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.

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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?

Christianity offers a belief system that is, as Paul tells Festus, "true and reasonable." I can't think of a more critical time for pastors, scholars, and laypeople to be grounded in a biblical worldview and to defend it clearly to those hungering for truth.

But are we prepared for such a challenge? George Barna recently completed a tour of American churches and came back with a dismaying report that most church and lay leaders—90 percent, according to one survey—have no understanding of worldview. How are we going to contend with competing philosophies if we're not even rooted in our own truth system?

Ironically, just as there seem to be encouraging signs in the culture, there are also signs that the church is dumbing down, moving from a Word-driven message to an image- and emotion-driven message (note how many Christian radio stations have recently converted from talk and preaching to all music).

It would be the supreme irony—and a terrible tragedy—if we found ourselves slipping into postmodernity just when the broader culture has figured out it's a dead end.

Related Elsewhere

Recent Charles Colson columns for Christianity Today include:

Sowing Confusion | One small ruling for Texas; one giant leap into a cultural abyss. (Oct. 03, 2003)
Being Here | Why we should sink our roots in the places we call home. (July, 28, 2003)
Beyond Condoms | To alleviate AIDS, we must sharpen our moral vision. (June 10, 2003)
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Taming Beasts | Raising the moral status of dogs has created a breed of snarling, dangerous humans. (April 3, 2003)
Faith vs. Statistics | Beware of doing ethics by crunching numbers. (Jan. 28, 2003)
Just War in Iraq | Sometimes going to war is the charitable thing to do. (Dec. 10, 2002)
A Clan of One's Own | Hacking through the jungle of identity politics. (Oct. 9, 2002)
Undaunted | Bioethics challenges are huge. But so is God. (July 31, 2002)
The Wages of Secularism | New laws won't prevent another Enron. (June 4, 2002)
More Doctrine, Not Less | We need to proclaim truth to a truth-impaired generation. (April 15, 2001)
Post-Truth Society | The recent trend of lying is no accident. (March 4, 2002)
Drawing the Battle Lines | We need to be informed and discerning about the Islamic worldview. (Jan. 9, 2002)
Wake-up Call | If September 11 was a divine warning, it's God's people who are being warned. (Nov. 5, 2001)
The New Tyranny | Biotechnology threatens to turn humanity into raw material. (Oct. 5, 2001)
Merchants of Cool | We should be angry that the media hawks violence and that parents allow it. (June 6, 2001)
Slouching into Sloth | The XFL is but the latest sign of the coarsening of our culture. (Apr. 17, 2001)
Checks and (out of) Balance | Moral truth is in jeopardy when the courts enter the business of making law. (Feb. 27, 2001)
Pander Politics | Poll-driven elections turn voters into self-seeking consumers.(Jan. 3, 2001)
Neighborhood Outpost | Changing a culture takes more than politics. (Nov.8, 2000)
MAD No More | In this post-Cold War era, it's time to rethink our nation's defensive strategy. (Sept. 27, 2000)

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Charles Colson
Charles Colson was the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, an outreach to convicts, victims of crime, and justice officers. Colson, who converted to Christianity before he was indicted on Watergate-related charges, became one of evangelicalism's most influential voices. His books included Born Again and How Now Shall We Live? A Christianity Today columnist since 1985, Colson died in 2012.
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