about transgressing hermeneutics, or transgressing the boundaries through hermeneutics
of quantum gravity. After the article was published he wrote an open letter to the academy
to the effect that he wrote nonsense. He said “I am a physicist. I know nonsense when I
see it. More importantly I know nonsense when I write it.” And you know what the great moral
debate was in the academy? It wasn’t over whether or not there was any consistent view
of truth here. It wasn’t over whether or not the editors of an academic journal – a peer
reviewed academic journal should have considered whether there was any validity to this postmodern
mash. It was over the fact that he subverted subversion, by writing the article and getting
it published. I think we need to come up with a brand new slogan. In fact I think actually,
Ligonier Ministries pretty much lives up to this slogan. “Subverting Subversion to the
Glory of God.” We need to be about that. Postmodernism comes down to the academy in the form of the
curriculum. Just look at the curriculum. Look at the growth in the curriculum. You know
the fastest growing part of the curriculum of the American university? It is the sex
and gender studies. You will not find this at Harvard in 1641. You will not find it at
Harvard in 1941. You will not even find it at Harvard in 1981. But by 1991 everything
has changed. Postmodernism brings in the idea that even physicality, even gender, even the
understanding of sex and all the rest becomes the major issues of oppression and thus the
goal of every right minded institution of progressive intellectual power and commitment
is to deconstruct these truth claims. Again you look at these departments and I can’t
even mention to you, I couldn’t possibly from this place, read to you the course titles
that you encounter in the American university catalogue. Everything comes down to sex. It
all has to be now more and more complex. You can’t have an office in your university of
gay advocacy or homosexual advocacy. Now it has to be gay/lesbian/by-sexual/trans-sexual/trans-gender/by-sexual
and whatever comes after that. You have to leave space on your door for additional words
to be added later because there are no boundaries. You transgress, you committed transgression.
If that’s your mode of life, there are no outer limits. What about the students? Campus
life comes down to this; a New York Times article last Sunday on the fact that the fastest
growing form of publication on the university campus is the sex magazine. And they are produced
by students, written by students. Yale University used to get into controversy over what is
known as “sex week.” The campus is given over to sexual experimentation in ways that again
could never be mentioned here, with the support of the university and with funding from its
student activities budget. But it is not even a matter of controversy anymore. Postmodernism
comes down to this. You must transgress all boundaries. While we’re in the university
we should talk about law. Postmodernism has infected legal studies. It specifically is
now known as “critical legal theory.” And critical legal theory just like all other
forms of postmodernism suggests that what must done is the deconstruction of existing
legal authorities. The law being an authority. The courts being an authority. Legislators
and governments being an authority. Police officers being an authority. We must subvert
all this – the critical legal theory. Again the fastest growing movement in law schools
in America. But it is all tied to that over-arching world view. For example the demise of the
text. One of the texts that is now nothing but matter for interpretation is the U.S.
Constitution. And the roots of a postmodern interpretation of the U.S. Constitution go
all the way back to the 1960’s. And it was perhaps best articulated by Associate Justice
William L. Douglas. When dealing with a case on the fourteenth amendment he found that
the fourteenth amendment didn’t actually speak to the issue of his concern. So instead he
said that he would rule this way claiming a, now get this, a penumbra of rights found
within the fourteenth amendment. Now the interesting thing is that the word penumbra until William
L. Douglas used it in his Supreme Court opinion, it had to do with astronomy, not law. But
none the less, he picked it up. And now, it is the goal of every professor in a postmodern
law school to find a right that hasn’t been found in that penumbra of rights before. You
see the logic of what is going on. You take the debate over abortion in America. You take
even the debate that is very current in our society over same-sex marriage, and what you
hear, especially in the abortion debate is this “We can’t take back a right.” Just follow
that logic. That again falls into critical legal theory. In other words, the right wasn’t
there. No one with a straight face believes that the framers of the U.S. Constitution
meant to put it there. But if was found there, articulated by Justice Blackman in 1973 in
the Roe v. Wade decision. And once that right has been found, it can never be forfeited.
Why? Because that would be sheer oppression. If you don’t understand that logic, you don’t
understand the culture cleavage in this country. You don’t understand why the people teaching
in the law schools in America do not understand who we are, why we believe as we do, and think
as we do. We must be interested in how they think even if they are uninterested in how
we think. The break down of a shared consensus means that even as the break down of morality
and social convention leaves nothing but therapy, the break down of a legal consensus leaves
nothing but litigation. The litigation explosion in this country is almost entirely traced
to the fact that this society has subverted the moral norms that would have led to the
resolution of these claims before they ever would get to court. Or the social conventions
that would have led to the resolution of these claims, or the social institutions that would
have aided the resolution of these claims before they ever would have gotten to court.
Now, everything is litigation. In politics we no longer expect to deal with what is real.
We no longer expect that the candidates are being presented to us as who they really are.
We understand that there is now such a process of marketing and packaging, and there is such
