January 24, 2007

The Mother of All Metanarratives

2007 1503 page13 caphough I’m not quite sure what some young Seventh-day Adventists mean when they call themselves “postmodern,” if they mean postmodernism has freed them from the confines of a purely rationalistic worldview, then label me postmodern, too.
I love how postmoderns have broken the shackles that a priori materialistic presuppositions have imposed upon the Western mind, thus freeing themselves from the view that posits that all reality can, ideally, be reduced to formulas and equations alone. I cackle with glee at how the postmodern ethos has deconstructed many of humanity’s grand and hubristic isms, showing how these dogmatic intellectual projects are anchored in customs, prejudices, and superstitions as fleeting and subjective as dreams.
It’s hilariously blasphemous and outrageously heretical to see folks such as Michael Polyani, Paul Feyerabend, Thomas Kuhn, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Richard Rorty expose the great Zeus of the modernist pantheon—science—as just another idol of human devising, even if they sometimes go too far. Rorty’s statement, for instance, that he sees “no sense in which physics is more independent of our human peculiarities than astrology or literary criticism” is a wee over the top; even if his basic point—that science is a human construct—is not. (I wonder if Rorty would prefer flying in a jet built on the principles of astrology or of physics?)
Meanwhile, when Jesus told Peter to catch the fish and pull the coin out of its mouth, or when He raised Lazarus from the dead, or when He fed the 5,000 with a few loaves and fish, He showed that using rationalism and scientism to explain all reality makes about as much sense as wearing bifocals to bed in order to see your dreams better.
2007 1503 page13On a more personal level, my born-again experience in a wooden shed in the student ghetto of Gainesville, Florida, where I had a life-changing supernatural encounter with the Lord, was something that the modern worldview with its rationalistic and materialistic presuppositions would dismiss as delusional, psychological nonsense. This only shows (for me at least) how inadequate the modernistic worldview really is. No wonder, then, I find postmodernism so appealing.
Yet the great strength of postmodernism is also its fatal flaw. Postmodernism is built on the rejection of any metanarrative, any single grand overarching story (explanation, metaphysic, whatever) that explains the entire world. In postmodernism, each community, each culture, each society has its own mininarrative, its own set of customs, traditions, and stories out of which its own view of truth, reality, morality, and identity is formed; thus no view stands superior to others. “Let us,” wrote postmodern guru Jean-Françoise Lyotard, “wage a war on totality.” The only truth with a capital “T” is that there is no truth with a capital “T,” which means that as with all relativistic worldviews, postmodernism refutes itself.
We Adventists believe in the mother of all metanarratives, the metanarrative that transcends all cultures, traditions, and societies and involves every human being, everywhere, regardless of culture and tradition—the great controversy between Christ and Satan. Christ died for every person; every person is involved in the great controversy; and every person faces either eternal life or eternal death. These realities are not confined to one culture or people; they apply to everyone, no matter what other mininarratives float front and center in their historical consciousness.
Jesus’ words “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)* or Peter’s “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) are scythes across the postmodernist pulse, which finds such broad, exclusionary proclamations (“No one comes but by me,” “No other name under heaven”) fundamentally intolerable.
Just as the truth is greater, more passionate, and broader than the cold, rationalistic formulations of modernism, it’s also firmer, more universal, and objective than the wiggly contingencies and free-floating postulates that dominate its rebellious and aging postmodern stepchild.
*Bible verses are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. He also hosts a television program on the Hope Channel called CLIFF!