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

Whatever That Means

Written by: on February 6, 2020

Another week, another Canadian!  Stephen Hicks, who teaches at Rockford University has put together a dense and highly critiqued tome Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, which argues that postmodernism is a rhetorical strategy, created and kept aflame mainly by academics and elites on the far left, in response to the downfall of socialism and communism.[1]  Marx is discussed heavily throughout the piece and, I must say, it has been a long time since I have even thought of the word “proletariat.”[2] Though his scholarship is criticized by many, “Explaining Postmodernism is full of misreadings, suppositions, rhetorical hyperbole and even flat out factual errors. Moreover, these problems aren’t limited to Hicks’ interpretation of postmodern authors, who are really only the focus of the beginning and end of the book. It extends across much of the modern Western canon,”[3] says one review,  and another completely dismisses his analysis on modern philosophy when Hicks gives this stirring analysis, “Whatever that means,”[4] his account on the environment was what drew my eye.

Hicks writes about the interplay the environment has with both capitalism and socialism, and in particular the Marxist notion “of exploitation and alienation”[5] that bears itself out on environmental issues.  According to Hicks, in the eyes of the postmodern environmentalist, capitalism became bad because “wealth . . . was no longer good.  Living simply, avoiding producing or consuming as much as possible, was the new ideal.”[6]  Alas, Hicks and the Lord’s prayer are incongruent on this point.

Numerous scholars from Amy Jill Levine, to Hal Taussig, to David Carr, discuss the line “Give us this day our daily bread”[7] found in the Lord’s Prayer to imply that the way Jesus taught us to pray for sustenance and blessings would be proportional to what was physically necessary.  In other words, not an overabundance, but “just the right amount.”  This harkens back to the Old Testament story that tells of the miraculous manna from heaven, provided to the recently liberated wandering Hebrew tribe.  The Hebrews would find this manna fresh on the ground overnight, gather it up, eat their daily portion, but then any that was saved for the next day would rot and spoil overnight.  God knew the people needed food and the food was provided daily, with the only day there was in fact an overabundance being the day before the Sabbath.[8]  This was intended to work within God’s plan of keeping the Sabbath day holy, allowing the Hebrews the opportunity not to gather manna that day, but instead focus on their relationship with the God who was liberating, protecting, and now feeding them.  Therefore, we have two Biblical texts, one from the Exodus, one from the time of Jesus, clearly teaching that living simply and the avoidance of over production or consumption are the best ways to live out one’s faith.  Neither text strike me as particularly postmodern.  Both arise from societies that were not capitalistic or socialist by any stretch of the imagination.  And though we can read later developing economic analysis into the Bible, it is hard to see Jesus as either a capitalist or socialist himself either.

Of course, the problem with postmodernism is the overall rejection of main, core metanarratives that have tied societies and peoples together over long periods of time.  (And in my humble opinion, the best film to exemplify postmodernity cinematically is Memento.) This “fragmentation” has created a world in which people often feel out of sync with the sacred rhythms of the earth.  Perhaps a return to the divinely intended “daily bread’ model is exactly how to ground someone in both their faith and their societal role, a person that is important to the whole, and at the same time, beloved, divine, and entirely and supremely unique.

[1] “Stephen Hicks,” Wikipedia, accessed February 4, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Hicks

[2] The word is used 32 times throughout the piece!

[3] Matt McManus, “A Review of Explaining Postmodernism by Stephen Hicks,” Areo, accessed February 4, 2020, https://areomagazine.com/2018/10/17/a-review-of-explaining-postmodernism-by-stephen-hicks/

[4] Stephen Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, (Tempe: Scholargy Publishing, 2014), 40.

[5] Hicks, Postmodernism, 155.

[6] Hicks, Postmodernism, 156.

[7] Matthew 6:11.

[8] Exodus 16.

About the Author

Rev Jacob Bolton

4 responses to “Whatever That Means”

  1. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Thank you for your masterful handling of Hicks and postmodernism. I appreciate your appeal back to biblical texts to live simply and in harmony with the Lord’s gracious and bountiful provision. Perhaps we could all start with keeping a Sabbath day holy. Thanks again.

  2. Jenn Burnett says:

    This book would be an “The Eagle and the Child” book. So much to talk about. First, I agree with a number of the critiques. The people he refers to as postmodern, are not necessarily so and thus critique of them is not particularly helpful. What I am more interested in following up with you about is your comment that “ the problem with postmodernism is the overall rejection of main, core metanarratives that have tied societies and peoples together over long periods of time.” I think I’d respond yes and no on that one. My experience with postmodern thought is that it is trying to draw our attention to the constructed nature of meta narratives and the power motives involved by their authors. Deconstruction theory would ask us to pay attention with who is constructing the narrative? Why? Who benefits? Who is harmed? What fruit is born out of this narrative? What is the cost? Where did this narrative emerge? As Christians we accept a particular meta-narrative, but also have seen how that meta-narrative has been manipulated to oppress as often as to bring freedom. Even what freedom means is differently defined in a Christian metanarrative than in an Analytic Objectivist metanarrative. (a la Hicks) I find that postmodernism has helped me pay attention to these dynamics and always be aware fo the constructedness of metanarrative rather than to deny their existence altogether. So what metanarrative are helping and hindering the environmental work of the church? Thanks for your thoughts and your work my friend!

  3. Good stuff Jacob. In your post you said that neither capitalistic nor socialist forms of government were in place during Jesus’ time. I know this could be a long answer, but what would you say is a good form of government in a pluralistic society?

  4. Mary Mims says:

    Great post, Jacob. I was just teaching the Lord’s prayer to my children this month, so I was interested in your point about the gathering of the manna. Thank you also for pointing out the critiques of Hicks, since I read those as well and did not know what to make of it since many thought he had so many factual errors. Hopefully, we can learn something from all of this that will be useful in our research.

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