Michael Terheyden on 'Why I am Catholic: Confronting Postmodern Culture'
The Catholic Church is going to lead the way like it led the West out of the Dark Ages around 1000 years ago
The world is an amazing place, and as a young man I was dying to "cut the cord," so I could dive in and explore it on my own. When I left home for college, I finally took the plunge. But the world around me was changing fast, and I surfaced in a strange new world. It was exciting, but there was something unsettling about it.
This strange new world stripped me of much that I had known. That was not hard to do I am sorry to say. Then it tried to fill my head with strange ideas and beliefs, and I willingly allowed it. But these strange ideas and beliefs did not take root and bear fruit within me. They withered and died. (I now realize this was grace working in my life.) The world I am referring to is Western culture.
Confronting Western culture was one of the most significant experiences of my faith journey. The other was confronting Catholicism, but that part of my story comes much later. My initial experience of Western culture involved searching for truth and meaning in liberal studies and the sciences. It also involved taking a hard look at our secular society and trying to make sense out of it.
This experience caused me to wonder why Western culture is the way it is? I wondered about this for many years, and the best answer I have come up with is Postmodernism. For all practical purposes, one of the key reasons why I am Catholic today is because I came to reject the postmodern view of the world. Therefore, in this article I will discuss our culture in terms of Postmodernism and the role it played in my faith journey.
I believe Postmodernism best describes the culture in which we are living. It is the dominant world view in the academic, cultural, media, legal, and political communities today. It is increasingly what our children are being taught in school, what we hear in popular music, and what we watch on TV. So understanding Postmodernism is not just about my faith journey, it is about everyone's faith journey, including yours.
Much of what I will say about Postmodernism is based on an excellent series of video-taped lectures by Dr. Stephen Hicks. However, my summary on Postmodernism is only a partial overview of the subject, and it reflects my understanding of Dr. Hicks' lectures. Therefore, if I have misstated anything, do not fault the good doctor.
Postmodernism has not been around very long. It came onto the intellectual scene around the 1950's. I watched without comprehension as it began to dominate the culture in the 1980's. Some of its founders are Foucault, Derrida, and Lyotard. Postmodernism is not easily defined. It is a sprawling intellectual and cultural movement. It is unlike anything I have ever known. It does not desire to develop or build on the old (antiquity or tradition). Instead, it views the old with contempt, and completely rejects it.
You could say it is a radical reaction against most of the traditions that many of us have known. One of the most fundamental premises of Postmodernism is that our traditional beliefs in God, religion, truth, reason, science, progress, right and wrong, liberty, democracy, free markets, and the pursuit of happiness are wrong, so wrong that Western civilization itself, especially as it is manifested in the United States, is viewed by postmodernists as pathological, fraudulent and a complete failure. To help us better understand Postmodernism, Dr. Hicks has organized it into five categories: epistemology, metaphysics, human nature, ethics, and politics.
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that concerns the nature of knowledge: what it is and how we know. Postmodernism is an extreme form of skepticism called nihilism. Skeptics doubt our ability to acquire true knowledge. Nihilists deny true knowledge exists. Nihilists also doubt the existence of truth, but if it did exist, they tell us, it would not matter because we cannot know it. For postmodernists, then, there is no one truth, only narratives.
Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of being and the essence of things. According to Dr. Hicks, the metaphysics of Postmodernism claims that there is no such thing as one true account of reality. It seems to reject the belief that reality is based on an objective structure. Thus, there are no objectively ordered principles which govern or restrict human behavior. There is no natural law, no meaning beyond blind physical processes, no spiritual reality, and no God.
The postmodernist view of human nature is based on environmental determinism. This is the belief that human nature is malleable. All that we are, the postmodernist tells us, is derived from our culture or our group. We are literally constructed by our group, and we cannot surpass it. We cannot be objective beyond our group. Thus, there is no one moral truth. Right and ...
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