Narratives are pervasive today because of a worldview shift to postmodernism.
The concept of “narrative” we’ve been exploring in this series is not new, but today narratives have become commonplace. They are pervasive. You name the major issue of the day, whether it is global warming, or LGBT rights, or racial issues, or a particular foreign policy, or whatever, narratives have been crafted, promoted, and protected in order to advance a particular agenda. They are part of the cultural air that we breathe.
But why are they so pervasive now?
A few years ago, people didn’t use the word “narrative” as we do today. Rather, they used the word “propaganda.” Propaganda is understood to be a willful misleading used to further a particular agenda. It brings to mind the Nazi regime, and particularly the infamous propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl. Propaganda is a morally weighted term— it is viewed negatively. The concept of “narrative,” however, is less so. There seems to be a growing sense that everyone uses narrative to advance their views. This “everyone does it” climate makes it possible for even a highly distorted narrative like the one Ben Rhodes crafted to be employed without a sense of having done anything morally wrong.
This cultural climate is the result of a postmodern worldview that is now dominant in the West. Narratives flourish and thrive in a postmodern ideological ecosystem.
Postmodernism can be understood as a kind of secular “denomination.” It fits within the secular worldview category but it has a particular history and distinctiveness that goes back to thinkers like Hegel, and Kant, and later to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Sigmund Freud. According to worldview scholar Nancy Pearcey, Kant’s “innovation was to suggest that the mind does not merely reflect the structure of the world; instead it actively imposes structure and order onto the world. For Kant, reality as we know it is largely a construction of the human mind.”
Individual narratives have replaced objective truth
Postmodernism is the rejection of a truth or reality beyond the individual mind. There is no truth “out there.” There is no God, no transcendent source of meaning, purpose or morality. There is no single “metanarrative,” only countless “narratives.” Truth is not discovered, it is created. Relativity has jumped to relativism. There are no ultimate reference points to turn to.
With God out of the picture, each individual becomes essentially a little deity—a sovereign maker of meaning. Postmodernists no longer ask “is it true” or “does it align with reality” but “does it work” or “how does it make me feel.” I’ve referenced this quote from American economist and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin often because I’ve found nothing that better captures the zeitgeist of our postmodern cultural moment.
We no longer feel ourselves to be guests in someone else’s home and therefore obliged to make our behavior conform with a set of preexisting cosmic rules. It is our creation now. We make the rules. We establish the parameters of reality. We create the world, and because we do, we no longer feel beholden to outside forces. We no longer have to justify our behavior, for we are now the architects of the universe. We are responsible for nothing outside ourselves, for we are the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.
All of this, of course, is false. It is a lie, and the fact that this lie is so deeply embedded in the culture will have tragic consequences. Regardless of what anyone thinks, God exists. He is the eternal, personal Creator of all things. He alone defines reality. He alone defines what is good, true, and beautiful. As Darrow has said, the biblical word for suppressing the truth and living in a world of illusion is foolishness and it has destructive ramifications for society.
What happens when people no longer seek the truth, but believe they are sovereign creators of reality? What social goods are lost when people no longer believe in external reality—in a real world beyond their own minds? That will be the subject of our next post.
- Scott Allen