The Gospel According to the California Supreme Court: Postmodernism

The Gospel According to the California Supreme Court: Postmodernism

Very recently, a lawsuit was brought before the California Supreme Court challenging the established law that marriage was between one man and one woman. This traditional legal interpretation of marriage, of course, has been in effect from the very beginning of the establishment of government in California. Several years ago, as homosexual activists began agitating for the right to marry, California citizens brought forth a citizen initiated proposition which explicitly enshrined this definition in law.

The American political and legal system has been established in such a way as to make a very definite separation between the various branches of government. It is the job of the legislative branch to make law, the role of the judiciary to interpret the law that has been created by the legislative branch, and it is the executive branch’s job to carry it out. But in the case of the marriage law in California, the court found a right for homosexuals to marry in the California Constitution, even though it doesn’t actually exist. In other words, they usurped the legislative process and created law by judicial decree. By the way, this is exactly what also happened when the United States Supreme Court found a constitutional right for abortion in the U.S. Constitution which did not exist there. So just what was it that made those courts believe that it was okay for them to make those kinds of rulings?

The root of this kind of judicial activism did not just appear out of nowhere. It is actually the end result of a particular judicial philosophy which has its roots in Naturalism. It is a philosophy which asserts that the Constitution is a living, breathing document which must be interpreted based on the social attitudes of the current day. If the social conditions of today are different than those of the time when it was originally written, it is appropriate to interpret the law based in a different set of assumptions than were originally intended. This is an entirely different approach than what has always held before – that the interpretation must be based on the intent of those who originally wrote the law.

Under the traditional approach, if society wanted to change the law, it had to be done through the legislative process. Under this Naturalistic philosophy, if a court becomes dominated by judges who hold this view, they can simply make the changes themselves.

Of course, there are numerous forms of Naturalism and every form lends itself to this kind of relativistic approach to the law. But there is a form of Naturalism which is very prominent in our day and which is the primary impetus for the way these liberal courts are approaching their jobs. This form of Naturalism is called Postmodernism.

Postmodernism is a particularly difficult concept to pin down because, by definition, it denies the very foundations that make language comprehendible. The term generally refers to the denial of absolute truth and is a radical denouncement of Western philosophy. It rejects any assertion of universal or transcendent truth and is the underpinning of the concept of “political correctness.”

This philosophy plays out very visibly in daily life, but in a way that makes it difficult for most people to judge and evaluate. It is expressed in virtually every area of life including art, architecture, music, film, literature, sociology, communications, fashion, technology and so on. And while there are a number of philosophers and writers who are proponents of Postmodernism, there is not a single individual who can be identified as the “Father” of the movement. It has developed gradually and steadily over the course of the last century.

In many ways, Postmodernism is a reaction against modern civilization. Modern thought is centered around a belief in rationality and the effort to create order out of chaos. This belief system recognizes that there is such a thing as an objective right and wrong which allows society to maintain order and to function more smoothly.

Postmodernism, on the other hand, takes the view that you can’t make those kinds of judgments. There is no such thing as an objective right and wrong in any area of life. They dismiss the concept of what they refer to as metanarratives (also called grand narratives or master narratives). A metanarrative refers to the most fundamental ideas of any particular belief system. For instance, the metanarrative of American culture might be that democracy is the best form of government. Or, a metanarrative for Christianity might state that Jesus is the only way of salvation.

Postmodernism asserts that not only do national cultures have metanarratives, but all elements of every society is built on them – elements such as science, art, architecture, music, literature, sociology, communications, fashion, technology and, of course, religion. It then goes on to maintain that no metanarrative (set of basic beliefs) is any more viable that any other. Thus, when anyone claims that their view is “right,” Postmodernists dispute that claim saying there is no such thing as “right.” Each view is right for its own situation and context, but not for other situations.

Rather than accepting metanarratives, Postmodernism prefers to operate out of what they call “mini-narratives.” These are statements that focus on individual events rather than on universal principles. Every judgement that is made must be based only on the circumstances of that particular situation, and there is no objectively right or wrong answer. What is right at one point may not be right at another. What is right for one person may not be right for another. There is no acknowledgment of any universal truth or morality. As a result, knowledge becomes strictly functional. This, then, has a profound influence on the way people live out their lives in the real world.

