Saturday, September 13, 2014

Postmodernism, Logic, Love, and Truth

As soon as you mention something about “truth,” feathers begin to fly. You’ll hear responses like:

  1. The only truth is change itself.
  2. Everyone’s got their own way. It’s not a matter of one-size-fits-all!
  3. The idea of truth is just too rigid.
  4. The only truth is what is true for you alone!

We live in a postmodern age. Consequently, these statements seem to be so well-established that they are beyond questioning. They are as acceptable as the statement, “I exist” or “I like chocolate.”

However, postmodern thinking has become so much a part of our culture that it is as familiar and unnoticeable as the ocean is for a lobster. We have become so comfortable with this worldview, we fail to see that these assertions are illogical.

For instance, if the only truth is change itself (#1), then this statement is also subject to change and therefore contradicts itself. Therefore, this assertion cannot be true, at least not for long!

Statement #2 also contradicts itself. If “everyone’s got their own way” and there is no truth that is common to all of us, then this statement also is illogical, because it too is a statement of truth that pertains to all. Meanwhile, it rejects the notion that there is any truth that does pertains to all, while asserting the “truth” that it is all simply relative.

Statement #3 is equally illogical. If “the idea of truth is just too rigid,” then this statement is also too rigid, since it too is a statement of truth.

Statement #4, while claiming that we cannot assert what is true for other people (only what is true for us), implies that this principle is true for everyone, thereby contradicting itself.

The problems of incoherence do not stop in the realm of ideas. They also infiltrate our lives like stealth ninjas. For instance, just about everything that we say is a truth statement. Just think of the following instances:

  1. That was a great movie.
  2. My son goes to a wonderful school.
  3. Bill is really a nice guy.

All of these statements have embedded value judgments. They suggest that, according to a universal standard, there is something objectively of value about the movie, school and Bill. However, if you were to press the postmodern about these implicit objective standards, she would retreat and redefine what she had stated:

  • I only meant that I really enjoyed this movie. I’m not implying that there is anything superior about this movie.

However, this is the very thing that her statement implied. In fact, we cannot but speak in terms of objective truth statements. If we instead reduce all of our statements to merely personal feelings and tastes, we also reduce life and make it unlivable.

One guy tried to do this in regards to our conversations. When I would make truth statements, he would correct me:

  • You can only speak for yourself and your own feelings. You can’t speak of truth in general, because, when you do this, you are also speaking for me, and I won’t allow you to do this!

Do you see the incoherence here? While forbidding my truth statements, he invoked many of his own, even requiring us to submit to the same rules. He eventually terminated our conversation.

However, the problems don’t stop here. One postmodern young lady informed me that she had recently found the meaning of her life. She would now devote herself to loving others.

I applauded her commitment to this noble cause. However, she then reassured me that her decision had nothing to do with truth or the inherent virtue of love. Instead, it was all about what personally worked for her! Consequently, she refused to say that what she had found had any relevance for anyone else, since everyone had to find what was right for themselves.

I therefore asked her:

  • Since you do not believe in any objective moral law or the inherent goodness of love, do you tell these people that your intention is not really to love them but love yourself?  After all, you stated that you committed yourself to this cause because it works for you and not because of any higher calling. Therefore, isn’t you commitment inherently selfish? And, in order to be transparent, wouldn’t you have to tell the “objects of your love” that you are merely acting out of selfish motives?

How can love be love if it is done primarily out of selfish concerns? Can I pledge myself to my wife for only as long as the marriage works for me? In a world where there is no truth, there is also no real virtue, integrity, honor, justice or anything else that we cherish. Instead, everything is reduced to whether or not it works for us.

When I contrasted her stance with my Christian orientation, she replied, “That’s just too rigid for me.”

In a sense, she is right. Truth is rigid. It makes demands on us and tells us when we go astray, but we need truth nevertheless. I need to know that, when I’ve morally failed and feel the weight of guilt, that my Lord forgives and cleanses me from all of my filth (1 John 1:9). Without this confidence, I would remain consumed by my feelings of guilt and shame.

When I share this with others, they usually respond, “Well, that’s just your faith!” I retort that it’s not a matter of blind faith but substantiated faith. I need evidential assurances that God forgives me. I cannot believe simply because it makes me feel good. For my faith to give me the joy and confidence that I need, I have to be assured of its truth.

How will this postmodern young woman be able to maintain her love commitment once it stops feeling good to her and no longer works for her? I don’t think that she will be able to! We need to not only feel that something is “right”; we also need to be convinced that it is truly right. Only this kind of conviction will carry us through! Otherwise, we retreat into the unstable and juvenile life where feelings alone reign.

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