One of the chief characteristics of post-modernism is the lack of a dominant narrative. Instead, what we see is the burgeoning of many smaller narratives or discourses. Foucault calls this the archaeology of knowledge. This characteristic is both frightening and liberating. It is frightening, because there is comfort in knowing that there is one main narrative that unites all. For the Christian we want this to be the biblical narrative. Without this we are still left asking basic questions: from where did we come, where are we going, what are we supposed to do?
It is liberating, because the dominant narratives are the stories of those who possess power. More cynically put, their stories are just another way to keep people down. So, with a change in mentality, downtrodden voices can claim legitimacy, simply because no one narrative can claim to be the “truth.” There are various applications of this line of reasoning.
First, in a milieu of skepticism, people may actually give Christianity a consideration. To dismiss it would be closed-minded, so not postmodern! This is probably a step better than the past, especially among the educated, where there is a certain amount of prejudice against Christianity. What works one way, works the other way as well though. This is simply to say that Christians should also listen. Dialogue is usually good.
Second, within Christianity there are many narratives, and some of these are stronger than others. Usually a Western understanding and praxis of Christianity is the strongest, even now, though things are changing. Within a postmodern framework, this narrative will be challenged. This is good, because Western Christianity has all the trappings and blind spots of Western culture. What, then, should the West do? Listen, of course. Moreover, we do not need to be afraid when we listen, because the decline of the narratives of Western Christians is not tantamount to the decline of Christianity; it is only the decline of a Western understanding of Christianity. Moreover, some narratives probably should die.
Third, we can use this postmodernism to challenge other societies that are much more authoritarian to rethink, revise, and become more open. This would be a great advance for Christianity in our world. Think of countries where there is still religious persecution. A little dose of postmodernism would be salutary, to say the least.
Finally, postmodernism may be unwittingly a call back to mercy, compassion, and justice. We are giving a place for those who formerly did not have a voice to speak. Of course, we never leave power dynamics in a fallen world, but this may be step in the right direction. Only time with tell.
Tags: benefits of postmodernism