Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, “Tower of Babel” painting, Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo
A Postmodern Christianity? | Rev. Joseph R. Laracy | HPR
The instantiation of postmodern preferences has had varying effects on ecclesial communities, and has even given rise to new religious groups.
The salient characteristics of postmodern philosophy can be seen in many aspects of contemporary culture. In particular, the “flight from being (or truth)” is particularly evident in the areas of politics, ethics, and religion and is not constrained by the principle of non-contradiction. The rejection of grand narratives, fragmentation of knowledge, loss of the human subject, and so-called “death of man,” have had particularly devastating consequences on both the academic study of theology, and the practice of religion. Philosophers, theologians, and indeed entire ecclesial communities have attempted to adapt the Christian faith to this new perspective.
The instantiation of postmodern preferences has had varying effects on ecclesial communities, and has even given rise to new religious groups. Due to the absence of a Magisterium, the Protestant mainline has been greatly weakened, and the religious culture of the United States profoundly changed, by postmodern influences. New groups have also emerged that explicitly appeal to the postmodern mind, such as the so-called “Emerging Church.” With the formation of the Unitarian Universalist Church in 1961, the postmodern project finds an even more profound realization. Finally, one encounters the most extreme instantiation of the postmodern preferences in the pensiero debole (weak thought) and teologia debole (weak theology) of the Italian philosopher, Gianni Vattimo. Nonetheless, whatever the approach may be, any endeavor to marry the postmodern preferences to Christianity will be deleterious to encountering the central message of the Gospel summed up in the ancient acronym: ΙΧΘΥΣ—Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior 1—“for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12 RSV)
The Postmodern Project
Postmodernity is not simply a philosophical movement that follows modernism, but rather is a reaction to it. The Italian archbishop and theologian, Bruno Forte, offers the insightful metaphor of light and darkness: “The night is that which follows the setting of the light. If the light is the metaphor of the modern spirit, the night is the metaphor of postmodernity, that is, of this time in which the strong reason of modernity is rediscovered as a weak, uncertain, and restless reason. The night is a time of shipwrecks.” 2