Darrow Miller and Friends

Postmodernism: Demise of Truth and Morality

At the 75th Golden Globe Awards, Oprah Winfrey received the lifetime achievement award. In the middle of her acceptance speech, Winfrey hit her stride when she praised women who were standing up to Harvey Weinstein and other Hollywood sexual predators.

I want to say that I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times, which brings me to this: What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. …

For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men, but their time is up. Their time is up! [emphasis added]

Winfrey did not say that women were speaking the truth, because in the postmodern world, there is no absolute truth, only narrative. Only “your truth” or “my truth.”

As Ben Shapiro recently tweeted, There is no such thing as “your truth.” There is the truth and your opinion.


Postmodernism recognizes no absolute truth

In the postmodern realm there is no truth, only one’s point of view. So Oprah was saying she was happy that women were finally sharing their viewpoint with men in power.

But on what basis would she or anyone else ever say these men were wrong? Hollywood not only denies moral absolutes, it promotes immoral behavior and evil through its movies and its lifestyles. You may say that you did not like what they did. But you could never condemn them, for in Hollywood and in postmodernism there is no moral framework by which to judge another person’s actions or behavior. You do you and I do me!

So what Oprah spoke were nice sentiments that many sentimental people related to. This is what is left when objective truth (there is no other kind) and moral absolutes (again, the only kind there is) are rejected. All that is left is “my opinion” or “my values.” These wither in the face of a tyrant.

As we have written elsewhere we have abandoned objective truth for narrative, and moral absolutes for moral and cultural relativism and political correctness.

As we have written here, postmodernism had its genesis in The Frankfurt School in Germany. One of the early leaders of the movement, Michael Foucault, French philosopher, historian and social critic, declared the end of the modern and premodern worlds: “All my analyses are against the idea of universal necessities in human existence. It is meaningless to speak in the name of—or against—Reason, Truth, or Knowledge.” [emphasis added]

Following Nietzsche’s declaration that God is dead, Foucault understood that there is no purpose in human life. The basic mental infrastructure required for human existence—reason, truth and knowledge—was passé.

Postmodernism denies reality and reason

Stephen Hicks, writing in Explaining Postmodernism, captures the stark reality of the “new” school of thought as denying both reality and reason. This new school mimics the old pagan animism or ancient Hinduism.

Metaphysically, postmodernism is anti-realist, holding that it is impossible to speak meaningfully about an independently existing reality. Postmodernism substitutes instead a social-linguistic, constructionist account of reality. Epistemologically, having rejected the notion of an independently existing reality, postmodernism denies that reason or any other method is a means of acquiring objective knowledge of that reality. There is nothing to guide or constrain our thoughts and feelings. So we can do or say whatever we feel like. [emphasis added]

Our feelings determine what is real and true. This is Oprah’s “my truth, your truth.” In the postmodern world, subjective “truth” replaces objective truth. We see this manifested, too often, in the church when Christians privatize their faith. Christ is nothing more than a personal Savior, the private possession in one’s heart. His transcendent reign over heaven and earth is obscured, cloaked by a private communion “none other has ever known.” Christ’s reign and His truth are removed from the marketplace, the public square, university, and arena.

The new morality tales of postmodernism

How has this change from modernism to postmodernism happened so fast? The simple answer is by the spread of morality tales through social media.

A morality tale is “A story or narrative from which one can derive a moral about right and wrong.” (Oxford Living Dictionary) One form of morality tale were the morality plays popular in the 15th and 16th centuries. Revived in the postmodern world, these morality tales are powerful stories that can capture the imagination without an absolute framework for good and evil. Using social media as well as film and television, they can spread at warp speed. These tales promote the arbitrary as absolute.

For example, global warming is widely believed at a cultural level and almost universally affirmed by elites (who speak of the science as “settled.”) Likewise, the morality tale spun by Planned Parenthood has the larger culture functioning as if abortion does not kill a human being. This is a morality tale worthy of Adolph Hitler’s yarn that Jews, Gypsies, and handicapped people are subhuman. This lie led to the brutal extinction of millions of people who were not, in the Nazi lexicon, worthy of life.

