In class the other week I was having an introduction to my mandatory political theory course, in which the subject matter is centered around various ideas and strains of “post-humanism” as my professor is fond of the subjects (maybe another article will come out of it, who knows). We were reading the foundational essay of Renaissance humanism by Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola entitled “Oration on the Dignity of Man” (1486). It explicates quite an interesting view on man’s potentiality, on our unique place in the divine chain of being, and a very unorthodox Christian interpretation of platonic/Greek philosophy that in some ways runs counter to Augustinian/Aquinian views on Church orthodoxy. And, of course, there are parallels with more recent theories of post-humanism, if one could even get around to defining what “post” humanism is to begin with. It is a compelling essay, but it is not what I am primarily focussing upon in this article. The class led to a bit of a conversation about post-theology afterwards, which led me to some interesting observations on the subject.
Let me begin by saying that post-theology is the final product of liberal post-Tillich American Protestant Christianity, at least from my estimation (a good primer on the subject can be found at allaboutworldview.org1). To post-theologians, God is, simply put, another text to be deconstructed in the Derridean fashion; there is no trans-historical meaning, every matter of faith is simply boiled down to preference, God is dead and all the rest — or, rather, our secularized, bourgeois Western view of God is so miniaturized, neutered and sanitized with our liberal egalitarian sentiments that the divine might as well be dead to begin with. Divine Truth is actively obliterated by postmodern theology, and instead a post-enlightenment secular humanism and a passive religious pluralism is promoted under the appropriation of a number of atheistic postmodern philosophers in the realm of theology. You can find this attitude abundantly in asking any run-of-the-mill, average millennial about the questions of religion and God — even the token theists among them wouldn’t dare place a very high premium on their faith or even entertain the thought of saying that some aspects of a religious tradition or mystical rite could be elevated above others.
Personally, I hold some French late-twentieth century post-structuralist philosophers to be of infinitely more value than others (if you follow my work, you know the ones I am talking about), and I generally find the whole tradition of existentialism, post-structuralism and the like in France compelling, to say the least. That aside, we must guard ourselves against a postmodern theology that wishes to capitulate a quasi-soft atheistic interpretation, and a nominalist version of divinity.2 Another aspect of postmodern theology I find curious is that the postmodernists, especially Rorty and Derrida, have skeptic-ridden every element of reality and divinity so hard they have gone full horseshoe and found themselves asserting that a hard atheist position is equally not a very tenable position.3 As Allister McGrath points out, some have a cynical pseudo-Nietzschean view of the death of God being heralded in by the postmodern critical attitude of religion being “just another power game” foisted upon the scared and helpless masses, and others simply gut Christianity of all meaning besides the ethos of unconditional (i.e. blind and nonjudgmental) “love.”4 5
There are two implications to this way of thinking, the first is that, slowly, Christian tradition is scrubbed from the West due to us moderns being simply too “sophisticated” for the “bronze-age myth” to keep us in line (as every fedora-clad internet atheist has stated ad nauseam) and that every theological statement concerning ethics and piety can be boiled down to “don’t judge.” It’s even apparent in the recent statements of the more keen and less view-hungry YouTube “skeptics” and anti-S.J.W.s that, as Jesus also said, man cannot simply live on bread alone, so it is true that modern man simply cannot live on skepticism alone, so a numerous lot of them (Stephan Molyneux, Christopher Cantwell and Computing Forever to name a few) contemplate a sort of toothless “cultural” Christianity to ward off the machinations of cultural Marxism and modern liberal progressivism. Let me be abundantly clear: I genuinely have followed and admired these three for years, and by no means am I casting aspersions on their work given the bravery it takes to even have an ounce of sympathy for Christianity or religion in general in the “skeptic” community, as Black Pigeon Speaks has recently found out upon releasing his video on the vacuous nature of atheism.6 However, it would be short-sighted to not point out that this is another end-result of the postmodern theological attitude, that somehow, we can have the social and cultural benefits of a wisdom tradition without any metaphysical impact, and hope that this will sustain the starved souls of the millennial generations and fuel the dangerously depleted rates of courage and social cohesion among Western populations. Some even see that recapitulating forms of Western Christianity is an effective bulwark against the spread of Islamism (at least those few anti-S.J.W.s who see that Western secular humanism and the worship of groundless hedonistic freedom as in no way being as effective of a solvent on the culturally strong and furiously proselytizing forms of Wahhabism as it was on Christianity). A Mark Steyn quote I keep coming back to from time to time perfectly illustrates the contradictions found in the hyper-rationalistic secular West when dealing with other cultures:
As the bumper sticker says, if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns. Likewise, if (as Europe has done) you marginalize religion, only the marginalized will have religion. That’s why France’s impoverished Muslim ghettos display more cultural confidence than the wealthiest enclaves of the capital.7
René Guénon saw this coming long ago. As he noted with the rise of spiritualism, or, rather “spiritual materialism” as Trungpa called it, the Western mind is totally incapable of seeing past the material at this point post-Enlightenment. We project imagination and creative mental processes into areas where imagination serves no purpose, so we go on creating a projection of the “other world” which is really nothing but an idealized pastiche of this terrestrial world. Guénon saw that newer forms of easy-going, carefree, buffet-table spiritualism are just another transposed form of materialism, and the whole antagonism between spiritualism and materialism are just two ends of the same entity cannibalizing each other.8
The Westerner, especially the millennial, can only experience things with an ironic detachment, at best intellectually entertaining higher values and traditional religious wisdom, but integrating them in such a way as to render impotent the most important parts of those traditions. The postmodernist, with a cockiness akin to that of a material reductionist science-worshipper (despite claiming to be a virulent critic of positivist science), proclaims that we shall never “go back,” that the Pandora’s box of skepticism and nihilism is here to stay because the deconstructionist game has worked its magic. The populations of the West are tragically apathetic and “sophisticated,” therefore the only way to satiate the inner need of the soul to be one with the All is by L.A.R.P.ing transcendence, treating genuine spirituality as a plaything to deconstruct at one end, with not an ounce of seriousness or self-reflection, dressing in its robes of sagacity on the other, the way a young child with a friend or sibling raids their parent’s closet and pretends to dress as “grown-ups.” The postmodern theologians wish to detach the binary of theism and atheism without going down the mystical route, but how must one do this? How must one bask in the emptiness of a spirituality that was withered on the vine of French vineyards? Of course, no native Frenchmen harvests the grapes anymore, very few at least. Fields simply lay sallow or get tended to by migrant workers; likewise, French postmodernism has laid the fertile grounds of eternal truth to sallow, only to be turned over and regrown with roots of a very different kind, from a very different tradition (if you follow where I am going with this laboured metaphor).
In conclusion, not only is postmodern theology rendering the state of the soul fruitless and barren inside, but has cultural and political implications on the outside as well.
1. All About Worldview, “Postmodern Theology.” [http://www.allaboutworldview.org/postmodern-theology.htm]
2. Gratus, Testis. “A Look at Nominalism.” West Coast Reactionaries. Apr 2, 2016. [https://westcoastrxers.com/2016/04/02/a-look-at-nominalism/]
3. All About Worldview, “Postmodern theology.”
4. McGrath, Alister. The Twilight of Atheism (New York, NY: Doubleday, 2004), 227.
5. All About Worldview. “Postmodern Theology and the Theory of Deconstruction.” [http://www.allaboutworldview.org/postmodern-theology-and-the-theory-of-deconstruction-faq.htm]
7. Steyn, Mark. America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It. (Washington, DC: Regnery Pub., 2006), 47.
8. Guénon, René. The Crisis of the Modern World. (London: Luzac & Co., 1942), 83-85.