Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Postmodernism: Nothing Really Matters – Some of the Time

Written by: on March 8, 2023

Stephen Hicks is a Canadian-American philosopher who teaches at Rockford University and directs the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship.[1] His book, Explaining Postmodernism covers that broad topic in a polemic tone. Hicks states his central thesis on the Contents page: “The failure of epistemology made postmodernism possible, and the failure of socialism made postmodernism necessary.”[2] Epistemology refers to the theory of knowledge, or more simply put, how do we know anything? Methods of reason, born in the Enlightenment in the West, introduced procedures and assessments for the validity of knowledge. In contrast, the postmodern philosophical movement, born out of European philosophy, argued against the rationality of the Enlightenment, believing the truth to be relative. The implications of recent postmodern intellectual and cultural influence affect the fields of philosophy, politics, and the physical sciences.[3] Objective knowledge or truth is denied, and no culture can speak meaningfully about what is known or real. “The battle between modernism and the philosophies that led to postmodernism was joined at the height of the Enlightenment” with its progress in liberal politics and free markets, scientific progress, and technological innovation.[4] Truth, objectivity, and progress all garner suspicion and rejection under the critical eye of postmodernism.

The topic of postmodernism has occupied a growing number of books in our reading this year. Last semester, Carl Trueman, in The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, researched the influences of philosophical thought on the issues of gender and sexuality so prevalent today. He helped understand the Western cultural movement from objective truth existing outside of humanity to a self-defined reality about self and the world. Abagail Favale, in Genesis of Gender, also gave considerable attention to the influence of postmodernism upon the understanding of sexual identity in today’s Western cultural stream. Most recently, Pluckrose and Lindsay, in Cynical Theories, demonstrated postmodernism’s impact on issues of race, gender, and politics. The pervasive effects of its reach make an understanding of postmodern thought a significant need for someone engaging in the social issues of the West today.

The application of the impacts of postmodern thought upon culture is a growing reality in the ministry world. For example, about one year ago, a staff member and I met with a man who had undergone gender-affirming surgery and was receiving hormonal injections to suppress male traits and heighten female ones. As we discussed the transition, the role of faith, and where our church stands, I raised the issue of science in the gender debate. He reacted strongly and stated, “Don’t quote the science to me. I know what I know, and I know who I am.” What is someone to say in response to a self-determined identity? Postmodernism does not present a theory or a philosophy only applied in the mind but in the real life of real people.

Three thoughts stand out to me regarding the reality of postmodernism in this cultural moment. First, logically, postmodernism falls to its argument. I recognize that logic is one of the causalities in postmodern thought, but I find it striking how postmodernism stands in judgment of its view. Beginning with Rousseau, Kant, and Marx, the Enlightenment came under attack. “Postmodernism. . .identifies its target – modernism and its realization in the Enlightenment and its legacy – and it mounts powerful arguments against all of the essential elements of modernism.”[5] If the West contains structures of power ultimately corrupted against some, how can the result of that same structure produce freedom from it? All the leading philosophers of postmodernism reside in the West. Would that not argue against a responsible deconstruction of systems that enslaved and subjugated the weak and the poor? To ask it another way, how can a broken system produce a non-broken system? Kant “held that the mind – and not reality – set the terms for knowledge. And he held that reality conforms to reason, not vice versa.”[6] Kant marks a significant shift away from objectivity to a standard of subjectivity. But, if all is subjective then the reasons for embracing postmodern thought are as subjective as any other, making it a contradiction of itself.

Second, postmodernism violates its tenets of subjectivity. At best, the violation proves inconsistent. At worst, postmodernism lives hypocrisy in every aspect of its existence. Hicks addresses inconsistencies of postmodernism later in the book. “All truth is relative; on the other hand, postmodernism tells it like it really is.” “On the one hand, all cultures are equally deserving of respect; on the other, Western culture is uniquely destructive and bad.” “Values are subjective – but sexism and racism are really evil.”[7] These examples point out views that hold opposing positions. How is this possible for the postmodern thinker? Hicks posits, “…the contradictions between (relativism and absolutism) simply do not matter psychologically to those who hold them. . .because for them ultimately nothing matters.”[8] If all is subjective and nothing ultimately matters, why take such a dogmatic position of ideas presented as absolute? A discussion of current issues for someone who holds to external, objective truth as defined by the Bible as God’s revelation will prove a problematic exchange due to postmodern contradictions of thought and practice. How the church engages the current cultural milieu will prove a challenge of significant importance. Personally, I believe living an active faith is as important as articulating it in this day. Actions in an uncertain time speak at least as loud as words.

Third, the issues playing out today cannot be summarily dismissed or downplayed. Race, gender, poverty, etc., are not just current politicized topics. They are also biblical topics and aspects of faith in the God of the Bible. Followers of Jesus cannot abandon biblical issues because they have been co-opted by postmodern influence. A reasoned and lived faith can speak to biblical topics more deeply than a philosophy that ultimately concludes that nothing matters and nothing is true. During the Enlightenment, Christianity needed to retain some mysterious aspects of faith. During the postmodern age, Christianity needs to retain the objectivity of faith. There exist something and Someone beyond ourselves. The struggle to understand that does not invalidate the reality of God, who exists apart from and over humanity. May that revelation drive us to “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.”

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Hicks, accessed March 7, 2023.

[2] Stephen R. C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (Roscoe, IL: Ockham’s Razor Publishing, 2018), I.

[3] Ibid., 21.

[4] Ibid., 22-23.

[5] Ibid., 20-21.

[6] Ibid., 39.

[7] Ibid., 184.

[8] Ibid., 186, 192.

About the Author


Roy Gruber

Husband, father, pastor, student, and sojourner in Babylon

3 responses to “Postmodernism: Nothing Really Matters – Some of the Time”

  1. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Roy: Your first point about logic and reason and postmodernism’s attack on the enlightenment resonates. Do postmodernists recognize that they use reason to discard reason? Why are they so quick to discard science? logic? This was a challenging book to read but I’m glad I put int he effort-it causes us to think deeply about our faith.

  2. mm Eric Basye says:

    Excellent blog. I especially appreciated your shedding light to number three. What scripture has to say about issues of race, poverty, and Justice, etc.

    Would you say post modern thinking is relevant and a current reality in your neck of the woods?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Eric, thanks for your question. My neck of the woods is very conservative politically, socially, and theologically due to the Mormon influence in all aspects of culture here. If anything, I hear of the reaction to postmodern ideals as expressed on the “hot topics” of our day as dismissive – i.e. “racism is a hoax,” etc. In my ministry context, I’m viewed more as a liberal, while in the GFU cohort I’m viewed as a conservative. I’m OK with all of that, and if anything, it means I’m not an extremist on either end of the spectrum. I call that a “win.”

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