Basic Beliefs and Practices
Since postmodernism is so inherently difficult to comprehend because of its rejection of any kind of absolute truth, the easiest way to get at how it plays out in life is to compare it directly with its Modernistic counterpart. The following gives a sense of how this plays out in various areas of life.

Modernism: There is such a thing as objective truth which needs to be transmitted to students.
Postmodernism: Since there is no objective truth, teachers are not transmitters of information, but are facilitators to help students construct their own knowledge.

Health Care
Modernism: The body can be objectively studied and understood. The proper approach to medicine is to empirically explore how the body works and devise therapies based on the objective knowledge that is discovered.
Postmodernism: Alternative medical techniques are just as valid as modern medical techniques. These alternatives can legitimately be brought into mainstream hospitals and nursing schools.

Modernism: There are universal laws of science that can be studied and understood. These laws can be applied to the material world to solve objective problems.
Postmodernism: The universe is not based on absolute laws. The whole world is interconnected and the universe is not rational.

Modernism: There is an objective reality that defines mental and emotional health. A therapist is able to understand that reality and help a patient toward health.
Postmodernism: The idea of what is the “right” mental or emotional state cannot be determined by a therapist. The patient must construct what is right for him or her and the therapist simply tries to help them get there.

Modernism: There is an objective truth as it relates to God. Individuals are able to learn that truth and align their lives with it.
Postmodernism: There is no single point of view that is correct and no one can question the propositions of another religious point of view. The exception is for any religions that claim to know “the truth.” Those which make that claim must be denounced. Marginalized religions and those of non-Western civilizations must be given a voice.

Modernism: History is an objective reality which can be discovered and communicated. By understanding history, individuals can extrapolate the truths from it and apply them to modern life.
Postmodernism: What really happened in history can never be known, so there is no point in trying to discover what actually happened. Not only that, every person’s reality is different from every other and we cannot know or judge another person’s reality. The goal of history is to give a voice to minorities and the marginalized. As a result, there is an emphasis on women’s history, gay and lesbian history, black history, Native American history, etc.

Modernism: Literature is a mode of communication which flows from author to reader. It is possible for an author to produce a text which can communicate propositions to a reader.
Postmodernism: Meaning flows from the reader, not the author. An individual reads a work and constructs new meaning for themselves from the text.

Biblical Interpretation
Modernism: Scripture is propositional truth from an objective God. Understanding Scripture is the process of reading it and coming to an understanding of the truth God is trying to convey through it.
Postmodernism: God is not an authority communicating truth through his Word. Rather, Scripture is simply another book, and readers extract personal meaning from the text. The most important question is, “What does it mean to me?”

Law and Government
Modernism: Laws are objective principles expressed so as to help keep order in society. The actual intent of those who wrote the laws can be discerned by judges who are able to objectively interpret the intent of the legislators.
Postmodernism: All laws are political constructs designed to suppress the disenfranchised. Since there is no such thing as objective reality, judges are unable to objectively interpret the intent of laws. They are only able to pursue their own personal political agendas as they render judgment.

Modernism: There is such a thing as objective truth, and right morality can be extrapolated from it.
Postmodernism: There is no such thing as objective truth. As a result, no one can claim that a particular action or belief is right or wrong. Morality becomes “What is moral for the individual.”

Essential Beliefs
While Postmodernism asserts a position which states that there is no such thing as objective truth, it is unable to live by its own assertion. It actually does draw a line which defines the parameters of reality. While stating that there is no such thing as objective truth, it asserts that point as an objective truth claim.

As with all worldview positions, there is a line that one cannot cross and still be considered to hold that worldview position. The essential elements of Postmodernism include:

There is no such thing as an objective God. God is a personal concept, the meaning of which must be determined by each individual. There is no such thing as a transcendent God who has created a meaningful world.

A human being is the animal creature on earth who has evolved the most complex brain. Humans are not spiritual beings and are not fundamentally different from other animals. The only difference is the level of evolutionary development of the brain. There is, therefore, no transcendent meaning that man can tap into. Every person must find personal meaning for their own lives.

Salvation is the attempt to find personal meaning in a world which has no transcendent meaning.

What Worldview Does Postmodernism Represent?
How Postmodernism Answers the Seven Worldview Questions
As was stated before, Postmodernism is a branch of Naturalism. As such, it answers the seven worldview questions in essentially the same way as any other form of Naturalism. That being said, there are some unique elements to this philosophy which are reflected in the way it deals with the questions.

