Postmodern Suffering on Twitter

Peter Heltzel – protestant activist, friend of Randy Woodley, author of Resurrection City, and upcoming podcast guest – posed a question on Twitter yesterday:

What does postmodernity mean for those who suffer?

Friend of the podcast, Anthony Smith addressed one aspect when he tweeted “black folks been postmodern since 1619. We’ve always rendered incredulous european metanarratives.”

I have been thinking about how one would possibly address that question in 140 characters. Here is what I came up with:

4 things postmodernity undermines: colonial certainty, enlightenment epistemology, scientific reductive approaches & capitalist confidence.

I would love to hear what you might tweet in order to answer Heltzel’s question. Answers longer than 140 characters will not be discounted … but responses within the format will be given bonus points.

 

In case you are wondering about Dr. Heltzel,  he is director of the Micah Institute at New York Theological Seminary. He is quoted in the linked article as saying:

“Corporate leaders, Wall Street financiers, real estate developers and insurance executives are already in conversation. We need to improvise with the religious traditions in our faith communities to create the conditions through which we can collaborate for justice as we build a deeper community.”

I’m looking forward to his visit to the podcast.

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25 comments
lotharlorraine
lotharlorraine

If Postmodernism means there isn't any objective truth out there, it is an absurd self-defeating philosophy.

But if it means that it is extremely hard to reach truth in politics, ethics and metaphysic this is something I'm largely in agreement with.
Actually, I feel extremely preoccupied by the fact that so few people adopt this view.

The rise of the New Atheists isn't particularly reassuring. These people are certain that their Western reductive materialist and capitalist views are absolutely true, and that EVERYONE disagreeing ought to be mocked, ridiculed and disdained.


Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

kawsar6097
kawsar6097

This later Kwame Bediako, Cameras theologian extraordinaire, created your claim that a number of facets of postmodernity "bear your scars of an primal worldview.

www.ordained-ministers.com

freeparadox
freeparadox

postmodernism allows suffering to speak by refusing to give it a deeper meaning and by exposing us to it's sheer arbitrariness.

Jonnie Russell
Jonnie Russell

Pomo means no single narrative can tell us history, hide the underside, the stories of suffering. Any clean, linear, 'meta-voice' is denied.

MrsBibleStudent
MrsBibleStudent

I live and work in the poorest school district in the poorest county in Kansas. People are suffering here in many and various ways. The poverty is mind-blowing. A good job here pays $9 an hour. Most work, if you can get it, is cash-under-the-table farm work. People think that the school superintendent with his $56,000 salary has "more money than God." (direct quote from a mom in the district)

Postmodernism to these folks means the world is passing them by. They've been struggling since 1865 just to get to modernity, still aren't there yet, and now they're being told that what they've wanted their whole life is no more. They're angry and scared. They feel cheated. This is how Tea Partiers like Sam Brownback and Tim Huelskamp get elected.

Jez at unhappyhippy
Jez at unhappyhippy

My offering, from @unhappyhippy inc Tweet handle to  @PeterHeltzel

@PeterHeltzel Modernist absolutes didn't stop outcast victimization despite moral certitudes,human nature says postmods even more vulnerable

Jesse Turri
Jesse Turri

Q:
What does postmodernity mean for those who suffer?

A:
The fact that the "postmodern" antithesis exists is a reason for hope, it signals progress. It also means that a synthesis is not far behind

(140 characters on the nosy)


Kurt van Kraut
Kurt van Kraut

It’s unfair: capitalism never lost her grand narrative of growth, but we have traded our own counter-consumerist narratives for plastic toys.

_JacquiB
_JacquiB

I have to admit I had to read the post a couple times to see if I was missing something.  If I had to point to the one thing I think has driven my theological quest in recent years it's been the realization that modernism has almost nothing of value to offer those who suffer.  

When I started thinking things like, "Is this really all God has to offer?  Because this isn't good enough," I knew I had a problem.  

So I guess my honest question is am I missing something?  Why is this the question we're asking?  

NathanSmith2
NathanSmith2

Rebecca S. Chopp, writing in Modern Theologians, noted that Latin American, black, and feminist theologians "have made a convincing case for the situatedness of all knowledge."

NathanSmith2
NathanSmith2

The late Kwame Bediako, African theologian extraordinaire, made the claim that certain aspects of postmodernity "bear the marks of a primal worldview." 

aaronklinefelter
aaronklinefelter

Thanks for this Bo.  Don't have a tweetable response per se.  But I think this is spot on the right question.  That, and I was reading this while listening to this Radiolab podcast - http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blog/2013/aug/29/dawn-midi/ - and it seems to me that there is something resonant here.  

