I first heard the phrase “Post-modern World” from my daughter Betsy after she graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in international affairs/development more than a decade ago.
The term was unfamiliar to me. As far as I could tell, it had to do with a different way of thinking, of perceiving the world, than had existed before.
I’ve always been fascinated with how people perceive their world. I have found that if I can understand a person’s mindset – their thesis about life – I can learn how to deal with them more effectively.
Since I’ll be teaching a continuing education class this fall for Green River College called “Competing Cultural Values in American Society,” I decided to study the Post-modern World in more detail. I found an article online that clearly clarifies the concept from a Christian perspective. The author, Kurt Struckmeyer, wrote a blog explaining “The Post Modern World” clearly on the “Following Jesus” website.
Struckmeyer gave the context to understanding by first describing the pre-modern worldview. This era goes back to biblical times where the king and religion were linked as one. In history, we call this period the Age of Divine Right of Kings.
Monarchs were God’s representatives on earth. To question the decisions of the king was to question God. Religion held the answers to life’s mysteries. The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, were accepted without question as God’s word.
The pre-modern worldview began to break down in the 18th century with the rise of scientific thought in the Enlightenment Era. Reason began to take precedence over faith as the new modern worldview. Church and state were separated. Science, not religion, gave the answers to life’s struggles. Solutions to the world’s problems came through evolution, critical thinking and reasoning. Optimism brought the belief of human perfectibility.
This modern worldview prevailed until the two world wars and the use of nuclear weapons, which profoundly shattered this belief in human perfectibility. The post-modern worldview began to take shape beginning in the 1950s and continues to develop into the 21st century.
The key components of this perspective reject the belief in absolute truth in the field of ethics and religion, not so much in science or technology. Truth becomes relative to ones’ culture. Struckmeyer describes it this way: “If I can feel it, if I can touch it, then it must be true.”
Among post-moderns there is a pessimistic distrust of authority, whether it be government or religious institutions. Generation Xers (born between 1965 and 1981) reject grand claims and favor instead the view that life is complex. Generation Ys and Millennials, those born after 1982, have only extrapolated the worldview further. If it’s simple, it’s probably wrong. Christianity is just one of many options to finding truth. Each person must find “his or her truth.”
That “New Truth” is often being found in charismatic Christianity, New Age or Eastern religions, according to Struckmeyer.
In American culture today and especially in the Church, all three ways of thinking co-exist. Some Christians accept church authority without question. Others question authority, using reason to guide them. The post-moderns have rejected established churches and have become “spiritual without being religious,” trusting only what their own experiences have taught them. This post-modern tendency will only accelerate with time, according to Struckmeyer.
Perhaps that is why Christianity is declining in North America and Western Europe and rapidly increasing in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. How clearly North American Christians come to realize these three divisions and act upon this knowledge will determine what Christianity will look like, or whether Christianity will even exist in any numbers 50 years from now in our part of the world.