Where postmodernism went after graduation

Postmodernism seemed ridiculous to me as a university science student in the early 90s.  I could not see why my arts-student friends were being asked to deconstruct language, to find meaninglessness in meaning and to despise all claims to truth.  As far as I could see, the rejection of all truth claims and meaning in print or dialogue was of no practical relevance in the real world of science, relationships and road crossings.   I’m told that as a movement, post modernism had already lost its bite.  Of course, the deconstruction of language when taken seriously renders peer-reviewed academic work a hopeless enterprise.  I guess its limited practical application made funding difficult to find too.  I left university, got on with living my life and apart from the odd ‘that’s your truth, this is mine’ kind of conversation, postmodernism disappeared from my ordinary life… Or so I thought.  

Reading Helen Plucknose and James Lindsay’s book ‘Cynical Theories’ (suggested by a listener to one of our podcasts) recently made me realise where postmodernism went next.  Plucknose and Lindsay chart the course of postmodern thinking from posturing university departments into some areas of modern social activism.  This was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me.   

I have often been a little confused as to how we as a nation got so muddled about gender.  Our kids came home with a PSHE sheet on puberty recently.  It explained what puberty means if you have a vulva, what puberty means if you have a penis and what puberty means if you are trans.   It is so normative now for us to reject the binary nature of gender that our schools are teaching kids that discomfort in puberty might be due to your belonging to a different and pioneering category of human being. 

Most of my middle-aged peers, Christian or not seem equally confused by this new gender politics.  We have all known forever that some boys like girl things and some girls like boy things, but boyhood and girlhood have persisted as concepts because they are broadly true and because they are generally useful in helping us to live and love in our bodies.  I explained to our kids that (very very nearly) all girls grow up to become women and (very very nearly) all boys grow up to become men because this is the way our bodies work.  This can be confusing and uncomfortable, but it is best to roll with it as resisting these changes is emotionally and financially costly and won’t necessarily deliver relief from the discomfort and confusion.  I also explained that because we are Christians, we are called to accept, love and care for confused and uncomfortable people whatever they think of our old-school views.

Plucknose and Lindsay trace a line of thought from postmodern deconstruction techniques through queer theory to a place where words like male and female lose meaning.  They point out that postmodern rejection of meta-narratives as oppressive power structures feeds the gender-activist suspicion of the scientific worldview and its defined biological categories.   Post-modernity didn’t disappear, it just left university and got into social activism.

We Christians have our own metanarrative of creation, fall, redemption and future hope.  Human beings, male and female were created to bear the image of God in his world.  Like every other area of our physical and mental world, gender is marred by the fall and is constantly being either further marred or redeemed in these in-between times.   In the age to come, men and women will neither marry nor be given in marriage.  I am not sure what this means for gender then, but there is certainly no reason for Christians to be swept along with gender-redefining ideology in this world.  

“Christianity is just another metanarrative” postmodernism said to me when we were students.  Of course, but Christianity’s ordered view of the world and the scientific rationalism it spawned worked for me as a science student.  It also works for me as the backbone of the free, orderly and mostly sensible society in which I live and work.    Since I graduated, I’ve been cracking on with sharing the good news of Jesus and trying to help broken-hearted people find wholeness, hope and healing. 

Me: What have you been up to postmodernism? 

PM: Mostly queering language and ethically confusing the kids.  Oh, and a bit of art.   

Me: I get funded by people who want the good news of Jesus shared and for broken-hearted people to find wholeness, hope and healing.  Who funds you post-modernism?

PM: Well… there’s a funny thing. I get a free ride in universities, schools and the UK mainstream press.

Me: I guess I’ll stick around to help clear up some of the emotional and relational confusion you’re leaving in your wake.

PM: See you in court, old school bigot.

Me: Sigh