The fact that over 60,000,000 babies have been killed in the USA since Roe v. Wade and so much of the nation is silent in the face of the slaughter, illustrates the power of a morality tale. See up-to-the-minute abortion statistics here.

Confusion about victims and heroes

My good friend, president of the Disciple Nations Alliance Scott Allen, describes the key players in morality tales: “Those that create or perpetuate narratives write themselves into these stories as heroes or victims. The heroes and victims are always on the side of justice and righteousness. The villains or oppressors are always on the side of injustice and oppression – even when reality may be closer to the inverse.”

We see this in the Black Lives Matter morality tale. Who are the villains? White policemen! Who are the victims? Young, innocent black men who are killed by the evil, racist policemen. Who are the heroes? Social activists, both white and black, and the mainstream media who chronicle the story.

What about the morality tale told by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers? Who are the victims? Women who have an unwanted pregnancy. Who are the villains? Crisis pregnancy centers, run mostly by Christians who support a mother to carry her baby to term and then help the mother and baby after the child is born. In the Planned Parenthood morality tale the heroes are the volunteers and staff of abortion clinics who help the mother terminate the life of her unborn baby, giving her the “right to choose.” The irony of this tale is that those who love the mother and her baby are the villains. The heroes? Those who butcher the baby, sell the baby’s body parts, and violate the dignity of the mother.

The morality tale has done its work. Many people will be abhorred by how I speak of Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. But the nation is largely indifferent to this slaughter.

A call to action for believers

How are we to respond?

First, we need to learn the lessons of truth and freedom. Seeing the cultural tide beginning to shift from truth to post-truth, the 1975 Woodward Report from Yale University concluded:

The primary function of a university is to discover and disseminate knowledge by means of research and teaching. To fulfill this function a free interchange of ideas is necessary not only within its walls but with the world beyond as well. It follows that the university must do everything possible to ensure within it the fullest degree of intellectual freedom. The history of intellectual growth and discovery clearly demonstrates the need for unfettered freedom, the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable. To curtail free expression strikes twice at intellectual freedom, for whoever deprives another of the right to state unpopular views necessarily also deprives others of the right to listen to those views. [emphasis added]

Second, we must say No to narrative and Yes to truth. In fact, Christians need to come to understand that truth and moral clarity are imperatives for a free society. If these are abandoned, a nation will slide into lawlessness and chaos, “everyone doing what is right in his own life.”

Let’s say goodbye and good riddance to a faith that is subjective, personal and private, as small and fleeting as our feelings. This is no faith at all.

Let’s welcome a faith that is based on objective truth evidenced in reality, rooted in history, and knowable, a faith that allows us to enter fully into an alternative universe, the Kingdom of God.

  • Darrow Miller

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Darrow is co-founder of the Disciple Nations Alliance and a featured author and teacher. For over 30 years, Darrow has been a popular conference speaker on topics that include Christianity and culture, apologetics, worldview, poverty, and the dignity of women. From 1981 to 2007 Darrow served with Food for the Hungry International (now FH association), and from 1994 as Vice President. Before joining FH, Darrow spent three years on staff at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland where he was discipled by Francis Schaeffer. He also served as a student pastor at Northern Arizona University and two years as a pastor of Sherman Street Fellowship in urban Denver, CO. In addition to earning his Master’s degree in Adult Education from Arizona State University, Darrow pursued graduate studies in philosophy, theology, Christian apologetics, biblical studies, and missions in the United States, Israel, and Switzerland. Darrow has authored numerous studies, articles, Bible studies and books, including Discipling Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Culture (YWAM Publishing, 1998), Nurturing the Nations: Reclaiming the Dignity of Women for Building Healthy Cultures (InterVarsity Press, 2008), LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day (YWAM, 2009), Rethinking Social Justice: Restoring Biblical Compassion (YWAM, 2015), and more. These resources along with links to free e-books, podcasts, online training programs and more can be found at Disciple Nations Alliance (https://disciplenations.org).