I’m chasing an interesting and abstract thought re: the philosophical relationship between postmodernism, liberal religious pluralism, and ethics. I’ll begin with a fantastic quote by Stanley Hauerwas. The following excerpt is from The Peaceable Kingdom:
“All ethical reflection occurs relative to a particular time and place. Not only do ethical problems change from one time to the next, but the very nature and structure of ethics is determined by the particularities of a community’s history and convictions. From this perspective the notion of ‘ethics’ is misleading, since it seems to suggest that ‘ethics’ is an identifiable discipline that is constant across history. In fact, much of the burden of this book will be to suggest that ethics always requires an adjective of qualifier - such as, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Existentialist, Pragmatic, Utilitarian, Humanist, Medieval, Modern - in order to denote the social and historical character of ethics as a discipline. This is not to suggest that ethics does not address an identifiable set of relatively constant questions - the nature of good or right, freedom and the nature of human behavior, the place and status of rules and virtues - but any response to these questions necessarily draws on the particular convictions of historic communities to whom such questions may have significantly different meanings.”
Got it. Ethical structure requires adjectives, or qualifiers, to contextually ground in time and space the particular convictions of the historic communities wrestling with big and evolving questions. Perhaps, it might even be proper to say that all ethical structures are inherently characterized by qualifying adjectives, consciously acknowledged or otherwise? I think so.
So then, if ethical structure requires qualifying adjectives, and/or are inherently characterized by as much already, as aspects of postmodernism suggest, then liberal religious pluralism, as an identity-diluting mix and mash, is not only realistically impossible, but also straight up contradictory to authentic postmodernism (which points to qualifying adjectives). This may not sound too interesting initially, but as one digs deeper into contemporary expressions of liberal religious pluralism one does not discover distinct identities engaged in authentic conversation, but an attempt at identity-diluting mix and mash and a wacky citation of foundation in postmodernism. This reckless citation of postmodernism by contemporary liberal religious pluralists is unmasked as incurably odd neither by their misuse of postmodernism and/or pluralism, which are both realities and arguably good things, nor by a lack of qualifying adjectives (they abound!), but by the practical results of a consequent program built upon these things as related to the reality of ethical structure itself. Ethical structure existing as multiple and separated identities in reality, as signified by obviously distinct and required qualifying adjectives, can not be dismantled and rebuilt into a single structure, into which all former qualifying adjectives are then forced. This vain attempt only results in a huge clash, or collapse, of authentic ethical structure. It becomes an attempt to be all things to all the people who know better to show up and/or remain there. It creates an unlivable ethical structure in which authentic application of qualifying adjectives is not possible. Sure, people will try to retain and apply many familiar-feeling qualifying adjectives, but the clash created in the foreign - or pseudo - ethical structure renders the attempt to retain and apply a vain one.
Ironically, the above attempt at religious liberal pluralism, in the name of postmodernism and pluralism, is actually just another exercise in modernity. Granted, it is the most clever exercise modernism has come up with, but it is still just modernism. It is a plate of leftovers still trying to make it a pomo banquet table. What else should one call the act of downsizing reality for the sake of control? Not sure? One thing is fact: it is not pluralism, and it is not postmodernism. The more I study, the more I learn about postmodernism, pluralism, and ethics.1 I think it is a huge mistake for Christians to distance themselves from these concepts. We should be talking about postmodernism, pluralism, and ethics. Knee-jerk reactions aside, these things are much more conducive to Christianity then was initially advertised.
I’m still chasing this one, feel free to chase it too. I think there is something in there, but it’s going to take a bit to flush it out and then articulate it so a ten year old can understand and express it.
1. ck, re: postmodernism, mea culpa.