Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Hitching a Postmodern Ride

I'm grateful again to Rachel for giving a wider audience to some speakers like Steve Hollinghurst, a Researcher in Evangelism to Post-Christian Culture, who spoke on 23rd November to her and clergy colleagues at Swanwick.

He spoke on postmodernity and stated that modernity lasted several hundred years and postmodernity will not become clear until it can be assessed from a future vantage point. It could take generations.

I am interested how it is that people almost embrace postmodernity yet tell us they have something eternal as a Truth that we ought to acquire.

If they have something called Truth, then perhaps they ought to be more clear in their opposition to postmodernity. Otherwise they can be accused of being manipulators.

He stated, according to Rachel, that postmodernity is happening. Print and the printing press led to one revolution and the Internet is now of this kind. There is gender equality and the rise of feminism; there was invention of the motor car. The CD is a blip. The banking crisis a mini-wave, micro-productivity and upgrading hardware and software part of life.

It seems to me this is quite a bizarre set of examples. Surely the car is modernity - a large producer economy piece made affordable as part of mass production. Feminism again is about a group identity along with class, and is part of modernity. The CD isn't a blip if it is part of the long reach of reliable music continuing with the MP3. The CD can be seen, again, as modernist: large scale, reliable, producer products. The MP3 undermines production companies by individual downloads and choices among a vast storage capacity with the players. The CD as a playing and recording device continues.

He seems to be haphazard because he was not presenting any theory. So he mentioned the fall of communism as a global impact where globalism becomes glocalism and affects every day matters like moving house. I don't know how the fall of communism affects moving house. He might have a theory somewhere there but he seemed to go in for contrasts instead.

So modernity is as with a book culture and authoritative whereas the internet creates a democracy where everybody's voice can be heard but it makes everything temporary. All become privileged with the personal story - that authority rests within themselves.

When we get to authority resting with individuals, again this is a feature of modernity. People carve out different identities for themselves dependent upon their contexts. But in modernity the whole liberal, individualist enterprise was about experience.

Kant proposed the autonomy and authority of the individual. This has two main impacts: one on the supreme subjectivity of truth to the universal and the other on the individual as being. There is nothing postmodern about this; indeed Habermas as a critic of its sufficiency takes a stage further to intersubjectivity of truth via interest-free conversation: that a group of people unhindered by economic interests will coalesce to the truth. Hegel had long since regarded Kant as unable to bind people together, but he moved to the notion of absolute spirit.

All the time there is the maintenance of the individual and the impact of the collective; for a sociologist, there are 'higher' objective and organising forces. It is the point that society and culture forms the individual.

The difference is, I suggest, between modernity and postmodernity is the collapse of the created objective and the subjective and even the self is deemed to be transient. The surface appearance of something becomes its all, as fleeting signs point to themselves and nothing more concrete - if they do.

The second way of understanding modernity (and therefore postmodernity) is to contrast it with premodernity. The principle of modernity is rational organisation, such as the pyramidal bureaucracy occupied according to merit. The previous organising principle was the sacred, as in many religious organisations (such as in the laying on of hands or spiritual benefit within caste). Modernity became more flexible in organisation according to experts as well as bureaucrats and in team working; each of these spills into postmodernity when the experts disagree or the teams become completely localised.

Of course Steve Hollinghurst's interest is religion and he saw postmodernity in terms of people wanting to choose to believe and not wanting to be told what to believe. People do not want to be guided for rites of passage; they have it all worked out. Also postmodernity leads to reaction: Kepel 's 'The Revenge of God' witnessed a rise in fundamentalism from which people 'stand against' to safeguard and protect.

Again, the 'Homeless Mind' is a feature of modernity and plurality. He referred to consumerism and no doubt this is significant, but again consumerism is not new. Certainly the spirit of the New Age, of purchasing religion, is affecting churches so that they become religious service providers. People pay to receive a package and couples for weddings come with their list of requirements. Well they do for all rites of passage, as in many a crematorium funeral.

I don't know why postmodernity leads to the unchuched rather than dechurched. In postmodernity people are potentially in all sorts of groups (and out again) as they acquire identities according to wish. What he is referring to is caused from a mass movement of modernity called secularisation. That indeed did dechurch and by generation (collapse of Sunday Schools) meant unchurched. In Europe the working class were only marginally churched, and then the urban middle class followed on in underlining secularisation.

He stated that the unchurched means there is nothing deeply buried to reawaken; there are no Christian truths there in the first place. The unchurched, unlike the dechurched, are less likely to pinpoint a moment of conversion and instead slowly come to relationship. There is more belief in a higher power and of spirituality.

I cannot see why this should not be so. Surely people join groups, get a moment of conversion, then get critical, and finally leave and move on. That's a postmodern pathway, of serial, parallel and multiple identities (a more intense form of modernity).

He contrasted that in Japan people attend without believing as they see religion as providing for certain basic needs. In Britain people believe but they do not attend. Surely this is contradictory to the principle of being unchurched if there is nothing buried to reawaken. What are they believing?

In predicting a new reformation he asked how they effectively communicate timeless truths and talks of an eternal gospel that has spoken through pagan, classical, medieval and modern worlds. Each time we saw different expressions of the deep truths of God.

God's new life is spilling out - and asks how can those people doing spirituality can be lodged back into the apparent timeless story.

Another given is the "must" that mission is framed in terms of the social dimension of the Trinity. Why?

He stated that Christendom (and imperialist church planting) was at least confident with a vision. Big stories were told that organised people and took over the reign of chaos. Really? There was chaos was there? The truth is more that superstition continued long after sacred churches organised themselves, and it has only been modernity that has killed off some frankly harmful beliefs about demons.