This band, Dawn of Midi, is doing analog music that seems digital, and only possible because of the influence of technological shifts.  I wonder if technology-infused postmodernity might lead us forward by looking backward.  Like reading a Wendell Berry book on an iPhone and making substantive changes in one's life and placefulness.  Place  and relationship (food & beer being two great examples of locavores gone wild) becomes relevant precisely because "colonial certainty, enlightenment epistemology, scientific reductive approaches & capitalist confidence" no longer hold sway.

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@MrsBibleStudent by FAR the most interesting comment I have read on any blog this whole summer. We must talk soon... 

thank you.  -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@Jez at unhappyhippy I am interested. I am intrigued. Could you please say more - don't worry about the 140 thing ... I just want to hear more about what you are really saying. 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@Jesse Turri Well played sir!  

honest question: are you really optimistic?   I just feel like we will perpetually be mired in the muck of complexity 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@Kurt van Kraut plastic , in itself, is the key word there.  Even 'back to the earth' mentalities - if they are done within modern or counter-modern frameworks - can themselves be  plastic. 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@_JacquiB I would submit that we have no choice but to ask this question. What other question would we ask? We can go back. We can't undo what has been done. We are located - situated - here and now. 

This is why counter-modern and antiModern frameworks ring hollow for me. The are fictitious or fantastical attempts at reclamation that do not account for the hegemonic (like that word?) power of the dominant culture. 

I told this story in a comment below : I bought a book about Thailand while I was in Thailand. The opening analogy was about the glass and steel Mercedes-Benz dealership with a "spirit-house" on the corner of the lot where food is put out every morning to satisfy the ancestors. It said that Thailand is the 21st century and the 14th century at the same time. 

We have no choice but to ask this question within this context. If we want to ask about suffering people - we do it within a postModern framework.   Does that help? 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@NathanSmith2 Good one!  The situatedness of all knowledge is SO important.  I wish I had that in my tweet. Perhaps that was implicit with undermining 'enlightenment epistemology' ;) 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@NathanSmith2 the key phrase there is 'bear the marks' - it is not the same ... but it is not entirely different. 

it is similar in some sense without being wholly identical - in that space is the conversation we are having.  

I bought a book about Thailand while I was in Thailand. The opening analogy was about the glass and steel Mercedes-Benz dealership with a "spirit-house" on the corner of the lot where food is put out every morning to satisfy the ancestors. It said that Thailand is the 21st century and the 14th century at the same time. 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@aaronklinefelter "like reading a Wendell Barry book on an Iphone while make substantive changes" is one of the best lines I have ever read.  I will be using that soon :) 


Jez at unhappyhippy
Jez at unhappyhippy

@BoSanders@Jez at unhappyhippy

OK Bo, here are my inexpert thoughts, fleshed out to somewhat more than 140 characters this time (!), in which I am more than happy to stand corrected by people more learned and informed than I am.

Please do:

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Post enlightenment modernism resulted in an insecure kick back from previously unquestionable institutions (e.g. The Church) which had a self proclaimed monopoly on truth and moral absolutes. Meanwhile 'secular' truth became more rational and evidence based. 
 
This led to a battle about definitions of rationality within faith, redefining and reinforcing such concepts as Biblical inerrancy, as a guard against the perceived dangers of 'liberalism.' In this context, large elements of the mainstream institutional Church tended to narrow its vision to the protection of the truth as it defined it, and the communication of that truth within an individualistic culture.

This led to evangelical revivalism and an amount of separatism from the host culture, while yet paradoxically becoming more individualistic in line with that culture.

In addition, the evangelical response to modernist definitions of truth led to both a critique and a borrowing of modern methodology, in its efforts to insecurely contest science and evolution, and to catalogue and prove the faith from a rationalist perspective, using apologetic approaches, while also reacting insecurely to certain scientific theories and developments.

Hence the world became obsessed with a battle about certainty, truth and evidence, and (put simplistically) culture amongst other things contained the sum total of individualistic responses to this debate. 

In this context, with inherited absolutes on the one hand questioned, and on the other hand defended; society and the church largely overlooked vulnerable groups, and became obsessed with conceptual thinking rather than human stories and rights. Suffering and victimization continued as the world looked the other way and debated, sought or defended evidenced truth. Despite this, certain minorities made progress, democratic rights for women, civil rights for ethnic minorities, etc, whilst others remained ostracised, e.g. Women in church roles, Migrant populations, Poverty, LGBT, etc.

More recently, Postmodernism has reacted to and rejected the large blocks in our culture(s) and now elevates the story of the human experience in comparison with the former priority of conceptual truth. At the same time it allows for more compassion and understanding of the other/other peoples, but also risks reinforcing individualism by granting equity to all truths, and encouraging tolerance of all perspectives - 'this is my truth now tell me yours.'

