Postmodern Sociology – Introduction
Walter Truett Anderson puts his fingers on the pulse of Postmodern sociology, “I have been putting words like ‘abnormal’ and ‘deviant’ in quotes because those categorizations are under fire now, the boundary between normal and abnormal is as questionable now as are all the other boundaries that once defined social reality.”1
The Postmodern views of how we live together in society are nontraditional regarding family, church, and state. Foucault says, “the society in which we live, the economic relations within which it functions and the system of power which defines the regular forms and the regular permissions and prohibitions of our conduct...the essence of our life consists, after all, of the political functioning of the society in which we find ourselves.”2 Foucault thus sees the social order consisting of economics, law, and the state. Living within this order is “the essence of our life” since our culture determines who we are. Life is merely a summary of the cultural aspects of the social community since there is no unified self.
Foucault does not include the church in his view of societal institutions. Postmodernists, for the most part, want nothing to do with the church.3 In The Future of Religion, Rorty replaces his atheism with “anticlericalism,” contending that “congregations of the faithful” are socially unobjectionable, but “ecclesiastical institutions” are dangerous to the health of democratic societies. To Rorty, “religion is unobjectionable as long as it is privatized.”4 In other words, private religious views are acceptable, but the organized church is not.
Postmodern Sociology – Sexual Egalitarianism
Many followers of Postmodern sociology consider marriage the greatest of evils. Rorty is particularly harsh on Christian parents who teach their children about God, referring to them as “frightening, vicious, and dangerous.”5
Other Postmodernists show their contempt for Christian concepts of love, sex, and marriage, preferring various forms of “free love” (hooking up, shacking up, living together, cohabitation, etc.). Postmodernist psychiatrist Adam Phillips precludes the possibility of contractual marriage and describes any relationship in harsh terms: “The only sane foregone conclusion about any relationship is that it is an experiment; and that exactly what it is an experiment in will never be clear to the participants. For the sane, so-called relationships could never be subject to contract.”6
Acknowledging the traditional heterosexual family as the norm in Western society, Postmodernists decry that this “heterosexist norm” enables society “to marginalize some sexual practices as ‘against nature,’ and thereby [attempt] to prove the naturalness of the heterosexual monogamy and family values upon which mainstream society bases itself.”7
Postmodernists encourage open conversation about the way we experience sexual relationships. Foucault maintains that talking about sex helps to create sexual diversity. He says, “The putting into discourse of sex, far from undergoing a process of restriction, on the contrary has been subjected to a mechanism of increasing incitement...the techniques of power exercised over sex have not obeyed a principle of rigorous selection, but rather one of dissemination and implantation of polymorphous sexualities.”8
Talking about sex reveals “an ever expanding encyclopedia of preferences, gratifications and perversions. It creates a realm of perversion by discovering, commenting on and exploring it. It brings it into being as an object of study and in doing so serves to categorize and objectify those who occupy what has been made into the secret underworld of ‘deviance.’”9 Foucault says, “We must...ask why we burden ourselves today with so much guilt for having once made sex a sin.”10 Foucault was “a disciple of the Marquis de Sade,”11 and like him embraced all sexual activity as permissible, including man/ boy relationships (pederasty). Few boundaries exist in a socially constructed reality.
What used to be considered perverted, abnormal, or deviant sexual behavior is now viewed as personal preference, and no moral pronouncements are attached to the actions. The line between heterosexual and homosexual practices is blurred. Walter Truett Anderson says, “I have been putting words like ‘abnormal’ and ‘deviant’ in quotes because those categorizations are under fire now, the boundary between normal and abnormal as questionable now as are all the other boundaries that once defined social reality.”12
We use the term “sexual egalitarianism” to characterize the Postmodern view of sociology that allows each person to define his or her sexuality and proposes that all sexual preferences are equally valid.
Postmodern Sociology – Politically Correct Education
When it comes to Postmodern sociology, Anderson explains the goals and methods Postmodernists adopt in regard to education: “[Postmodernism] rejects the notion that the purpose of education is primarily to train a child’s cognitive capacity for reason in order to produce an adult capable of functioning independently in the world. That view of education is replaced with the view that education is to take an essentially indeterminate being and give it a social identity. Education’s method of molding is linguistic, and so the language to be used is that which will create a human being sensitive to its racial, sexual, and class identity.”13
Anderson outlines major shifts in focus in the Postmodern classroom in contrast to the modern classroom: “Education should emphasize works not in the canon, it should focus on the achievements of non-whites, females and the poor;14 it should highlight the historical crimes of whites, males, and the rich; and it should teach children that science’s method has no better claim to yielding truth than any other method and, accordingly, that students should be equally receptive to alternative ways of knowing.”15
Postmodern education teaches that all truth is relative,16 all cultures are equally deserving of respect (although Western culture comes under severe criticism), and all values are subjective (although racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia are universally evil).