Churches were inculturated. It suggests (to Rachel and others?) the homogeneous unit principle (HUP) of demographically similar people becoming Christians when crossing few or no racial, linguistic, or class barriers. In the midst of all this diversity, their aim is to recover a peculiarly British Christianity.

Christians will have to use analogies, avoid theory and tell stories from out of which people can make their own connections. He stated that the Reformation once captured and expressed that new individualism in reaction to the corporate, feudal world that had preceded it.

Er, no it didn't. The Reformation was an appeal to the princes of the feudal world who wanted autonomy from the Holy Roman Empire, such as it was, and Catholic connected State power in general. Protestantism gave states more autonomy, but it wasn't the autonomy of modernism. That was to come later. Religion remained associated with the State.

Apparently Steve Hollinghurst is in the evangelical debate about saving all or not: it may not be universalism, but a particular kind of patience, a holy waiting with God for this to happen. This waiting is also faith post September 11 2001, which ought to be sacrificial and hesitant and not triumphalistic. There's the lack of spirituality inside our churches and the need to recover sacred spaces and perhaps the ways of the early church fathers and Christian mystics. The idea of being reconciled in Christ is the emphasis is on diversity in unity. Loving God and loving my neighbour also demands a far reaching ecumenism and the God outside as well as inside the Church.

It strikes me as a form of arrogance, that postmodernity is a phase through which this certainty needs to navigate. If these folks are so certain about truth, then they should campaign against the postmodern full stop.

Much of the postmodern is in fact high modern. It is continuous with the capitalist individualism that has taken place so far. A producer capitalism of mass production, mass consumption and mass culture has been replaced by just in time, style consumption and chosen transient group identities. But there is still the corporation and multinational, and the banks that failed were not supposed to be transient entities.

Where postmodernism does count is in the dislocation of space and time. Thus out of modernity comes a town centre that looks like every other town centre, and a dislocation of space. Every Lidl and Aldi is the same, except for being clockwise or anticlockwise. Macdonaldisation is a modernism that becomes postmodern as it repeats spaces. Culture is no longer high and low, but everything seems to be a form of advertising. Architecture shows time past, present and future often in one building. Utility and indifference in economics becomes lost. There is an inability to do history, so some revert to texts only with readers separated from the writers, and science is criticised (beyond losing optimism: it becomes trapped). In postmodernism the wrapping paper is the gift, or at least is a seamless part of the gift, and indeed one cannot tell the difference between a gift and an exchange (rather an important distinction in religion and ritual).

The modernity of individual autonomy and experience does lead on to consumer religion and the transience of choices, but much postmodern religion is a rejection of liberal autonomy in favour of the text and collective performance. It cannot see value in culture, only cultural performance. It's a dead, frozen approach to religion, presumably held to because of the attraction of orthodoxy for its own sake. Either that or it is believed.

I suggest that there is a lot faddish about postmodernism and the religious. Basically, many an evangelical is still driven by experience, particularly by the charismatic individual experience they interpret along received grounds. They are experience reinforced. They then take that into a criticism of other people's experiences and a pushing of their own. If you take away their theory and their intellectualism, even their religious standing, they will claim their experience and its interpretive power. They are not really postmoderns at all: they just don't want to miss out.

3 comments:

Rach said...

Another given is the "must" that mission is framed in terms of the social dimension of the Trinity. Why?

Trinitarian becasue this is the revelation that Christians hold to, without this there is no Christianity - so yes, there is a 'truth' to proclaim but postmoderns are asking how they can learn to do that as they live their Christianity out in a postmodern culture. Biblical Christianity encourages its followers to ask questions and form community together as they work these things out.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

This is simply not historical. There were hundreds of years prior to trinitarian Christianity, and variations from it afterwards. Supposing there is revelation from Christ, it comes from a Jewish rabbi and a church afterwards in part did not escalate his titles in the manner of the proto-orthodox, who did in a particular way. Biblical Christianity is capable of a variety of readings, and left to itself does not necessarily go in the direction of the property of Western Catholicism or its nearest Protestant reformers.

Anonymous said...

Is anyone consistently postmodern? Don't we all, at the end of the day, see the world through our own prism? We claim to be 'tolerant', but there's always a limit to our tolerance. When we change our mind, we change from one (possibly limited) certainty to another, but we don't step outside of the process. The zeal of the convert is matched by the zeal of the newly minted atheist. The agnostic doesn't think the issue is all that important, but his/her lack of a decision one way or the other is itself a decision. The convinced atheist and the committed evangelical Christian both possess what they see as an 'eternal Truth' about God.

Interestingly, notions of the postmodern have their supporters and detractors both among Christians and atheists. Richard Dawkins doesn't approve of the idea of postmodernity, and I once heard a sermon by a female Methodist deacon who didn't seem very keen either.

I think Christians can certainly gain something by reflecting on their faith and the wider society through postmodern eyes. But I don't think either Christians or atheists are ever going to claim that in real life, we should never make choices. Yet all choice creates exclusion, and implies a judgement about whether one thing is better or worse than something else.

So, perhaps we need to remember that postmodernity includes some modernity, just as postcolonialism generally includes colonialism!

I agree that 'believing without belonging' is problematic nowadays, because if you're unchurched, where or how would you learn about orthodox belief in order to believe in it yourself? In fact, don't some scholars propose that 'belonging without believing' makes more sense, because people often see themselves as 'belonging' to a Christian culture, without actually 'believing' anything that's particularly 'Christian'?