As the Post-Modern World Turns

There is an interesting post here on global Christianity. It touches on many issues and points, but what caught my eye was the nod to the continuing postmodern turn and especially in relation to the idea of “progress”. The West, since at least the Enlightenment, has bought into the myth of “progress.” Basically taking a page from evolutionary biology and applying it to morality and culture (to everything really—as it became a meta-narrative), the idea being that history can be viewed as a time-line where one can actually “chart” as it were the movement from the “simple” to the more “complex.” Obviously there is some truth to this, especially in the areas of technology, but it hardly applies in other areas of knowledge—or it at least is much more nuanced and complicated than any simple theory of “progress” would allow. The point here is that much of the secularization thesis is really bound up in the myth of “progress” and the recognition that it (progress) is a myth is part of the post-modern turn. What partly shattered the myth of course was the 20th Century with its two world wars and, clearly, the Holocaust. Yes, we put a man on the moon but when the back drop to that is a landscape littered with bodies, it tends to take away something. What is, after all, “progress?”

But the piece on global Christianity is another example of those in academia recognizing that the idea the West would move from a simple (read: religious) to a more complex (read: secular) understanding of the world has indeed been “greatly exaggerated.”

Here are some quotes:

Striking changes are afoot in the way intellectuals address Christianity. Long seen as a largely Western tradition steadily losing its cultural influence in the West, Christianity has recently been re-installed at the center of debates that concern academic specialists and public intellectuals alike.

Christianity has overwhelmed the secular levees that used to channel its course. And as a source of new models of revolutionary action that do not depend on determinist assumptions, Christianity is enjoying a moment of high-cultural centrality the likes of which it has not seen in many decades.

The second current discussion of Christianity to which we draw attention is primarily philosophical and has moved to make Christian categories and materials central to new projects of philosophical and cultural critique – projects once thought to be firmly rooted in secularist (and largely atheist) assumptions. The most prominent names connected with this discourse are Giorgio Agamben [who was a speaker at the Rome conference I attended a couple of years ago—a theological conference no less], Alain Badiou, Jacques Derrida, Gianni Vattimo, and Slavoj Žižek.

These types of trends may explain the shrillness and scare-mongering displayed by those like the “new” atheists. One can understand their frustration. It is always unsettling when one sees what he thought were settled questions now being challenged and to the point where his very world-view is even called into question.

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