While the term postmodernism is often used to describe an aesthetic, artistic worldview characterized by a distrust of theories and ideology, I think it usefully applies (or rather should apply) to the “certainties” on both sides in the religion vs. atheism debate.
Brilliant! In other words, “Postmodernism doesn’t mean uncertainty; it means certainty.” Or does it? One can never be too sure about these things!
In any case, one thing is certain, Frank Schaeffer has learned to use blogspot.com and since August has been blogging from his parents’ basement. (Metaphorically speaking of course!)
In part two, of this series, I claimed that the best way to confront Frank Schaeffer’s attacks on common sense is to realize that he’s just another angry postmodernist. The way to counter him is to first realize that virtually everything he says is complete drivel.
It reminds me of the passage in Through The Looking Glass in which Alice is talking to Humpty Dumpty:
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again.
Puzzled? That’s exactly how I feel when reading or listening to Frank Schaeffer. I say: “But words mean things!” Franky Dumpty says: “No, they don’t! They sneer whatever aesthetic I confuse they brrg snrffle!”
Ironically, after posting part two, in an episode of postmodernist doubt, I wondered if Frank Schaeffer himself has ever criticized existentialism and postmodernism as being an unviable philosophy, as his father, the late great Francis Schaeffer, had done so forcefully in How Should We Then Live? So I did a little research by reading his new blog.
Frank frequently quotes the 19th century philospoher Søren Kierkegaard, who was simultaneouly existentialist, neo-orthodox, postmodernist and humanist. One could sum up the entire philosophy of Kierkegaard as “uncertainty about God.” Some of the most comic philosophical quotes of all time were offered by this crazy Dane. I say these are comic quotes, because they have the quality of sounding both obvious and profound, while really being nonsense. Kierkegard’s philosophy is reminiscent of the “sound of one hand clapping” cliché of Zen Buddhism, which is meant to show that meaning comes only through accepting paradoxical truths. “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” the Zen master asks. It’s a rhetorical question. In other words, “People who know, do not know; just as people who do not know, do not know.”
I must find a truth that is true for me.
Irony is a qualification of subjectivity.
It belongs to the imperfection of everything human that man can only attain his desire by passing through its opposite.
It is the duty of the human understanding to understand that there are things which it cannot understand.
So let others admire and extol him who claims to be able to comprehend Christianity. . . . I regard it then as a plain duty to admit that one neither can nor shall comprehend it.
Both Blake and Kierkegaard emphasized the belief that fear and anxiety come from not recognizing the tension of opposite forces. In Blake’s case, this idea took the form of a Neo-Gnostic dualism.
Thus Kierkegaard represents the erupting existential angst among 19th century thinkers who feverishly sought out truth and meaning, but were never content with biblical truth and historic Christian orthodoxy as a source and thereby missed the forest for the trees.
Of course, not everything Kierkegaard said was wrong and it is subject to interpretation. If understood in a Christian context, Kierkegaard’s idea of a “leap of faith” has some antecedents among the writings of the Church Fathers. But to understand Frank Schaeffer, one must understand that he — like Kierkegard, Karl Barth, Albert Schweitzer, and Rudolph Bultmann before him — is self-consciously neo-orthodox. The term, neo-orthodoxy is somewhat misleading in that it isn’t a “new orthodoxy,” but a mid-20th century revision of the Historical Critical method espoused by the liberal theologians 50 to 100 years prior to that.
Today Frank has ventured to express his admiration of Kierkegard and Barth. Don’t be surprised that if tomorrow you hear him echoing Bishop Shelby Spong and John Dominic Crossan. He’s an iconclast who has taken to disagreeing with anyone who stands for certainty and objective truth. His mode of operation is first contradiction and then affirmation in the next breath. In this way, he is impossible to pin down.
The promo to his new book says:
Frank Schaeffer has a problem with Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett, and the rest of the New Atheists — the self-anointed “Brights.” He also has a problem with the Rick Warrens and Tim LaHayes of the world. The problem is that he doesn’t see much of a difference between the two camps. As Schaeffer puts it, they “often share the same fallacy: truth claims that reek of false certainties. I believe that there is an alternative that actually matches the way life is lived rather than how we usually talk about belief.”
I too have a problem with Dawkins, Hitchens, Warren and LaHaye. But it isn’t because they speak of certainties. On the contrary, it is because Dawkins and Hitchens are postmodernist atheists reveling in ad hominems designed to provoke an emotional response and making all sorts of illogical appeals. On the other hand, Warren and LaHaye, while being orthodox in the essentials, have spouted all sorts of bizarre minor heresies in their best-selling books. It’s not an issue of “certainty” being false in and of itself, but of them being certain of their error.
Frank Schaeffer is criticizing these men not for merely being wrong. He is essentially saying that anyone who thinks he is absolutely right about something is wrong. And that is one thing he is absolutely sure about.
If everything I’ve written here only makes your head spin. Don’t worry, it’s a sign that you are sane. The point to remember is that Frank Schaeffer, supposedly a one-time champion of Reformed Orthodoxy, has succumbed to Gnostic dualism. He’s adopted an elitist attitude that sneers at every Christian who grasps at the fixed anchor of biblical truth.
In part five, we’ll look at whether Frank Schaeffer ever even understood Reformed theology to begin with.
It seems to me that postmodernism is alive and well only as it applies to religion. In the rest of life it's certainty as usual.
Don’t really have much to say about Frank Schaeffer — I don’t care about his politics, and don’t think that he’s half the intellectual that his father was. But, I do want to respond to statements made about Kierkegaard here. I think it’s a mistake to say that Kierkegaard did not care about historic Christian orthodoxy. He took it for granted, in my opinion, and then attempted to reason from it to existential conclusions — IF historic Christianity is true, THEN what does that mean about me in my acceptance (or denial) of it? You also need to be very careful about quoting from Kierkegaard’s books and ascribing these quotations directly to him. He published his major pseudonymous works under pseudonyms for a reason — a reason that he explained fairly clearly in the appendix to Concluding Unscientific Postscript. The pseudonym behind CUP, I would like to add, claims that his work is a “thought experiment” and that anyone who cites him as an authority misunderstands him. Consider what these claims might mean in terms of directly ascribing quotations from CUP to Kierkegaard as representative of direct expressions of his own beliefs.
I think Schaeffer would be more honest if he said he was agnostic. Saying “he doesnt know” is ironically equivalent to not believing, if one takes that argument to its logical conclusion.
Speaking as an atheist who has been pushed out of my Christian fundamentalist family because of their non-acceptance of who I am, I actually have more respect for a Christian fundamentalist than a Christian apologist like Schaeffer.
At least the fundamentalist is honest with his or herself. Their beliefs cannot be debated, nor their views on creationism. But it's their faith (as repulsive as I find that kind of dangerous irrationality). They don't claim to be scientific.
People like Schaeffer dont read the Bible properly, only selectively and as it suits them. They interpret, which frankly is wishy-washy. It's the reason it has been around for so long and even sits on children's bedside tables. They think they can justify almost any argument because interpretation is subjective and vague. Its dishonest and as dangerous as fundamentalism.
The more he vehemently attacks atheists, the more I think he is struggling inside himself with the reality that the Bible is simply a very cruel book and was meant to be taken literally in a time long before the Age of Enlightenment/Reason.
Check out the debates between Christopher Hitchens and Pastor Douglas Wilson and you will find they respect each other’s honesty with themselves. Schaeffer is still on a road to understanding, the more he fights with the possibly that he know longer believes, the more pathetic he becomes.