Course offerings at colleges and universities in the Postmodern age are also nontraditional, focusing on themes of race, sex, and gender. For example, Stanford University’s Feminist Studies Department offers “Lesbian Communities and Identities.” The catalog describes the course as “Scholarship and research on lesbian experience. Issues of homophobia, lesbian intimacy, and sexuality. Femme and butch roles, lesbian separatism, and diversity of lesbian communities and identities.”17 Stanford’s History Department offers a course entitled “Homosexuals, Heretics, Witches, and Werewolves: Deviants of Medieval Society.” The catalog describes the course as answering the following question: “Why were medieval heretics accused of deviant sexual practices?”18
Every Ivy League school except Princeton offers more courses in Women’s Studies than in Economics. Columbia’s Women’s Studies Department offers “The Invisible Woman in Literature: The Lesbian Literary Tradition,” “Introduction to Gay and Lesbian Studies,” and “Gendered Controversies: Women’s Bodies and Global Contestations.”
Dartmouth’s Women’s Studies Department offers “Shakespeare and Gender,” described in the course catalog as answering the questions, “Is language gender-inflected? How is power exerted and controlled in sexual relationships?” Dartmouth’s English Department offers a course called “Queer Theory, Queer Texts.”19
Brown University offers these departments and courses: “Afro-American Studies—‘Black Lavender: Study of Black Gay/Lesbian Plays;’ Education—‘The Psychology of Race, Class, and Gender;’ English—‘Unnatural Acts: Introduction to Lesbian/Gay Literature.’”20
Not only has the subject matter of courses and departments shifted dramatically away from traditional fare, Christianity is often viewed with contempt and ridicule. Richard Rorty, Professor of Comparative Literature at Stanford, writes, “When we American college teachers encounter religious fundamentalists...we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization...I think these students are lucky to find themselves under...people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents.”21
Not all new courses are met with enthusiasm. Richard Zeller, a sociology professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, attempted to introduce a new course that would examine the effects of political correctness in response to students’ claims that they felt pressured to assume politically correct views in order to pass courses. BGSU’s Director of Women’s Studies, Kathleen Dixon, protested vehemently, saying, “We forbid any course that says we restrict free speech.”22 The course was voted down, and Zeller resigned in protest after twenty-five years of teaching at Bowling Green.
Postmodern Sociology – Conclusion
While the Postmodern vision for sociology in Western culture may be taking hold, as Christians we need to take seriously the cultural commission God gave Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1:28), placing them in charge of His creation. The clear direction of this commission goes beyond tending the garden and naming animals. God commanded then to “multiply” and fill the earth with people. The command implies taking charge of a growing social order as well. Jesus echoes this theme when He tells His disciples they are “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13–14). Jesus means that if our society is tasteless and dark, it is our fault for not providing the preserving and enlightening influences! Furthermore, Jesus’ Great Commission (Matthew 28:18–20) speaks of the spiritual needs that we must address as well. Nowhere does Scripture rescind God’s cultural commission—it is still our responsibility.
Christians should be involved in every area of society: in education as teachers, administrators, board members, and textbook selection committee members; in government as leaders at the local, state, and federal levels; as artists, developing the best art, recording the most inspiring music, and writing books and producing cutting edge movies with compelling storylines that capture the imagination of every reader or viewer; in families, as loving parents and role models; in communities, as business leaders and civic club members; in the media, as reporters and writers who are seen and read by millions. In the midst of these endeavors, we should share God’s wonderful love story with those who will listen. When we participate in the Great Commission conjoined with the cultural commission, we are fulfilling God’s purpose for us during our earthly sojourn.
Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.
1 Walter Truett Anderson, The Future of the Self: Exploring the Post-Identity Society (New York, NY: Tarcher/Putnam, 1997), 114.
2 Michel Foucault, History, Discourse and Discontinuity (New York, NY: Semiotex (e), 1996), 48.
3 The French Postmodernists were particularly anti-Roman Catholic.
4 Richard Rorty and Gianni Vattimo, The Future of Religion (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2005), 33. Cited in Philosophia Christi, vol. 7, no. 2 (2005): 525.
5 Robert B. Brandom, ed., Rorty and his Critics (Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 2001), 22.
6 The Weekly Standard, November 14, 2005, 41.
7 Glenn Ward, Postmodernism (Chicago, IL: McGraw-Hill Companies, 2003), 145.
8 Ibid., 146.
10 Ibid. Sourced to Paul Rabinow, ed., The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucault’s Thought (Eastbourne, UK: Gardners Books, 1991), 297.
11 Mark Lilla, The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics (New York, NY: New York Review Books, 2001), 142. See the Postmodern Politics section for more on the Marquis de Sade.
12 Walter Truett Anderson, 114.
13 Ibid., 17.
14 For example, see David Stoll, Rigoberta Menchu and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans (Oxford, UK: Westview Press, 1999).
15 Ibid., 18.
16 Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1988), 25: “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.”
17 The Washington Times, August 31, 1997, B2.
18 Ibid., p. B2.
21 Brandom, Rorty and his Critics, 21–22.
22 Larry Elder, “Campus Gulag,” FrontPageMagazine.com, October 2, 2000, http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Printable.asp?ID=2711.
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