a reality of research and polling and of word massaging and all the rest. We no longer expect
that we are actually dealing with a candidate and his character. This leads to disillusionment
in the political sphere and again it leads to nothing more than the break down of the
larger society. In business postmodernism is also entered. But again it doesn’t enter
in contract level, and it doesn’t enter in the transaction level. In business it is more
about marketing. In our consumer society business has caught on to the fact that one of the
appetites of a postmodern age, is for needs that were never known to be needs before.
And so we now fuel this creation of needs the way that we fuel the creation of rights.
And now every kid needs an IPOD and a cell phone. Where as most children throughout human
history manage to reach adulthood without an IPOD and a cell phone. It’s almost impossible
to believe it could happen now, because we need this. A study was done by marketing age
just last week indicating that Americans are absolutely certain that among the basic needs
for human existence are a dishwasher, a washing machine, a television, and a personal computer.
That’s base level human existence. You can’t possibly live without those things, wouldn’t
know what to do without those things, having never met the modernist artifact of running
water in the sink, and the pre-modern artifacts of a rock and running water. This is now a
need. We create needs the way we create rights. The impact on the family of this postmodern
shift is absolutely huge. The family has been shorn of its authority, shorn of its functions.
The government has now stepped in. Christopher Lasch a late-theorist demonstrated this perhaps
more prophetically than anyone else. “The family has been stripped naked by the society.
The father has been robbed of his authority.” Why? Because we have to over throw the totalitarian
oppression of patriarchy. The parents have been robbed of their authority writ large
across the culture because after all who are they to say how their children should live.
Remember one of the big movements in the 1970s was children’s rights litigation. It hasn’t
disappeared. It has just gone into the larger sea of critical legal theory and it is coming
out in court cases all over the place. The family has been shorn of its educational role
as the state has come in to take on the role of teacher. The family has been shorn of its
culture shaping role as other institutions come in to teach children how they should
be good citizens. The family has been stripped of its spiritual role. We see the debris of
all of this. What does it mean that in Manhattan Public Schools right now six out of ten boys
are on Ritalin? Something has gone desperately wrong with a society that medicates boys in
most cases for being boys. But of course we couldn’t even have this discussion because
that too is a misconstruction of gender, an entirely social constructed concept. And thus
you see common sense denied. I mean such things as articles demonstrating that boys learn
better in the company of single sex education. And yet you have people coming back saying
“That can’t be true. Not only can it not be true, but it is unfair to girls that they
can’t be apart of the boys improving.” The fact that the boys are now out numbered on
college campuses by girls, and it’s not that there are just more women going to college.
It’s that there are fewer men in absolute numbers right now going to four year college
than twenty years ago. And, we can’t even have a rational discussion about why it would
be so. We look at family break down in America. We can’t even have a rational discussion of
why is it might be so. We look at the phenomenon of AIDS and we can’t even have a rational
discussion of why it is so. I mentioned subverting subversion as one of the Christian responsibilities
of our time. And I believe it with all of my heart. I believe that the time is short
because the reality is that this filter down process is affecting our children. They are
watching the movies. They are seeing the advertising. So many of them are in schools where this
kind of post-modern world view is being basically mainlined into them almost as if it is an
IV going right into their bodies. They are getting this from the culture. They’re getting
it from the music. They’re getting it from their peers. James Davidson Hunter, now fifteen
years ago, wrote an amazing book in which he indicated that evangelical young people,
and these would now be in their early 30’s, were in terms of a belief system, radically
different than their parents without their parents recognizing it. That was true fifteen
years ago. I would suggest to you it is far more true and far more urgently and emphatically
important than even then. It’s important that we understand postmodernism. And quite frankly
it’s important that we understand post-modernism in its uncut form in the academy, because
if you don’t understand the source, you can’t possibly understand the fountain. But we need
to people who with keen eyes and with apologetic sense of mission can look at the world and
say “I know where that comes from.” We need to be the kind of people who in evangelistic
conversation with our neighbors understand when they talk about morality as oppressive
and they start using this language. We know where it comes from. One of the most important
things we can do is show an honest postmodernist where postmodernism lands with a thud. Again
you can have a postmodern architect, but not a postmodern engineer. You can have a postmodern
artist, but you don’t want a postmodern banker. And as Richard Rorty, himself a post-modern
theorist said, “I’m a modernist at thirty-three thousand feet.” You want a pilot who believes
in absolute truth, and rationality and order and predictability. It’s a great apologetic
challenge to live in the time the Lord has given us. It’s a great opportunity. It’s a
great opportunity to subvert subversion to the glory of God. To help people to see where
postmodernism shapes the culture and where post-modernism collapses on itself. Sometimes
one of the most important ministries of the Christian is to stand amidst the debris, point
to the cause of the fall, and to the only hope for recovery. That’s what we are here
about. It’s the very heart of Christian apologetics. Let’s tell the truth to the glory of God.
God bless you.

