The experience of progressive thinking, considering philosophy, even, contemplative theology is new for me. For less than two decades, I have been on an adventure exploring truth (in all its wonderful variety). With the curiosity to learn, panic has arisen at times for there is just not enough time to passably explore-to-know the island I live on, let alone the history of oceans and bodies of water surrounding this island. All the earth, the cosmos of the within and beyond, is full of new lands and creatures and priceless discoveries of truth. Postmodernism is a new thing, a developing paradigm, bigger than a mere puddle of thought to paddle around in.
The first time I was faced with the idea of Postmodernism was when I read Brian McLaren’s ‘A New Kind of Christian’ in the mid-2000s. I don’t remember much more than blips of its content. Closest to mind in those years was cellular biology, processes and definition of biochemistry and animal behaviour to stir the imagination. These subjects required not much less than entire memorization. Politics and philosophy were in other buildings, on other channels and, in that time, I wasn’t interested nor was I curious. However, from a young age attending a Street Church, to a couple years in the mission field and growing involvement on the street in ministry, I knew that there were significant and systemic problems adding to the seeming relentless brokenness in the world. I could feel it downtown, on the streets and I could feel it in the yard on the campus at university. Something is wrong.
I wonder if it is it as simple and not-so-straight forward as what philosophers and politicians continue to natter-on about? I wonder, if there is more systemic and structural strategy, manipulating even the nattering, the sound bites that we are lost in and all the distraction? If the truth can be hidden amid the noise, as nothing more than a conspiracy theory, does evil genius win?
In his book, Explaining Postmodernism, Stephen Hicks defines postmodernism as ‘a comprehensive philosophical and cultural movement.’1 He points out that a key element of postmodernism is that it ‘defines its target’2 which is modernism and its formative influence, the Enlightenment, forming arguments against these in proving its station, necessity, and relevance. Hicks explains the various aspects of the development of postmodernism as well as its key forerunning voices, ones itching for change, such as: Heidegger, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Rousseau (his work on collectivism). He mentions ‘those who came to prominence of the postmodern as the leaders of the postmodern movement: Michel Foucault, Jena-Francois Lyotard, Jacques Derrida, and Richard Rorty.’3 Each one of these men, containing wealth of intellect and historical understanding, to lean into the struggle of our globalising and polarized world; each one of these men, as Hicks portrays, politically inclined to socialism. Hicks offers some of his interpretive attention to the unravelling of Socialism through the Modern Age.
Socialism is rooted in the heart and mind of nineteenth century political and social scientific philosopher, Karl Marx. Whenever I have heard this name, there has always been the connotations of negativity. What is prescribed by his thinking, of course, poses a threat to the opposing view, Capitalism. Marx writes that ‘in bourgeois society, living labour is but a means to increase accumulated labour’ and ‘in Communist society, accumulated labour is but a means to widen, to enrich, to promote the existence of the labourer.’4 The bourgeoisie, as history has proven, experiences the most fruit, sharing sparingly, within the framework of Capitalism.
Yesterday, on my way into the city, I noticed a group of people with banners and balloons gathered on an overpass walkway. It is municipal election time here in the province and this was the Communist Party from the area, making their presence known. Tom Holland, in his book Dominion, connected the message of Marx with the narrative of the early church in consideration of the words he used to ‘to construct his model of class struggle – ‘exploitation’, ‘enslavement’, ‘avarice’ – owed less to the chill formulations of economists than to something far older: the claims to divine inspiration of the biblical prophets.’5 An observation that I have made over time is that Christian people seem threatened, almost fearful, of Marx for his perception of religion as enslavement (and, Capitalism has benefitted from this), even though ‘his model (of Communism) seemed eerily like a recalibration of it.’6
History offers upsetting and destructive examples of Communism, the most damaging iterations occurring in Russia and China in the twentieth century. It can be argued that these episodes of communism were out of a Capitalistic mindset. These were versions of communism birthed out of Capitalism, certainly not purely from the heart of proletarian revolution. Hicks states that ‘socialism is driven more than anything else by an ethos of altruism, by a conviction that morality is about selflessness, being willing to put other’s needs before one’s own, being willing to sacrifice oneself for others, especially those who are weaker and needier.’7 Honest sacrifice (expressed wholesomely, no by façade or illusion) is becoming less common in our time, as consumerism and materialism pressure ever-deepening convictions of individualism. Hicks clarifies that it is in our nature as humans to ‘necessarily exploit harmfully the weaker parties – the other species and the non-organic environment itself.’8
Karl Marx, offered a warning for the world with regards to the onslaught of Capitalism and the eventual uprising of the working class. The true bourgeoisie have done well to take heed of his warning, to organise well and, to keep strategizing well, in order to keep their demise from happening, while maintaining absolute control. I was unaware, only for so long, with regards to the potential of an elusive, sinister, and strategic evil at work; that, perhaps it’s not all conspiracy theory. Before I cared to give ‘the struggle’ any thought (which is their preference), I felt it and fought it in ways, finding encouragement in Christ and strength by the grace of God, whose power is made perfect in weakness.9 Still, I don’t think this is a project for this ‘portfolio’. For now in this place-of-time, I am thankful to continue with curiosity, reading and writing, tinkering with sound bites, on a postmodern adventure considering the colours of Christ on the inside and out (the upside and down), stopping on the highway to honk, with my fist out the window for the true revolution.10
- Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (Australia: Connor Court Publishing, 2019), 20.
- Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism, 20.
- Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism, 171-172.
- Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto. (London: Penguin Great Ideas, Penguin Classics, 2015), 51.
- Tom Holland, Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind (Great Britain: Abacus, 2019), 441. Religion that exploits and that resembles Capitalism, Marx loathes. I wonder about the Original form that refutes all oppression, standing against the oppresor, for liberation.
- Holland, Dominion, 441. Implied is the ‘early church’ or Christianity as the model Marx recalibrated in his framing of Communisms core values.
- Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism, 146.
- Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism, 155
- 2 Coritnhians 12:9, NIV.
- John 16:33, NIV.