Setting the Climate

POSTMODERNISM SETS THE SCENE for an archetypal analysis of landscape. For this reason it is worth looking briefly at postmodernism and postmodern theology.

David Harvey defined postmodernity as the situation in which the world finds itself after the breakdown of the Enlightenment project. Modernity lasted from the latter part of the eighteenth century until well into the twentieth and it was aimed at getting all the world’s diverse peoples to see things the same way, that is, the rational way.[i]

Other writers on postmodernism have expressed similar views to Harvey. Kevin Vanhoozer, for example, notes that postmodernists reject the epistemological foundationalism of reason: “They do not reject ‘reason’ but ‘Reason’. They deny the notion of a universal rationality; reason is rather a contextual and relative affair. What counts as rational is relative to the prevailing narrative in a society or institution”.[ii]

Postmodernism calls into question ‘foundationalism’ and ‘methodology’. It is the result of the repeated failure of modernity to establish a secure foundation and a secure method built on this foundation.[iii] “Classical foundationalism” and “rigorous method” are characterized by “objectivism”; which as Richard Bernstein argues, “is the basic conviction that there is or must be some permanent ahistorical matrix or framework to which we can ultimately appeal in determining the nature of rationality, knowledge, truth, reality, goodness, or rightness”.[iv]

The theory of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) is regarded as an important precursor of postmodernism. Nietzsche:

“announces the death of modernity’s god. In doing this his work expresses both the final working out of modernity’s project and a postmodernism that will gather pace to become, finally, a culturally dominant force… With the death of God Nietzsche announces the overcoming of metaphysics, for he announces that there is no foundation, no ground, no origin that ultimately is not governed by a perspective, i.e., we, as human beings, desire and require it.”[v]

Similarly, the ideology of modernism was systematically challenged by philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), a seminal, if not the earliest, advocate of postmodernism – “Although the term ‘postmodern’ was not used by Whitehead himself, the notion is implicit in his 1925 book Science and the Modern World”.[vi]

Postmodern Quantum Physics

QUANTUM PHYSICS AND POSTMODERNISM are inextricably linked as many philosophers since Whitehead have recognised. Both pose revolutionary challenges to traditional epistemologies, whether they be cultural, religious or scientific. The implications of quantum physics have given impetus to postmodern challenges to modernist epistemologies.[vii]

For physicist David Bohm a “postmodern world” and a “postmodern science” are not only feasible and logically consistent but amount to a revolution in world view and an imperative for survival.[viii] This is not to negate the successes and positive advances made by the modernist world view. As Bohm points out, the mechanistic reductionist program still provides the motivation of most scientific enterprise and has been very successful in certain areas, for example genetic engineering in medicine; but it is not the whole picture and, in fact, mechanistic reductionism has been “so successful that it threatens our very existence as well as to produce all sorts of other dangers”.[ix]

Theologian David Ray Griffin reinforces this view of constructive postmodernism as not being an anti-modernism: “The term postmodern, however, by contrast with premodern, emphasizes that the modern world has produced unparalleled advances that must not be lost in a general revulsion against its negative features”.[x] And postmodern science, according to Bohm “should not separate matter and consciousness and should therefore not separate facts, meaning and value”.[xi] Postmodern epistemology is situational, contextual, perception bound and composed of multiple realities. Postmodernism is inherently pluralistic. As Walter Anderson states:

“Seeing truth as made, not found – seeing reality as socially constructed – doesn’t mean deciding there is nothing “out there”. It means understanding that all our stories about what’s out there – all our scientific facts, our religious teachings, our society’s beliefs, even our personal perceptions – are the products of a highly creative interaction between human minds and the cosmos.”[xii]

[i] David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change
(Cambridge: Basil Blackwell, 1989), 27.

[ii] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ‘Theology and the Condition of Postmodernity: A Report on Knowledge of God’ in: Kevin J. Vanhoozer (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 10.

[iii] Cf. Dan R. Stiver, ‘Theological Method’ in: The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, (Cambridge University Press, 2003),170-173.

[iv] Richard Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics and Praxis (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), 8.

[v] Graham Ward (ed.), The Postmodern God – A Theological Reader (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997), xxix.

[vi] David Ray Griffin, ‘Reconstructive Theology’ in: The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology (2003), 92.

[vii] Timothy E. Eastman and Hank Keeton (eds.), Physics and Whitehead: Quantum, Process and Experience, SUNY Series in Constructive Postmodern Thought (State University of New York, 2004), 260.

[viii] David Bohm, ‘Postmodern Science and a Postmodern World’ in: David Ray Griffin, ed., The Re-enchantment of Science (State University of New York Press, 1988), 57-68.

[ix] Ibid, 61.

[x] Griffin (1988) The Re-enchantment of Science, x-xi.

[xi] Bohm (1988) ‘Postmodern Science and a Postmodern World’, 60.

[xii] Walter Truett Anderson(ed.),The Fontana Postmodern Reader (London:Fontana Press, 1966), 8.

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