Author: Kennedi Daugherty

34 thoughts on “Albert Mohler: Postmodernism and Society

  1. It's easy to say this man is brilliant. Because he is. But you also must realize that what he speaks in this sermon is, to be honest, quite obvious to those with open eyes. That's not to say that I don't appreciate his passion and articulation on the subject. I do. I have a profound respect for this man. What I'm trying to say is that we must all use our God given power to analyze and interpret our surroundings without the aid of such gifted men as the forum of free speech will most likely be muted in the near future. Thank you Dr. Mohler.

  2. Whenever YOUR God has a problem with ME then that would be YOUR problem, and YOUR problem only, because you keep forgetting that I'm not convinced your God even exists. So why should I worry about YOUR hell, YOUR fears and YOUR beliefs, when I find the whole thing so utterly ridiculous. It's just as ridiculous as YOUR obsessions with whom I may or may not have sex with. You have your priorities mixed up with mine. I live in the real world, you live wherever you want. Your professed God delusions are not my problem.

  3. I have been around long enough to see Postmodernism change not only our culture but other cultures throughout the world.

  4. What a caricature of a non-existent position. A strawman effigy of another strawman. I would ask Mohler, who is no doubt critical of supposed Bible expositors who don't quote scripture, why his supposed summary of a position called "postmodernism" contains virtually no quotes of any sources? It's all propaganda.

  5. This thing has connected all the dots for me . I was influenced by this and left the faith, but its very failure brought me back to the faith. Till today i didn't know the term postmodernism and that i was a victim of it. But with this sermon, i now could clearly understand what I was affected by and also how I realized its failure. Praise god for saving me from the subversion. It is the quest for meaning and absolute truths , that helped me see through the subversion. Again i thank god for hastening my heart and drawing me to him. God may your servant al mohler be blessed.I thank you for him.

  6. Sounds like SOMEONE doesn't understand that humans do what they desire at every moment no matter what… And it isn't post modernism.

