Anytime anyone tries to establish a sense of a common Western identity, the “postmodernists” rear their heads and complain about hegemonic takeovers, false metanarratives and other flimsy arguments that are little more than dust on the mantel. But the dust needs to be dusted; therefore, postmodernism must be addressed in light of our project to identify a common Western identity based on a humanist ethos rooted in religious principles.
Postmodern culture has conditioned us to view any universal, common notions with suspicion, because it can all too easily become a tool of exclusion and oppression. Yet postmodernism itself has taught us that facts only have meaning within a story–that a part is understandable only within a whole. Postmodern suspicion and deconstructive attention to detail alone cannot produce any sense of a common human ethos, without which society cannot survive as civilized and truly human. Put another way, if you continually break down and tear apart, you will be left with little bits and pieces that mean nothing individually. It is the commonality between the bits and pieces, the whole of the parts, that presents some kind of meaning, something to hold onto.
The great humanitarian, ethicist, and theologian Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) fully grasped the connection between humanism and civilization. He realized that unless human beings understood themselves as participating in a greater reality with deep underlying meaning and sense, civilization itself would become a form of barbarism. To be civilized, he argued, means approximately this:
that in spite of the conditions of modern civilization, we remain human. It is only taking thought for everything which belongs to true human nature that can preserve us, amid the conditions of the most advanced external civilization, from going astray from civilization itself. It is only if the longing to become again truly human is kindled in the man of today, that he will be able to find his way out of the confusion in which, blinded by the conceit at his knowledge and pride in his powers, he is at present wandering. (Philosophy of Civilization, page 334)
So, are people who call themselves postmodernists okay with barbarism? There is something that links us, that binds the galaxy together (to use a Star Wars reference). Postmodern thought has contributed much to the academy and primarily made us think of things from alternative angles. However, this practice cannot be anything more and can never be an overarching ideology or an “ism” to live by.