This is the third in the series of reflections on Joseph Bottum's essay titled Christians and Postmoderns. Scroll down for the two previous posts on his essay.
Bottum writes that:
[Theists] should not become entangled in the defense of modern times. This is the key - the postmodern attack on modernity is right: without God, essences are the will to power. Without God, every attempt to call something true or beautiful or good is actually an attempt to compel other people to agree.
Of course believers are tempted, when they hear postmodern deconstructions of modernity, to argue in support of modernity. After all, believers share with modern nonbelievers a trust in the reality of truth. They affirm the efficacy of human action, the movement of history towards a goal, the possibility of moral and aesthetic judgments. But believers share with postmoderns the recognition that truth rests on a faith that has itself been the sole subject of the long attack of modern times.
The most foolish thing believers could do is to make concessions now to a modernity that is already bankrupt (and that despises them anyway) and thus to make themselves subject to a second attack - the attack of the postmodern on the modern. Faithful believers are not responsible for the emptiness of modernity. They struggled against it for as long as they could, and they must not give in now. They must not, at this late date, become scientific, bureaucratic, and technological; skeptical, self-conscious, and self-mocking.
A better word in the previous sentence might have been "scientistic" rather than "scientific," scientism being the belief that only science can give us knowledge and that any questions science can't answer, such as metaphysical questions, aren't worth worrying about.In any case, "premoderns" are torn between modernity and postmodernity precisely because they share so much in common with both. They bristle at the withering assaults of the postmoderns on modernity's belief in objective truth, particularly truth about morals. Yet they are in fundamental agreement with the postmodern critique of the futility of modernity's attempt to ground meaning and truth in the philosophical quicksands of positivism, naturalistic metaphysics, the scientific method, or whatever. They recognize that modernity reduces man to a machine and thus robs him of his dignity and worth and inevitably his human rights.
We live in a tragically empty age, one in which the promises of secular reason to usher in a golden era of enlightenment and knowledge were dashed on the rocks of two world wars and the bloodiest century in human history. Postmoderns rightly ridicule the limitations of reason, it's utter impotence to offer human beings meaning or to lead us into a humanist nirvana, but they offer nothing in its place other than subjectivity and nihilism.
We can't go back to the premodern era, of course, nor would many of us want to. Modernity, despite its failures and shortcomings, has made the physical burdens of life immeasurably easier to bear. Perhaps, though, we could, if we really set our minds to it, import the crucial assumptions of the premodern age about the necessity of a transcendent foundation for knowledge, meaning, morals, and human nature into our present era. Then not only would the physical burdens of life be easier to bear but so, too, would our spiritual and existential burdens.