Over the past few weeks, we’ve been considering the development of both progressive and postmodern Christianity. We took a look at “The Eight Points of Progressive Christianity” and agreed with the ideal that God’s love is all-inclusive.
Understanding that it is impossible to do anything in the postmodern world without irony, we’ve distilled some postmodern ideas into a couple of mindful mantras:
Postmodernism requires a constant state of incredulousness.
Metanarratives are subjective.
As a reminder, a metanarrative is any attempt to objectively define reality: God created the world, and the universe started with the Big Bang, are both metanarratives.
Postmodernism’s incredulousness isn’t about merely rejecting everything status quo. Facts are still facts (for as long as they remain that way). The sciences are still foundational to our understanding of reality. The practice of science is a flexible framework that allows for adjustments in thinking as discovery proves or disproves a theory. In that way, science is a postmodern discipline.
However, science, like religion, also attempts to describe the totality of reality, a task the postmodern world regards with contempt because reality is subjective. My reality as a white middle-class male affords me the luxury of writing this blog. My reality is very different from the slaves working the Coltan mines in the Congo. Consequently, a universal narrative about life, the universe, and everything that satisfies the curiosity of every human being on Earth? Even Jesus couldn’t accomplish that.
He’d have an even more difficult task today when we’re all talking from very subjective realities on Facebook and Instagram. Many of these stories are compelling accounts of intense spiritual awakening, from every faith on the planet. The generations of people who have matured in the age of social media are more interconnected, than ever before even while focusing on acceptance of individuality. In fact, individuality is encouraged. Our young people have also already created an alternate economy, directly buying and selling each other’s goods without warehouses and middlemen and corporate structures.
The use of social media is changing the world, but not in the apocalyptic way so many prophets (most of them old white guys) declare. Instead, I see social media as the great unifier. Is Facebook filled with vitriolic hate? Yep. Are we all saying horrible things to each other on Instagram? Yes, for now. But I also see a couple generations of people who have Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Atheist, Agnostic, and Buddhist friends. Importantly, this array of ideologies is incorporated into individual belief systems. I’d wager that most people today practice a plurality of spiritual ideas that help guide them as compassionate, interconnected beings.
I see a generation of humans who, to a person, are fed up with the current state of the world and refuse to buy into its toxic metanarrative. They are much more accepting of each other’s metanarratives, while also creating, I think, a much better narrative for a postmodern era that requires cultural relativity—the knowledge that our understanding of civilization as a whole is limited to the concepts created by our own civilization.
For example, Western Europeans tend to believe all civilizations should look and act like Europe. Arabians think all civilizations should look and work like Arabia. An inability to accept that both cultures are equally impressive and terrible led to the horrors of the 20th Century. The relativism of postmodernism should, at least in theory, prevent those sorts of global conflagrations.
The social media generations are avoiding this modernist trap, yet I seldom see this new sense of interconnectedness reported on the same news that is more than happy to tell me another teen was goaded into eating a Tide Pod by “Facebook.” As if Facebook is some entity unto itself that’s ruining our children. Facebook is nothing more than the people who use it, which is why we should be focusing on critical thinking skills more than ever. Unfortunately, many of the people using Facebook are remnants of the old colonists who thought they could violently impose their cultural values on others. For them, the idea of cultural relativity is horrifying.
There’s an ancient story about Darius the Great, king of Persia when its borders stretched from east to west. He was studying the cultures of the empire and had inquired about funeral rites. In Greece, at the extreme western edge of the empire, they practiced cremation. A tribe in the outskirts of India practiced funerary cannibalism. When each heard about the other’s practices, they were horrified. That’s cultural relativism. We accept what we are familiar with as the status quo and ideas or practices that make us uncomfortable become unacceptable.
Christianity has operated on that principle to an absolutely horrific effect for two thousand years. Crusades. Inquisitions. Burnings at the stake. Christianity has been so far removed from Jesus as to make us largely unrecognizable as his followers.
Metanarrative is a large part of modern Christianity’s problem. In America, we have lost the Agape metanarrative of Jesus. He talked about a love so intense that it commits us to one another eternally. The idea of Agape love in the Bible is one of unconditional, unwavering commitment from God to us and back again. Jesus tried to explain that this commitment is unbreakable, no matter what. The idea behind his resurrection is that God is so committed to us that even physical death doesn’t break our bond.
Postmodernism gives Christians a chance to make up for the historical and continuing abuses of our religion by finally doing the only thing Jesus ever asks: Love unconditionally. He never says, “make everyone a Christian.” He wouldn’t say that because he and his audience were all Jews. He never even tells his disciples to go turn everyone Jewish, a more likely scenario. He doesn’t say, “Go save everyone’s soul, or they will forever be tormented.” No. All he ever humbly asks is for his followers to love unconditionally, the way he does.
In an age that rejects metanarratives, but must still agree on a framework for civil society. I think unconditional love is a great foundation on which to start building.