Several people have made the astute observation that we need some more definition of terms to help engage the conversation. With that in mind, I’d like to tackle the idea of postmodernism in a four part post that examines James Smith’s book “Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?”, where he engages three postmodern philosophers: Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and Michel Foucault. This is the second of the four part series (part one; part three; part four). I have adapted these posts from a paper I wrote in the fall of 2009. For ease of reading, I’ve bolded key ideas, so that you may either read all the gnarly details or skim for the key concepts. Either way, please leave comments and engage in conversation!
Smith next proceeds to consider Jean-Francois Lyotard’s statement that postmodernism is an “incredulity toward metanarratives.” (1) Many have interpreted this as meaning that Christianity and postmodernism are incompatible because Christians have a grand, overarching story that we believe is the core of how we live our lives. However, Smith suggests that what Lyotard actually means by this statement is that the scientific obsession with reason is itself a metanarrative and one that does not hold all answers. In other words, “metanarratives…(are) false appeals to universal, rational, scientific criteria–as though they were divorced from any particular myth or narrative.” (2) Narratives are not the problem; it’s when people claim an objective truth that lies outside of narrative.
With this in mind, Smith contends that postmodernity actually opens the door to Christianity, because it allows us to freely present our ideas in the marketplace of ideas and that, if understood and presented well, that our story is one of unique impact. (3) In other words, this insistence that rational thought alone doesn’t hold the trump card allows a key component of our beliefs to retake its central place: faith.
- Smith. Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? 63.
- Ibid., 68.
- Ibid., 73.