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Showing posts with label postmodernism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label postmodernism. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Three Ways The Last Jedi Reflects Troubling Trends in Culture



It should be no surprise that The Last Jedi, the latest installment in the Star Wars franchise, is by all measures an instant success. I went to see the film and was optimistic based on the initial buzz and reviews. And while I didn't walk away hating the movie, I didn't walk away for the theater inspired or excited as I had after the A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back.

Then something funny happened. The more I thought about it, the more the film began to bother me. After a second viewing, I became more convinced that there are some serious worldview issues with The Last Jedi that sit at direct odds against the original trilogy. I want to go over three of them with you below. However, in order to do so, there will be spoilers so stop reading now if you haven't yet seen the film.

1. Faith and tradition are disposable

Most people know that George Lucas was a friend and fan of Joseph Campbell and his teaching on universal myth. Campbell knew that the traditions and teachings passed from one generation to the next shape humanity. Lucas picked up on this in his original saga; Luke Skywalker typifies Campbell's mythic hero.

Yet in The Last Jedi, the accumulated wisdom of experience over millennia doesn't matter. In fact, what's called for is a clean slate. Writer and director Rian Johnson shows this time and again with his “burn down the canon” script. The most telling scene in the film is that Luke, The Last Jedi Master, has been hiding away on the very planet that contains the original texts laying the foundation for the Jedi faith. He is shown as their guardian, but he is contemplating destroying them so the Jedi faith would be no more. He worries that the faith can be abused and therefore be an origin for evil as well as for good. Luke thinks that by ridding the world of the Jedi, he will likewise rid the world of the Sith.

Such a point could've been a rich vein for development. However, Johnson takes away the opportunity for thoughtful discussion and instead has the apparition of Yoda set fire to the texts himself, justifying it to Luke by asking “Have you read them? Page-turners they were not.”

I think the scene is indicative of the modern view towards religion in general and Christianity in particular. Christians are called “People of the Book” because of the central place Scripture holds in instruction and training in righteousness. The Bible tells us that human beings are born with a nature that gravitates toward evil. We learn that selflessness rather than our natural drive towards selfishness is the proper attitude to hold. But if it doesn't entertain us—if it isn't a page turner—then get rid of it. It's the modern attitude of “tl;dr yet I can comment on whether it's valuable or not.”

2. You don't really need to put in years of work to be competent

Much has been made about how quickly Rey became proficient with the Force. She can match any of Snoke's Praetorian Guard, theoretically the best of the best that Snoke could muster. Heck, on the island she is able to duel against Luke Skywalker and come to a draw. We saw Luke continue to try and fail to lift even one rock via the Force during his training, yet Rey is able to remove a landslide immediately without pause. Yet, given the timeline of the events in the film and how Rey had to get back to the action, she couldn't have been gone more than a few months at most. Her training seemed to last only days.

The concept of instant gratification is endemic in our culture. So many people today believe that happiness and comfort are the default position and any tragedy or hardship means someone else is holding you back. That isn't how the world works. The security you enjoyed growing up came at the expense of years of your parents' sacrifice and toil, working day by day for the eventual success they then enjoyed. There are no cheat-codes to life.

3. Men are inconsequential

The most obvious message The Last Jedi sends is the one that Johnson clearly sought to send, that is that men offer nothing uniquely beneficial to society. The main protagonist, Rey, is female. So are all the leadership of the Resistance. Kylo Ren and Snoke are bad guys and are men. The double-dealing code-breaker is a man. The arms dealer is a man.

Even in the first few moments of the film I had a hard time believing that only women would be in the top levels of command. As the film progressed, its agenda became more overt and more satirical. It is the women in this film who time and again save the day while the men just mess everything up. Poe is a hotshot who recklessly expends a number of lives taking out a ship that makes no difference in the rest of the film. His later plans are shown to be useless as Laura Dern's Vice Admiral Holdo had a plan in the works all along. Even Finn, in his bravado charging the enemy, needs to be saved by Rose.

The egregiousness of this fiction is distressing. Men have long been the punching bags of media. War is an ugly thing, but it is and has always been men who time and again put their lives on the line to protect us from the evils that threaten our way of life. Men would willingly die to save women and children because they understood the weaker needed protection by the stronger. But now our society says the unique thing that makes men men is itself dangerous. It needs to be checked and men need to behave more like women. When you take away a man's self-understanding as provider and protector, you rob him of his place in the world. Why then would men in this or future generations stand up and put their lives on the line when a real enemy threatens?

