I listened to this week’s episode of the the radio show “Unbelievable”, which is broadcast in the UK by Premier Christian radio. Justin Brierly, the host, moderated a dialog between author Joan Konner and Christian philosopher Peter S. Williams. Konner is the dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, and is the author of “The Atheist’s Bible”. I enjoyed listening to Konner speak, and I admire her for coming on the show. I learned from this podcast that I need to work harder at being more tactful, and gentle with postmodernists. Brierly and Williams do a great job, and I hope that when you listen to the podcast, that you will learn something about how to handle similar challengers.
I thought that I would make a list of some of the points that postmodernists make, because I guarantee that you will have heard some these things before. Many people in our society are guided primarily by emotions, and intuition. For them, there is a tremendous insecurity about what they believe, and the differing beliefs of others makes them uncomfortable. They are upset by absolute claims of fact or morality, because they consider these claims to be exclusive, and judgmental. What upsets them the most is that other people seem to be certain about what they believe, and that these people vote for public policies on the basis of these beliefs. What we’ll see is that postmodernists do exactly what they condemn, namely, they exclude, they judge, and they support public policies that they agree with. These are general points, not specific to Konner.
First, postmodernists have view of faith that is a caricature of authentic Christian faith. Postmodernists think that faith is opposed to reason, and evidence. They believe this because they require that all religions are “equally valid”. It is not that postmodernists have evaluated the truth claims of different religions. It is they have decided in advance that thinking you’re right is mean, and makes people feel bad, and causes wars. Therefore, no faith can be right – all faith is irrational and unsupported. The fact that their own view is absolutist, and exclusive, goes unnoticed.
Second, postmodernists reject reason, science, and any other reality-based support for claims, because supported claims constrain their own subjective will. Postmodernists think that believer’s appeals to reason, and evidence, are coercive. This is because they desire complete autonomy to imagine the world based on their own emotions, and intuition. This is especially true for morality. Postmodernists believe that no one has a right to judge the moral practices of others. But, if you disagree with them on their non-judgmentalism, then you are morally wrong. Again, this is self-contradictory, but it goes unnoticed.
Third, postmodernists reinterpret the truth claims made by all religions as myths, (a la Joseph Campbell). That means that every factual claim made by every religion, past, present, future is factually false. No rational analysis or investigation is necessary. For example, if a religion claimed that universe began to exist, that would be a myth, according to postmodernists. Scientific confirmation from the big bang is irrelevant. No religion can enjoy support from reason or evidence, a priori. Emotional concerns about how exclusive truth claims make people in other religions feel bad is the deciding factor. Again, the claim that no one can make truth claims is self-refuting, because they believe that their claim is true. They don’t notice the contradiction.
Fourth, for postmodernists, the purpose of religion cannot be to hold true beliefs about the external world. The purpose of religions must be to make people behave well, because then they are all equivalent, and no religion is excluded. It is irrelevant to a postmodern that Christians claim that their religion hinges on a historical event, (the resurrection), which either happened or didn’t. Postmodernists simply presume to tell religious people what their religion really says, and what it really means. Also, postmodernists believe that since all people can invent moral rules and goals for their lives out of thin air, that there is no need for God to ground them. What this means is that according to postmodernists, Stalin’s morality is as valid as William Wilberforce’s morality. Both have the exact same validity, namely, that they are “true” for the subject.
The postmodernism and moral relativism I discussed above also informs progressive thought, which is why progressives seem to always take the side of evil against the side of good. An amazing lecture given by Jewish comedian Evan Sayet at the Heritage Foundation is probably the best treatment of that point that you will ever see.
For further reading, check out this paper on Christian exclusivism, and this paper on the fate of the unevangelized. Both of them are by William Lane Craig. And remember, it is OK to think you are right, and to disagree with others. But God does not coerce, and neither should you. Share your beliefs, and your reasons, if someone asks you to share with them. The important thing is to appeal to reason and evidence, and to be civil and charitable. Disagree with the person’s ideas, but treat the person with respect.
3 thoughts on “A Christian and a postmodernist discuss religious pluralism”
‘the claim that no one can make truth claims is self-refuting’
Nail on head. Reminds me of Logical Positivism’s;
‘no statements are true unless they can be shown empirically to be true’
I just listened to the discussion and some of the things that Konner was saying was forehead slapping bad! She contradicted herself literally at least 4 times just in that small interaction. So is torturing babies objectively wrong is it my subjective opinion? Are these so-called “narrow-minded” religions objective wrong or are you just spouting your subjective emotions?
She gave different answers to those questions at different times in the discussion.
Personally, I find that taking the discussion from a worldview/presuppositionalist perspective works best with postmodernists. They then see how everyone has their own worldview and there is no real “neutral”. We all look at the world through different coloured sunglasses that filter the things coming in in different ways. The way to find out if you are wearing pure glasses is to see if your worldview is consistent with empirical facts and a priori reasoning, and by seeing if it is consistent in itself. From there you can then show them the beautiful coherence of classical Christianity and the self-contradictions in postmodernism. Then you can move onto discussing actual objective lines of evidence which seem to best make sense from a Christian worldview, ie origin and fine-tuning of the universe, evidence for the resurrection etc.
Michael, thank you so much for listening to this. I really feel that this discussion was a gem to understand what is really driving postmodernism.
I agree with you that it is important for you to ask them to define their view and to defend it.