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Putting God back in the church

By Peter Sellick - posted Tuesday, 13 June 2006


It is a great pity that the move in philosophy called postmodernism has attracted negative sentiments in the general public.

There is a fear this movement removes all that we know is solid - morality, values, and the scientific world view - to replace it with a sea of relativities and uncertainties.

It is thought postmodernism is just more radical scepticism emptying all that we thought we knew. Certainly the more outrageous expressions - particularly those originating in France - give off this odor. conjuring up a vision of young philosophers eager to make their names rampaging through our universities and overturning all the old authorities and certitudes.

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An example of how postmodernism has been misrepresented is the silly questions set in English literature exams asking students to criticise texts from a particular position such as Marxist, feminist, postcolonial, or queer.

The origin of these questions lies in the program of deconstruction with its critical examination of texts for their underlying and often unrecognised biases and agendas.

While this process can be recommended for identifying false consciousness, it is important to understand how our position in life - as man, woman, indigenous, privileged, and so on - informs the kind of world we construct. Its deconstruction lays bare our soul and allows other points of view room to breath.

However, when this technique becomes the be-all and end-all for studying literature, then students standing back from the text with judgment in their heads are likely to miss the text altogether. The result can be moral megalomania, with the student self-righteously assuming the position of moral arbiter over our great texts of literature.

When suspicion rules there is no way texts may engage us. The greatest advantage of studying the great literary texts is that they are “other”. Student-centred learning, which insists on texts from the students’ own world, will not be confronted by difference and will remain in its own comfort zone.

Surely the importance of the great texts is their accurate representation of the human - something Big Brother as an alternative text does not do.

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It is increasingly being recognised there was never room for theology in the modern project of setting up clear and distinct ideas based on firm foundations. This philosophical absolutism found its ground primarily in the natural sciences where theory could be tested and affirmed, or found wanting.

The success of this method ensured that all other forms of knowledge were relegated to the margins as subjective, with little or no foundation in the world. Theology suffered most from this move because the God that it investigated could be imagined only in terms of being under the auspices of natural science.

As a being among other beings God was vulnerable to negative evidence. And by seeking to lay the foundations of proof for God’s existence, we also lay the foundations of proofs for his nonexistence.

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Article edited by Allan Sharp.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

This article was helped considerably by several chapters of Overcoming Onto-theology by Merold Westphal.



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About the Author

Peter Sellick an Anglican deacon working in Perth with a background in the biological sciences. He has a website called Coondle Art Presentations.

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