Monday, January 17, 2011

Modernity and Post Modernity or The Many Faces of Humanism

While preparing a sermon, I had the following thought come to mind. “It is our task to put things in their proper place. This excludes worshiping them unless that is their proper place. Worship is, therefore, reserved for God alone. To worship other things is to improperly perceive their value and, consequently, pervert their worth and usage.”

Having spent some time considering how cultures are shaped by ideas, I’ve been interested in understanding the foundational character of a “modern age” and a “postmodern age”. A central factor in shaping the distinctive character of the mindset associated with each of these ages is the way we approach issue of reason.

Often, the issue we are dealing with is that of imbalance. We then produce increased difficulties when we have a reactionary response to the imbalance, as opposed to making necessary (often simple) adjustments or corrections. Characteristic of the “modern age” was the recognition of human ability to reason, to engage in meaningful, rational deliberations. I would agree that this ability is one that must be acknowledged and appreciated. The proper place for such ability is in subordination to the God whose mind such ability reflects. Embracing and maintaining the reality that God and His reasoning capacities are supreme protects us from a dangerous misuse and imbalance when it comes to human reason. Unfortunately, it also became characteristic of the “modern age” that human reason was disconnected from its relationship to God. As this happened, reason became a type of god and savior, a role and function it is unable to perform. This is a central tenet of humanism. If I were to attempt to fly a car, I would have a serious problem at the end of the runway. It would be wrong for me to declare that cars are bad and useless. Attempting to use a car to fulfill a role and function it was not capable of fulfilling produces bad results. Getting rid of cars is not the answer. The age we refer to as “postmodern” is, in a significant way, a reaction to the failures of the claims and expectations that the “modern age” placed upon reason. When human reason did not produce world peace and solutions for all of life’s woes, doubt about the legitimacy of human reason began to grow. This was not the adjustment or correction that was needed. Along with this, because reason is a faculty design to deal with truth, doubts about truth and absolutes were fostered. This, as well, was not the solution needed. However, this is the grain of sand around which postmodernity has been formed. In the case of both modernity and postmodernity, it is not all of the ingredients that are bad. Imagine making a soup in which you added turpentine. Good ingredients can be overpowered by certain wrong additions. Modernity had a wrong expectation of human reason (human reason, itself, being a good ingredient) and postmodernity has had a wrong reaction to the failures of human reason. In attempting to abandon reason, postmodernity has turned to experience. The abandonment of reason is a wrong response that will be counterproductive (and impossible as they often use reason to defend this approach) and the expectations placed upon experience will prove to be comparable to modernity’s expectations of reason. The solution to all of these errors is to put reason (and experience) in its proper place and use it for its proper purpose.

In conclusion, in an effort to keep this entry short, I will state that human reason must be placed in a subordinate relationship to God’s reason and must be used, under the guidance of God, to study His revelation to us.

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