What comes after Postmodernism? Answer: Paganism

Over the past 10-20 years there has been a lot of worry about postmodernism. In its most extreme, postmodernism represents an unlivable and illogical relativism that cannot be sustained. Then there was the “emergent church worry”—Christians such as Brian McLaren and others who seemed to appropriate too much of the postmodern confusion and import it into a hip and supposedly forward (yet ancient) kind of Christianity.

Postmodernism (at its most extreme, there are softer versions that make decent epistemological points) is bankrupt. It is a kind of relativism and nominalism (I’m speaking here of the metaphysical doctrine that (roughly) the language-world connection isn’t so tight). I’ve taught on the threat and bankruptcy of this (and the emergent church) for years now.

I think it is time to move on.[1] Postmodernism isn’t much of a threat, and happily, common sense has prevailed over the more extreme version. A question I always get asked is: what comes next? What ideology or worldview is going to dominate (or: make a splash) after postmodernism?

It won’t be a return to secularism. Secularism (a worldview that actively opposes religion) is a parasite of theism—it cannot survive on its own and it generates no intellectual or moral capital itself (that is, apart from its opposition to religion). I wonder if the increased noise from the so-called New Atheists (Richard Dawkins and his followers) is just an (probably subconscious) admission that they are on the losing side of the God debate. There is nothing new with the New Atheists except the level of vitriol and name-calling.

So what is next? It is a return to religion. And it is not a relativism regarding religion, but the idea that there really is a supernatural, or non-natural, reality to the world. In their book The American University in a Postsecular Age, Jacobsen and Jacobsen state:[2]

Rather than disappearing, the power and influence of religion seems to be growing….If secularization means that the world is getting a little less religious every day, then we live in a postsecular world.

In this post secular age, paganism will be the new ideology.

Paganism comes after postmodernism. Just what paganism amounts to is hard to define. Let me suggest the following to indicate what I mean by the term: “paganism is the view that there is (objectively) a spiritual reality to the world, a spiritual reality in which man might or might not be held personally accountable.” As evidence mounts for a non-natural reality, we are finding a willingness by many to admit there is more to reality that matter in motion. Consider the atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel and his forthcoming book on the nature of consciousness: he argues that there is no good naturalistic account. There is a non-natural reality to the world—still Nagel remains (as far as I can tell, I haven’t read the book yet) a firm atheist (see this discussion thread where Nagel defends a book advocating Intelligent Design). So what gives?

The most fundamental fact of reality is God as creator. Thus all of our lives makes sense in response to God—either in humble creaturely worship or outright rebellion. Man is inherently religious. We need to be talked out of religion, but even that won’t work forever—hence the return to objective religion. But (and this is just an intuition), it is a return to a kind of religion where God (or the gods) might or might not insist on moral accountability on the believers—even the atheists—part: a kind of laissez-faire religion—God exists (or the gods exist), but so what?

What do you think? What comes after postmodernism? Whatever the answer, it will be inescapably religious.


[1] Let me qualify this a bit: we can never completely move on—just as verificationism (an epistemological doctrine that goes hand in hand with the rise of empiricism in science) has lingered in our culture (and is even fervently held to by ‘intellectuals’ such as Richard Dawkins) even as the doctrine has been largely refuted, so too, postmodernism and its confused doctrines will continue to linger in our culture and thus we need to be able to spot and address the issues when we see them. Add to this the fact that we are largely an anti-intellectual culture, and the reality is sloppy thinking won’t be going away any time soon.

[2] Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen, The American University in a Postsecular Age (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 10.

10 Responses to What comes after Postmodernism? Answer: Paganism

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