1 & 2. What is the most fundamental reality and the nature of material reality? (Ultimate reality)
The only thing which exists is matter which is eternal, evolving and is the result of the eternal operation of natural laws.

3. What is a human being? (Humanity)
Mankind is simply the animal creature which has evolved the most complex brain of all animal creatures.

4. What happens to a person at death? (Death)
There is no transcendent spiritual part of human life. At death, a person simply ceases to exist.

5. Why is it possible to know anything at all? (Knowledge)
Knowledge is possible simply because the human brain has evolved to the point that knowledge is possible. The nature of knowledge, though, is purely personal. We cannot extrapolate principles of knowledge which can be applied on all situations.

6. How do we know what is right and wrong? (Morality).
There is no definitive right and wrong. Right and wrong are determined strictly by the individual. What is right for one person does not necessarily apply to any other person.

7. What is the meaning of human history? (History)
History is a linear series of events without any transcendent meaning.

As with every expression of Naturalism, Postmodernism has no authority that it can point to which definitively supports its conclusions. In fact, it goes even further than most Naturalistic points of view to pull the rug out from under its own feet. It states explicitly that there is no such thing as a single objective source of truth. That would have to apply even for its own conclusions. The source of its conclusions ultimately come from the individuals who believe this approach – those whose metanarratives about their philosophy are discounted by their philosophy.

Evidence for the Authority
The assertion that there is no single objective source of truth is, itself, the assertion of an objective source of truth. This assertion effectively destroys its own authority foundation.

The Practical Implications of Postmodernism’s Worldview
Much of the practical implications of Postmodernism can be seen above in the comparisons between the Modernist and Postmodernist approaches to specific issues. But the big picture is better understood by evaluating the underlying principles of the belief system.

The biggest belief of Postmodernism that gets expressed in every part of life relates to its insistence that there is no such thing as objective truth. That being the case, no statement that anyone makes in any field of endeavor has any overarching validity. Any pronouncements that are made are valid only for the person making the statement. They believe that an evaluation by one person may be right or good for the person making the assertion, but is not binding on anyone else. Thus, one person’s view of morality is not to be imposed on another person’s view. One person’s idea of the best way to run a business is not to be imposed on another, and so on as it relates to every area of life.

Taking this approach to life, there can literally be no cohesion in society. Each person is a law unto himself and has the right to decide his own way and his own morality. The end result is that the only arbitrator becomes power. Since there is no objective right or wrong, the one who is able to impose his or her will on others gets to decide what way things go. Thus, judges who use their positions to create new law by judicial decree are simply expressing their worldview belief through their actions.

Interacting with Postmodernism’s Adherents
Most people who adhere to a Postmodernist view of life do not do so based on a conscious philosophical decision. They simply pick it up from the prevailing trends of the society they live in. The rebellion against traditional morality that began with the Baby Boomers in the 1960s and 1970s has now become mainstream with an actual philosophical basis underlying it.

In dealing with people who hold this approach, the first thing that must be addressed is the very idea that there is no such thing as objective truth. If that is actually true, then Postmodernists are right and one person’s ideas and morality are just as valid as another’s.

But that point of view cannot be true. They cannot say that there is no such thing as objective truth and make that claim as a statement of objective truth! Reality does exist in some form and anyone who tries to live their life as if that is not true will find themselves in a position where life is totally discombobulated. So, this is the first matter that must be dealt with.

But beyond that, people who hold this view are simply looking for a way to avoid being held accountable for their thoughts and actions. They simply don’t want there to be a God who has moral standards that they must adhere to. They don’t want there to be a truth which would restrict them from being in charge of their lives.

In dealing with Postmodernists we must begin by showing them that their point of view is a logical contradiction. Only when someone can be brought to this understanding are they in a position to receive the Gospel message. At that point, our witness will begin to make sense to them and God will be able to reveal himself to them as the objective person that he is.

In some ways, Postmodernism is a difficult belief system to deal with. It is difficult because it is the ultimate avoidance position. An adherent can affirm that your belief is good for you, but deny that it is good for them.

But the fact is, a person cannot have it both ways, even if they claim to. They cannot assert that there is no such thing as objective truth while making that assertion as an objective truth claim. The whole approach is self defeating. Yet people do it.

As Christians, God has given us the opportunity to share this contradiction with those who make this claim. In taking the opportunity to do this, we are able to help them open their minds just a little so that God can step in an reveal himself to them.

© 2008 Freddy Davis