Image courtesy LearningLark [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Sharing Absolute Truth with a Relativist



Postmodernists are those who deny that absolute truth exists.They believe truth is like the popular bromide of beauty being in the eye of the beholder. To them, since any absolute truths are unreachable; truth is whatever one identifies as true for them. Such an attitude poses a particularly difficult challenge for Christians who seek to argue for the absolute truths of the Christian faith. How does one convince a postmodernist of the truth claims of Christianity when truth itself isn't absolute?

In his book Time for Truth: Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype, and Spin, Os Guinness addresses the problem of apologetics and the postmodernist. He offers two tactics in his approach, the first being: "relativizing the relativizers" of those things that truly matter to them. He explains:
When I studied philosophy as an undergraduate in the 1960s, an Arctic chill was still hanging in the air that froze any serious appreciation of religion. The source had been the philosophy of logical positivism and the celebrated "verification principle" of A.J. Ayer. Only that which could be tested by the five senses could be verified as true, he said. Theology was therefore "non-sense," or as it was famously said, "The word g-o-d is less meaningful than the word d-o-g."

The trouble for A. J. Ayer was that his verification principle couldn't verify itself—it was self-refuting. For to accept as truth only what can be tested by the senses is a principle that itself cannot be tested by the senses. It too is non-sense. Ayer's approach, he later admitted, was "a blind alley." Years later I enjoyed a conversation with him on the train between London and Oxford. Although retired and knighted as Professor Sir Alfred J. Ayer, he was candid about the failure of his principle. "I wish I had been more consistent," he said. "Any iconoclast who brandishes a debunker's sword should be required to demonstrate it publicly on his own cherished beliefs." Indeed. 1

Pointing Out the Signals of Transcendence

While relativizing the relativizers undercuts the postmodernists' assumptions about their own views, Guinness admit this is primarily negates his view but doesn’t provide a positive argument for the absolute. This is why he also recommends a second approach, one called "pointing out the signals of transcendence" and offers a rather stark example:
Have you ever heard an atheist exclaim "Goddammit!" and mean it? We can all be taught not to judge; we can all be told that there are no moral absolutes. But when we come face to face with raw, naked evil, then relativism, nonjudgmentalism, and atheism count for nothing. Absolute evil calls for absolute judgment. Instinctively and intuitively, we cry out for the unconditional to condemn evil unconditionally. The atheist who lets fly "Goddammit!" in the face of evil is right, not wrong. It is a signal of transcendence, a pointer toward a better possibility—and unwittingly a prayer.


For no human being lives outside the reality common to us all. Whatever people may say the world is or who they are, it is what it is and they are who they are. Again, no argument is unarguable, but there are thoughts that can be thought but not lived. When all is said and done, reality always has the last word. The truth will always out. Standing up to falsehood, lies, and crazy ideas is never an easy task, but—as we explore next—it is far easier than the hardest task of all, becoming people of truth ourselves.2

References

1 Guinness, Os. "Time for Truth." Christian Apologetics Past and Present (Volume 2, From 1500): A Primary Source Reader. New York: Crossway, 2011. 649-650. Kindle Edition.
2 Guinness, 2011. 654.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

How Modern Desire for Virtue Corrupts Virtue

One of the conceits of our society is the assumption culture has become more caring and compassionate than was the case in previous eras. Those who advocate for a secular viewpoint of live and let live believe that it is the restrictions Christianity imposed upon actions that caused people to be less kind and caring and our more detached approach is better.



While I understand that many people really believe promoting things like same-sex marriages and single-mother IVF are being more kind and compassionate, the reality is such actions have serious consequences to the institution of marriage, to children, and to society as a whole. In his classic book Orthodoxy, G.K Chesterton nails the dilemma, writing:
The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful. For example, Mr. Blatchford attacks Christianity because he is mad on one Christian virtue: the merely mystical and almost irrational virtue of charity. He has a strange idea that he will make it easier to forgive sins by saying that there are no sins to forgive.1
The recent Pew Survey shows this exact trend. Young people think they can be virtuous independent of a holistic belief system. This is one place we need to begin in our apologetic to a new generation.

