Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Comments on Chapter 1 of "Who's Afraid of Post Modernism?"

My copy of James K.A. Smith's Who's Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church arrived today, and I've read Chapter 1. I agree with Andy's comment (below) that this is an excellent book--well worth reading and discussing here. If other Anthrakians have any interest, my Amazon order came in about three days.

Specifically, I am interested in his comments that "One of the reasons postmodernism has been the bogeyman for the Christian church is that we have become so thoroughly modern. But while postmodernism may be the enemy of our modernity, it can be an ally of our ancient heritage" (23).

In other words, Smith seems to be arguing that modernism--with its materialistic, rational, Enlightnement-era logic and its demand for verifiable evidence--is the real enemy of the Church. Postmodernism looks not to the Enlightenment but to medieval and ancient sources for its models (Smith 25).

To follow up on this point, Smith says a little later, "I will argue that the postmodern church could do nothing better than be ancient, that the most powerful way to reach a post-modern world is by recovering tradition, and that the most effective means of discipleship is found in liturgy" (25).

I am very interested in the possiblity, suggested here by Smith, that a strong commitment to tradition and liturgy is the best tool for the postmodern church.

Some of us have had discussed this issue on Anthrakia in other avenues. And there is strong evidence of a thirst for tradition among church-goers. To cite but one personal example, in my home church (United Methodist) the service showing the most growth is the 8:30 a.m. traditional service, not the 10:45 a.m. blended (contemporary) service.

I'm looking forward to Chapter 2 and the ones that follow. Comments?

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

2 Comments:

Blogger Andrew Harnack said...

While reading Chapter 1, “Is the Devil from Paris?” I think Smith does a good job of defining post-modernism’s philosophical expression, but I also wish that he would have defined and exampled modernism (and post-modernism) a bit more so that we’d all be sure what it is to which he keeps refering. Smith, it seems to me, could have nicely helped some of us with a clear overview of modernism as we encounter it. So it may be helpful here to remind ourselves what we mean both by modernism and postmodernism.

Modernism’s origins are somewhere in the early 1900’s; it’s associated with first-generation artists like Picasso, Matisse, Klimt, and Cezanne; composers such as Mahler and Strauss; writers like Joyce, Faulkner, and Lawrence; it’s movements include Les Fauves, Cubism, and Surrealism, among others. Second generation modernists include T. S. Eliot, Stravinsky, Pound, Yeats, Schoenberg, Mondrian, Le Corbusiur and other inventive iconoclasts. (These are the biggies that get a lot of study in undergraduate university courses having to do with culture studies, literature, and music.) Generally it's safe to say that the modern movement rejects tradition and conventional expectations, stressing freedom of expression and individualism. As a movement it tends to produce individuals with strong egos, groups that are quite sure of themselves philosophically (and religiously), people who are ideologues, those who press a particular point of view with considerable gusto. Politically they have often proved to be socialists, anarchists, monarchists, and so on. You get to see their influence in the churches when you find yourself among a group of folks who believe they’ve got things pretty well figured out. Often these church people like to promote their thinking with lots of technology, new-stuff, hot advertising, catchy slogans, spiffy worship in mega-churches and local non-traditional services. TV services are good, nicely pragmatic. The movement is characterized by an a-historical bias; it’s the “Church of the Now,” as one billboard on Interstate 20, south of Atlanta raves about itself.

Postmodernists, as they began to make appearances in France in the 60s and later in the US and elsewhere, are not quite so sure about things; they’re critical of the cock-sure modernists. They’re skeptical about having the “Truth.” They like the word deconstruct. Convinced that nearly all communication is loaded with unspoken assumptions, unexamined myths, and bogus claims about objectivity, they prefer parodic narratives, strong satire, and bracing wit. Chaucer and and his reincarnation, Woody Allen, it seems to me, are good post-modern schmucks, one a Christian, the other a Jewish nebbish.

So if you like to be with it—wearing designer-label clothing, the latest catalogs for fashion and fun, and other come-ons from the media world—and you’re somewhat cool and sure of yourself (at least from outward appearances), then you’re probably something of a modernist (however immodestly).

If, however, you find yourself full of more questions than answers, and being fully human (with all its charms and disappointments) doesn’t scare you and you live with some uncertainty about really important matters, then you tend toward being a post-modernist of sorts.

Most suburbian middle-class Christians like to be modernists; after all, that’s being progressive, impressive, and darn sure about stuff, even doctrines, ideas, and testimonies.

In Who’s Afraid?, Smith would like to show the Church how being more P-Mish than Mod may be the better way for the Church to think of itself. I think he’s on to something.

Now I ask: am I in the ballpark with these preliminaries? Have I exampled Mods and Post-Mods fairly. Edit what I've written to clarify matters!

And what can we talk about specificallyt in Chapter 1?

Wednesday, 26 July, 2006  
Blogger Mason Smith said...

I agree that a discussion of "Modernism" will help us understand what Smith means when he discusses Postmodernism.

I think Andy has given a very clear summary of the important points.

When I read Smith's first chapter, I got the impression that he was interested in a rejection not only of "Modernism" as a 20th century movement from Paris, but the whole modern mind-set with its roots in the 18th century Enlightenment. We've been so focused during the "modern" era on how we know stuff--by scientific induction--that we've rejected traditional ways of knowing.

So, one of the issues for Smith, it seems to me, is embracing post-modernism because it rejects this "modern" way of knowing. There are other valid ways of knowing reality, and other realities, than the one we have valorized in the past 100 to 200 years. So at one level, the question becomes one of epistemology. (I hate to use a word like that, but what can ya do?)

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Friday, 28 July, 2006  

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