The Postmodern Crackup
Is postmodernism—the philosophy that claims there is no transcendent truth—on life support? It may be premature to sign the death certificate, but there are signs postmodernism is losing strength:
I spoke at my alma mater, Brown University, in June, arguing that without acknowledging moral truth, it's impossible for colleges to teach ethics. I've been saying this since the late 1980s, all over America, and I've yet to be successfully contradicted. Whenever someone claims his alma mater teaches ethics, I ask him to send me the curriculum, which invariably turns out to be pure pragmatism, utilitarianism, or social issues like diversity and the environment—good things, but not ethics. At Brown—one of the most liberal campuses in the country—I was shocked when the professor who introduced me acknowledged that he could no longer teach ethics, adding: "Chuck Colson will explain why."
In Red Wing, Minnesota—a town Al Gore carried in 2000—the majority of high school students consider themselves prolife. As one sophomore put it, "I think it would be better to overturn Roe v. Wade."
According to The New York Times, kids aren't inheriting these attitudes from their prochoice (and horrified) parents. But they are reflecting national trends. Among the young, support for legalized abortion dropped from 48 percent in 1993 to 39 percent today. Clearly, this generation, witnessing the dreadful legacy of abortion, isn't buying prochoice claims.
In recent years, Americans have become increasingly tolerant of homosexual rights. But in the wake of the Supreme Court's Lawrence decision, which many believe paves the way for gay marriage, support for gay causes dropped sharply. Why? Because while it was fashionable to consider ourselves tolerant, Lawrence jolted us back to reality—back to an understanding of how destructive it would be if we overturned the definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
Soccer moms—a constituency that worried about abortion rights, good schools, and civil liberties, are now called security moms because these days they worry primarily about their kids' safety. Time magazine recently quoted one mother who said she normally chooses political candidates who strongly support welfare and abortion. But since September 11, she said, "All I want in a President is a person who is strong."
September 11, theologian Michael Novak says, was the beginning of the end for postmodern preeminence. People are beginning to realize postmodern presuppositions simply don't work.
And what are those presuppositions? Postmodernists claim we can have no "grand metanarrative" that makes sense of reality. Since there's no such thing as truth, all principles are merely personal preferences. As professor Ed Veith explains, the postmodernist claims that all you can do is try to impose your preferences on others before they impose theirs on you.
But then came September 11, the day terrorists imposed their preferences, murdering 3,000 innocent Americans. If one's worldview is true, it has to conform to reality—to our real-life experiences. Post-9/11, few Americans could continue believing that there's no such thing as moral truth, no such thing as good and evil.
These encouraging signs—that Americans are recognizing the flimsiness of postmodernism's presuppositions—afford a great opportunity. I believe people today can be attracted to a belief system that is rational and defensible. The question is, Who or what will fill the vacuum if postmodernism collapses?
- Chuck Colson: Evangelicals Should Be Uniters, Not Dividers
- Flaming Truth: Recalling Francis Schaeffer's Challenge
- We Need Health-Care Reform
- Protecting Our Little Platoons
- Doctrine Bears Repeating