75. What is Postmodernism?

Although Postmodernism is notoriously difficult to define, it is essentially a philosophical and cultural reaction to the boundless optimism of the modern worldview, which had roots in such influential thinkers as Immanuel Kant and Augustus Comte, and was marked by a great confidence in the ability of humans to discover a vast body of certain and indisputable knowledge through the operation of the scientific method, and thereby to exercise an ever greater control over the material world, and increase the happiness and prosperity of people everywhere. In contrast, the Postmodern worldview that began to develop after the World Wars was very skeptical of the possibility of any certain knowledge whatsoever, and deeply distrustful of power structures and the misuse of posited knowledge to cement authority in the hands of the strong, whether in places of governmental, religious, or other realms of influence.

Although the Postmodern worldview showed up very poignantly in new styles of art, architecture, literature, and so on, its impact has probably been felt the most deeply in hermeneutics, that is the science of interpreting written texts. Postmodern thinkers such as Michael Foucalt and Jacques Derrida espoused a new theory of hermeneutics known as “deconstructionism” or “postcontructionism,” which posits that all texts, when examined at multiple levels, deconstruct into different meanings that are violently opposed to each other. Texts are incapable of asserting univocal truth, and are actually used only to oppress and wield authority. This new science of deconstructionism has had significant influence, among other areas, on certain movements within the Protestant Church. Perhaps the contemporary Church movement most directly dependent upon Postmodern thought is the “Emerging” or “Emergent” Church (see question #75 below).


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