  7. To paraphrase Lord Byon " Postmodernity is the aristocracy of villains".

    Until watching this video I thought postmodernism is a political, cultural, and philosophical emptiness. Nevertheless, now I can see it lies in the belief that everything is opression, and, therefore, we must subvert everything(including the truth). It's why they are so intolerant, their very ideology claims everyone who don't agree with them is an "opressor".

    But the quote of Albert Mohler is very good, and I think it's the way that we, Christians,must struggle against postmodernism: "subvert subversion to the glory of God"

  8. Mr. Mohler radically misinterprets Post Modernism and the purposes and uses of Language. His characterization of a Post Modern Bible Study radically misinterprets the purpose of those studies and concretizes something that cannot be concretized-the idea that everyone is going to read the same passage from the Bible and get the same concrete meaning from it is ridiculous on the face of it. Of course a 2000 + year old document that was translated many times from Aramaic will have different interpretations-How could it not? Mr Mohler makes the point of the post-modernists in the first 11 minutes of his presentation and detracts severely from both his message about Christianity and Post Modernism.

  9. If you are going to use art to illustrate a point, trying to give the impression you are are an erudite man of learning at least get it right. Picasso's Guernica was not about a firing squad, that was Goya's famous painting which was not about the Spanish Civil war but Napoleon's invasion of Spain in 1808.

  10. I hate to say this, but postmodern thought HAS entered the k-12 schools, especially those in very liberal areas.

    I miss you, pastor RC Sproul.

  11. Satan's plan is coming to an end. We, humans made in the "IMAGE" of God (Jehovah, Yahweh, Shekhinah Glory, etc)
    Christ is THE ONLY WAY, THE ONLY TRUTH, THE ONLY LIFE that has and can redeem US.
    The Postmodernism LIE (Truth is relative) will be my point to defeat along with Jesus Christ's help to do so.

  12. Stongly disagree, especially about the "Post Modernist" Architecture. An unfortunate political point to even use the label. The corrupted Roman and Greek age called Classical are revered. The seeking generation of Architects are more pure, indeed the benefit of this age. When your critique of art becomes political it becomes unstable–a postmodern critique at best. God is not a classicist. He said "I Am That I Am" point positive that people are the ones who create things like classicism and modernism, God liberates you to create, just as free as in Jazz. And those seeking God in all early forms are mocked at best by imitators. I appreciate not being lumped in to a "postmodern" type, when a great work is the referential point despite its age. Adam and Eve were not sinful because their simplicity and absence of structure beyond existence–the hope of many who break from rules, but at the adaption to another standard than God. Don't shame post modernism for its purity. Encourage them in pursuit of truth outside the bounds of time and power, where believers know God dwells.

  13. He’s right. The post modernists bamboozled everyone. But when you see it, it’s just a cheap trick, an illusion.

  14. Like modern Christianity itself…this is completely infantile. And embarrassingly so at that. First off as a heretic in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church, Al should at least acknowledge that “multiple interpretations” of text, is the reason he has a job. If there is only one Christian meta narrative, why are there 6 million denominations. The rest is straw man city. “No one wants a postmodernists banker, drafter, Doctor, etc…yeah no shit. There aren’t any. Why on the world would there be? Then he says “has really only effected the “soft sciences”…Why not start with that! And while at that, no one wants a Christian biologist or geologist or Climate scientist either, jackass. Intellectually dishonest. Postmodernism isn’t a philosophy. It’s a critique of shit passing for fact that isn’t. A critique of late-stage capitalism and of the illegitimate structures of power. Kinda like Christianity did, before it got into bed with its archenemy. The Empire State.

  15. Impressive. One of the best discourse on post-modernism heard on youtube. The idea that absolute Truth doesn't exist (except this one). appears to be the essence of post-modernism. A profoundly misguided notion which can only lead to self-destruction.

  16. Janet Mefferd Today. Nov. 4, 2019. "Whats Going On In The Southern Baptist Convention?" This episode is about Al Mohler. He is not a conservative. He is a progressive, and is blown by the wind of politics, and not conviction.

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