The rejection of moral absolutes at times makes protection of minorities more difficult, as tolerance seems not to have a single coherent even moral definition on the ground. The rationale for interventions are more difficult to vocalise with fewer generally agreed absolutes. On the other hand, increased appreciation of diversity ought to make compassion more likely, and coercion less of a risk.

But the world (let alone each separate culture) is a blend of different often incompatible modern, postmodern and even pre-modern/spiritual/pagan values, with the outworking often resulting in inequity based on multiple pressures - e.g. parts of the media can at times be much more accommodating to mainstream Islam, perhaps due to the violent risks of misunderstanding threatened by the extremes, than it may be to mainstream christianity which is not perceived to threaten our cultural comfort.

This all leaves us in a transitional and uneven mess, with most people morally rudderless. We are in a combination of modern and postmodern values, lived out in different balances in different contexts.

For me, the history of the impact of human nature on human interactions, with our ability to allow might to be right most of the time, leaves me pessimistic. There will continue to be victimization.

My only optimism would be for the church to abandon its demand to battle and divide over the truth of unproveable doctrines (4 e.g.s: Eschatological timetables, Creationism, Inerrancy, and the Ecclesiology and experience of the Holy Spirit) and to find and start to live a Christological lifestyle hermaneutic in which we side with and speak for 'the suffering' at our own risk, with experimental faith that God will bring the resurrection principle to bear into our culture, especially as we prioritize enemy love and a healing discipleship dynamic.

Postmoderns and the victims in our world need the example of the church, but too often we are still distracted by the battles of the individualistic modern era.

Hence, pessimistic!

Hey, like I know!
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>



NB:
Apologies for slowish response.
By way of explanation, I have to squeeze theological reflection and interaction in between family life (wife/3 kids) and work life in local government and community safety.
If theology doesn't impact my thinking in such a way that it translates into influencing my interactions with my world and culture, what's the point!?

I am also somewhat academically 'out-of-the-loop' having done a Biblical Studies degree in the 1980s, then having been part of the leadership team of a reformed conservative charismatic evangelical UK church plant, but having jumped off that hamster wheel am now trying to catch up theologically as I re-evaluate my faith in the light of massive dissatisfaction with modern church life and the way we handle Truth, belief and how it is communicated.

I wish I had the time or resources to work these things through better and learn how to communicate effectively!

In this process, HBC has been a massive help - and it helps that you keep huge heavy subjects light, engaging and entertaining.

This also means that I will often misuse terminology, or define things incorrectly, out of ignorance and lack of specialist knowledge. I'm on catchup!

When you spot this, please correct me - it helps.

Thanks, Jez

Sorry for longwindedness!


Jesse Turri
Jesse Turri

@BoSanders Yeah I feel that way a lot too. It's easy to be pessimistic, for sure. I think Integral Philosophy has it right that right now postmodernism is acting like a cork in the bottle, preventing real change--the antithesis can't be the solution, right?

One thing is certain: If progress is possible, the burden is on postmodern progressives to develop/evolve/become/grow to the  point where they can be sensitive enough--and loving enough--to help others recognize greater levels and dimensions of value and beauty.

Jesse Turri
Jesse Turri

@BoSanders Good question. Not sure if I'm the best person to answer it though (I'm sure you've read some Integral stuff before!). I'm not an expert but I'd say Itegral's answer is a synthesis approach, taken from natural systems which "transcend and include." In any developmental or growth sequence, as a more encompassing stage or holon emerges, it includes the capacities and patterns and functions of the previous stage, and then adds its own unique (and more encompassing) capacities. Basically, progressive postmoderns are dependent on the good values of pre-tradional, traditional and modern world views. Without them, postmodern values just wouldn't be. Again, the goal is to transcend the previous stage, but also include it.

I like former podcast guest S. Mcintosh's formulation of Integral Thought (never read Wilber) because it seems like it's basically Whitehead mixed with Emergence theory. McIntosh points out that one of the the reasons that postmodern politics remains relatively impotent in important areas is because so many of its adherents are extremely anti-modern.  Despite the diversity of views that are embraced within postmodern culture, what generally binds postmodernists together is their agreement regarding the abundant pathologies of modernism (e.g. unchecked capitalism, environmental neglect, nationalism, etc, etc, etc…).

Generally though, I tend to appreciate the idea of "Teaching" as activism. The Integral idea that culture and consciousness evolve together is key, I think. The human hand has evolved to grasp things, and so has the human mind. Despite what postmodern relativists may claim, we can grasp certain aspects of reality. Education, therefore, is important in that regard.

On a side note--since we're talking about what Integral brings to the table--what I find most comical and ironic is that Darwin's theory, which for some signaled the official arrival of materialistic/reductionistic modernism, may also be the demise of it.

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@Jesse Turri @BoSanders indulge me ... what does Integral bring to the table ... and please don't limit yourself to 140.  I'm interested. -Bo