Might I wax philosophic for a moment? Perhaps it’s the sleep deprivation or the copious amounts of caffeine I’ve consumed but I’m in a mood to philosophize. For this lapse I will beg your forgiveness in advance.
Many fundamentalist institutions of higher learning (and by extension the pastors who graduate from them) love to use the word “post-modernism” as a general pejorative to describe “liberals” who allegedly “don’t believe the Bible.” But what is post-modernism really? Here I’ll give you a working definition from the ineffable Peter Kreeft:
Post-modernism says there are fewer things in objective reality than in our minds; that most of our thoughts are only dreams, prejudices, illusions, or projections.
Or to use a slightly expanded definition:
In the postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually. Postmodernism relies on concrete experience over abstract principles, knowing always that the outcome of one’s own experience will necessarily be fallible and relative, rather than certain and universal.
In short, post modernism takes things from being objectively or factually true and makes them merely “true for me.” My personal story determines my reality. The overarching story of how things really happened in history or science or the weird thing the evangelist said in a sermon illustration last week are not set in stone but rather they are building blocks to be shaped into my personal narrative of how the world works or disregarded if they just don’t fit.
This understanding brings us to a very interesting conclusion: fundamentalism itself is post-modern in its approach to understanding truth. The Bible is merely a collection of verse that can be made to fit the pastor’s narrative of the moment without any care for objective meaning. History can be reinterpreted through any number of revisions to make it fit the way the fundamentalist thinks it ought to be. Science can be used, abused, and disregarded as needed to make it work for the overarching story being spun by the leaders in fundamentalism.
Fundamentalism is Postmodernism. But the really crazy thing is that post-modernism is also the very thing that lets them preach against other people’s post-modern thought on a regular basis. Nothing could be more truly post-modern than that.