5.23.2005

Salmon and "Truth"

Salmon are interesting creatures. Their lives begin in shallow, safe, fresh water streams. After they have sufficiently matured, they swim to the ocean where they live the majority of their lives. For the first few years they stay close to shore, building up strength, when they are bigger, they venture out into the deep ocean, often journeying as many as 1000 miles from home.

Lately I have been feeling similar to how a salmon must feel as it approaches the ocean for the first time, getting a taste of the salt water which is to be its home.

Growing up, all facts were true or false. What was “true” was in fact “true”. “Objective” truth was my reality. But recently…people have begun throwing cold water on my perspective.

Actually it started even before I graduated from high school, like a dripping faucet…unpredictable…in the background…but there…and annoying. Then the dripping increased to a constant trickle…one that forced me to hum even louder (lalalalala), as I tried to drown out the sound of something that was coming for me. Then…quite suddenly…it splashed out, hitting me full in the face. It was shocking and perverse, yet somehow refreshing, like the splash of cool water on a marathoners face as they pass mile marker number 18.

What is the new fresh perspective that simultaneously shocked and refreshed me all at the same time? Let me say at the outset, that it is a perspective that places a premium on “truth”. The perspective is postmodernism.

Some of you may be wondering why I am using the words “truth” and “postmodernism” in the same paragraph. “Aren’t these antonyms?” you’re thinking. And to a degree you would be right. At a purely philosophical level, strict pluralism says that that there is no objective “truth”, that “truth” is something only perceived from different perspectives, all of which are valid. Strictly speaking, this is false because it breaks its own rule. (If this is confusing don’t feel bad, it is for me too.)

However, when I refer to postmodernity I am not referring to a simple philosophical position that fits nicely on a page in a philosophy textbook. I am talking about something more organic, something that grows out of your realization that there are a lot of ideas that you can’t get your arms around, much less your brain. The postmodernism that I am talking about is the pop-culture kind that dominates the thinking of many people under the age of 30, and a few that are over 30.

I recently read a summation of postmodernism and its perspective on truth in a book authored by Brian McLaren entitled The Church on the Other Side. I think you will find it interesting because it has certainly helped me to overcome some misconceptions I had just a few months ago.

Myth 1: Postmoderns don’t believe in absolute truth
Postmoderns would say: “Well of course there is absolute truth. I just doubt your ability, or mine for that matter, to apprehend, comprehend, remember and encode it in language, communicate it to others, and have them understand it in any absolute accurate sense.”

Myth 2: Postmoderns don’t care about truth
“Actually postmoderns care more about truth than people with a modern mind set”, they might say, if they even bothered to argue the point. Why would they say this? Imagine you’re at the beach, running your hands through the sand, picking it up and slowly letting it fall from your hands. If truth is like sand, how can I pretend to transport truth, and pass it on any better than my two hands could pass all the sand in my hands to yours; inevitable some sand will fall by the side. Now consider all the sand on all the beaches. I can not begin to comprehend all the sand that there is, just as I can not begin to ascertain all the “truth” there is, and consequently I must be very careful and respectful when I begin talking about “absolute” truth. In fact, the postmodernist takes this perspective so seriously that they would want to say, “we reverence truth so much, that we are not willing to make outrageous and boastful claims about our ability to fully comprehend truth. We revere it, and will not claim to be able to conquer it”.

Have you ever been around a strong fragrance, after a while it seems to disappear, not because it has actually lessened, but because your nose in conjunction with your brain just figures that’s reality, and stops processing the constant fragrance. Or consider our salmon. A fish can’t really tell you anything about water because for a fish, water is reality, just as you don’t recognize or appreciate air until you have spent too much time under water. Modernism and Postmodernism are a bit like a fragrance, or the water a fish swims in. We don’t really realize they are there until we are confronted with a change in the climate; like a fish out of water, we tend to get cranky when we are confronted with something that is rather foreign, and seems to possibly threaten our very existence. That’s the way a lot of modern apologists think, and the way quite a few postmodernists respond to modern critiques of their culture. Some modernists write books about Christian apologetics thinking they are defending their Christian faith, but actually, they are only defending their way of thinking about faith, and often this is at the expense of the gospel. Older generations feel better about their faith, as a result of some of these books, but younger generations go hopping into hell! For generation X, and those born after 1981, postmodernity is the air they breathe, just as for an older generation, modernism is the water they swim in. Too often neither generation realizes this, and fails to do so at the expense of the other.

So here I am, a salmon approaching the ocean, well aware that his climate is about to change. For some time I thought I was going to have to grow lungs, and in a hurry, but fortunately I am beginning to realize that the transition for me will be no more harmful than the transition a salmon makes from fresh water to salt water, and like a strong odder, it will soon subside, as I transition into an ocean of possibilities.

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