References

1. Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy. New York: Image, 1959. Print. 26.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Why Postmoderns are The Most Dangerous People

G.K. Chesterton had an amazing way of putting his finger on the state of modern society. Even in his fictional novel The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare he succinctly exposes the dangers of those in our society who seek to redefine traditional values. Pointing to the individuals who try to justify the tearing down of the traditional understanding of morality, truth, and meaning in the name of progress or changing with the times, (Chesterton calls these deconstructionists the "modern philosophers"), he notes that such people are the biggest threat to a lawful and civilized world:
We say that the most dangerous criminal now is the entirely lawless modern philosopher. Compared to him, burglars and bigamists are essentially moral men; my heart goes out to them. They accept the essential ideal of man; they merely seek it wrongly. Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it. But philosophers dislike property as property; they wish to destroy the very idea of personal possession. Bigamists respect marriage, or they would not go through the highly ceremonial and even ritualistic formality of bigamy. But philosophers despise marriage as marriage. Murderers respect human life; they merely wish to attain a greater fullness of human life in themselves by the sacrifice of what seems to them to be lesser lives. But philosophers hate life itself, their own as much as other people's … The common criminal is a bad man, but at least he is, as it were, a conditional good man. He says that if only a certain obstacle be removed—say a wealthy uncle—he is then prepared to accept the universe and to praise God. He is a reformer, but not an anarchist. He wishes to cleanse the edifice, but not to destroy it. But the evil philosopher is not trying to alter things, but to annihilate them.1
Chesterton, G. K. The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. Reproduced in The Essential Gilbert K. Chesterton. Radford, VA: Wilder Publications, 2007. N. pag. Print.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Postmodernism is Infecting the Church


When the Church abandons truth, it is one of the most offensive acts you can imagine.

The concept of tolerance is so prevalent today that you cannot help but be pummeled by it anywhere you turn. It's a huge problem and a big danger to the health of Christianity. As the influence of relativism becomes more dominant in society, we need to be more intentional in countering its message. Watch this short video as I comment on the recent trend by believers of accepting a relativistic view of truth and morality and offer a few points on how to counteract this dangerous precedent.




Photo courtesy: Jason Borneman Licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Our Culture Was Predicted Over 80 Years Ago

Many people liken today's society to George Orwell's dystopian futurist book 1984. I can see the attraction, with Big Brother controlling people's actions by force and official departments of doublespeak editing history. It makes for an interesting picture.

However, I don't think 1984 is the closest parallel we have to what's happening to Western society today. In 1932, some 16 years prior to Orwell's work, Aldous Huxley published Brave New World, an earlier dystopian caution about where modernity was headed. But instead of the government crushing dissent wherever it may be found, it is the populous that is really driving the push for conformity in Huxley's vision. By labeling those with traditional values as strange and "savages," by promoting the newest ideas and newest technologies as obvious advantages, and by allowing the population to always feel good about themselves (primarily through the drug Soma), it is the culture that drives conformity and discomfort avoidance at all costs.

Below is one telling passage from the book. Here, the natural-born "Savage" who has escaped his Reservation and is discussing the importance of pain with Mustapha Mond, one of the ten World Controllers. It eerily predicts many today's pushes for equality and moral "openness." While our soma isn't found in the form of drugs, I see us self-medicating more and more thought the acquisition of our toys. IPhone and entertainment channels are the rights we demand, with almost all government housing projects are littered with satellite dishes. "Choice" is seen as the highest ideal, with everyone exercising their right to delve into any practice they so desire "as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else." Chastity is considered nothing more than a punchline, with only the backward and old-fashioned holding it up as a virtue.
"You'd have a reason for chastity!" said the Savage, blushing a little as he spoke the words.

(Controller Mustapha Mond:) "But chastity means passion, chastity means neurasthenia. And passion and neurasthenia mean instability. And instability means the end of civilization. You can't have a lasting civilization without plenty of pleasant vices."

"But God's the reason for everything noble and fine and heroic. If you had a God …"

"My dear young friend," said Mustapha Mond, "civilization has absolutely no need of nobility or heroism. These things are symptoms of political inefficiency. In a properly organized society like ours, nobody has any opportunities for being noble or heroic. Conditions have got to be thoroughly unstable before the occasion can arise. Where there are wars, where there are divided allegiances, where there are temptations to be resisted, objects of love to be fought for or defended—there, obviously, nobility and heroism have some sense. But there aren't any wars nowadays. The greatest care is taken to prevent you from loving any one too much. There's no such thing as a divided allegiance; you're so conditioned that you can't help doing what you ought to do. And what you ought to do is on the whole so pleasant, so many of the natural impulses are allowed free play, that there really aren't any temptations to resist. And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there's always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there's always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your mortality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears—that's what soma is."

