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It has been stated over and over again that we live in a “postmodern” era. The modernism of our parents and grandparents has supposedly become grist for the philosophical mill and we now find ourselves in a “whatever” culture. Whatever goes, whatever works, whatever makes you happy, whatever, whatever, whatever. Time magazine even went so far as to declare YOU (yes, you) the “Person of the Year” in their December 25, 2006 issue. With a straight face they wrote:
[L]ook at 2006 through a different lens and you'll see another story, one that isn't about conflict or great men. It's a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It's about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people's network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.
Are they serious? Has YouTube or MySpace or even Facebook really made the world a better place? Or less intimidating? Or dauntingly huge? Is it really so much better now that I can locate a whole address book full of people that like the same songs as I do? Is Time really this shallow and trite? Do they actually believe the postmodern fluff that they are passing off as journalism? Remember the “Army of One?” The U.S. Army was experiencing a major lag in its recruitment numbers. So some big-shot over at the marketing department decided to try a new advertising campaign. The “Army of One” was born. Marketing to the postmodern mindset, however, proved to be a bit more difficult than a nifty slogan. Bootcamp became a whole lot trickier when drill sergeants were expected to manage 75 one-man armies. A platoon of Armies of One is a recipe for disaster. New recruits that made the mistake of actually believing the slogan quickly realized that the Army was still a place full of rules, push-ups, and “yessirs.” No postmodernism here. The Army quickly adopted “Army Strong” instead.
I believe both Time and the Army are guilty of believing the hype of postmodernism. While it may roll off of our tongues easily enough, we are NOT a postmodern culture. We are still modernists; we just like to play dress-up and pretend that truth does not matter. If you don’t believe me just try declaring loudly in a crowded mall that homosexuality is a sin and an abomination, or that the War in Iraq is noble and justified. See how many postmoderns you can find then. Watch as the “whatever” crowd quickly sheds it cloak of inclusiveness. Tolerance becomes a rare commodity if you have the audacity to propose unpopular views. You see, postmodernism only “works” when everyone keeps their mouth shut. Opposing “truths” are only equally valid as long as you keep yours to yourself. Nowhere is this more evident than with the current media darlings and official loudmouths of the “new atheism,” i.e. Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett.
In an interview with Rediff News, Harris explains one of his main gripes with Christianity:
Christians are convinced that the Ten Commandments are the absolute statement of morality but they should look at Jainism. Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, surpassed the morality, of the Bible in one, in just one sentence: Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture or kill any creature or living being. Christians who swear by the Bible have abused, oppressed, enslaved, insulted, tormented, tortured, and killed people in the name of their scriptures for centuries. Had the Bible contained the teachings of Mahavira as its central precept, perhaps we would be living in a different world.
Doesn’t sound very postmodern to me. Incredibly, Harris seems to be oblivious to the fact that atheists—which he considers himself to be—have perpetrated far more evil and suffering in this world than hypocritical “Christians” ever have. If he really wants to examine faiths by body counts and suffering, he might want to find a way to exclude Stalin from his list. Harris’s belief that Mahavira has surpassed the morality of the Bible completely begs the question. Harris assumes a transcendent moral standard and then ridicules the Bible for taking too many words to state it. He then defeats his own point by insulting Christians; revealing that he is incapable of living up to his own moral standard as well.
But I digress, my point was that Harris and the rest of the new atheists (although there is really nothing new or novel about them) are actually helping to pull off the mask of postmodernism. Their intolerance with religion is actually leading the way for the rest of the world to shed its “tolerance” and get back to the business of being modernists again. For that, we should be grateful. Over the next several weeks, we’ll look into this a bit more by analyzing some of the writings of Harris, Dawkins, and Dennett, in addition to some of the misguided efforts of Christians attempting to cater to a postmodern mindset.