"But the tears are necessary. Don't you remember what Othello said? ‘If after every tempest came such calms, may the winds blow till they have wakened death.' There's a story one of the old Indians used to tell us, about the Girl of M├ítaski. The young men who wanted to marry her had to do a morning's hoeing in her garden. It seemed easy; but there were flies and mosquitoes, magic ones. Most of the young men simply couldn't stand the biting and stinging. But the one that could—he got the girl."

"Charming! But in civilized countries," said the Controller, "you can have girls without hoeing for them; and there aren't any flies or mosquitoes to sting you. We got rid of them all centuries ago."

The Savage nodded, frowning. "You got rid of them. Yes, that's just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. Whether 'tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them … But you don't do either. Neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It's too easy."
Huxley, Aldous (2010-07-01). Brave New World (Kindle Locations 3047-3062). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Worldview Definitions: The Problem with Postmodernism

Last time I discussed rationalism and naturalism, two worldviews that changed much of how we perceive our modern world. But naturalism is not the end of the story, even though there are many who hold those views today.

photo courtesy Ben Terrett

Out of the assumptions of naturalism, a new idea began to take hold in the late 19th century and early 20th century, known as the modernist movement. Modernists wanted to not only abandon belief in God, but felt that religious faith was just one of many traditional ideas that were slowing down the advancement of man.

The modernists held that if you don't break from the traditions of the past you will never grow beyond them. This made sense to them; if religion was hindering science, then all past traditions are suspect.  God was no longer a factor in the modernist's day-to-day thinking, so holding onto traditions were at best silly and at worst debilitating. They considered nothing as established or sacred. Social organization and daily life had become outdated and it was essential to sweep them aside and reinvent culture forever. The goal for modernists was to find that which was "holding back" progress, and replacing it with new, and therefore better, ways of reaching the same end.

Postmodernism – "It's all about me"

Modernism  failed to bring the next advancement in human evolution some of its adherents thought it would. Wars were still fought:World War II was the largest conflict in history and originated in Europe, the birthplace of modernism. People still took advantage of each other. Cruelty and crime continued to flourish no matter what advancements science and technology brought about.

Rationalists and modernists hadn't realized the impact  factoring God out of the equation would have on society. In factoring out God, they also factored out the concept of sin. They thought human beings had it within themselves to make themselves better. But the Bible teaches that we are inescapably corrupted by a sin nature. We cannot live perfect lives, it's simply impossible. Since modernists had already excluded God from any explanation as to why their utopia was failing to materialize they had to come up with another way of looking at the world. Their proposed solution is Postmodernism.

Modernism held that in order to advance one must throw out past traditions. However, one thing that modernism did hold onto, like all previous worldviews, was the concept that there was a truth to be known. In other words, each worldview may have differed in their beliefs on how to find truth, but they all believed that truth was something separate from and independent of themselves. It could be known.

Advocates for post-modernism said that even these ideas needed to be jettisoned. They argued that all communication is colored and molded by the biases and beliefs of the communicator. This means that no one can discover a raw truth, since he or she will read into it those biases and then reinforce them when communicating to others. The problem, they believe, is these assumed grand stories were ignoring the fact that no raw truth could exist, when in reality they are discounting one bias and favoring another. Therefore, there really shouldn't be any grand stories but we should allow each person to experience truth in his or her own way and there is no real right or wrong to it at all.

Postmodernism, in losing the meta-narrative, caused man to lose his moorings and purpose for himself in the world. God had already been dismissed as non-existent. Rationalists and modernists felt that man had it within himself to find the meaning of life. But now, the postmodernist strips even that away and says there is no real meaning of life. You can make anything mean whatever you want.

Think About it

Postmodernism’s "Grand Story" is to reject all Grand Stories. But if that true, they must reject their own – which means that they should accept others. The position is hopelessly self-contradictory.
But think about the implications of this. Imagine if you lived in a country where they had no values printed on their money, only animals. You walk into a store and try to purchase something. The shopkeeper tells you that the bill with the eagle is worth ten of the bill with the bear, whereas another shopkeeper says the bear is worth twice as much as the eagle. You can quickly see how in such as system that money becomes valueless. I would not want to be paid in bills that have no set value accepted across all areas of the economy. I would want to be paid in tender that everyone agrees is valued the same. Similarly, when there is no real meaning to life, then any meaning you try to create is simply a fraud. Therefore, by trying to make meaning malleable, postmodernists really strip meaning of any value at all.
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