Are we to be congratulated for being a “post” society? The word “post” has come to take on a subtle, special significance when used as a prefix in the world of sociology, philosophy and therefore theology.
The term is used in a general way to indicate “afterward.” In history, the phrase “post-Reformation Europe” calls to mind a particular set of years and the ideas which have driven and defined it. But in our culture, the term “post” means not merely a chunk of history and the ideas which animate it. We use “post” as both a description of how things are and a prescription of how things should be. It is a comment on the movement of society, but also a self-congratulatory compliment on the particular direction in which we’re heading. Two examples serve to illustrate: “post-racial” and “postmodern.” These terms are applied as accolades, but they prove to be self-defeating and ironic when we examine popular examples of their usage.
President Barack Obama is hailed as a “post racial” political leader – meaning that he personifies societal progress against race-based bigotry and that his being our president gives hope for more progress. But with all due respect to our President, this ascription reveals an insidious irony. This man who has blood ties to a historically oppressed people group, and who is celebrated as a champion of the oppressed in general, is also the greatest political enemy of the most oppressed people group in our culture: the unborn. As a state Senator, he ignored the pleas of nurses begging to be allowed to save the lives of children who survived attempted abortion. As President, his policies continue on all fronts to pave the way for many more millions of children to die and for conscience-stricken colleges and other organizations to be complicit in many of those deaths. Because these children represent all ethnicities, violence against them cannot properly be called “racist.” However, the oppression of the unborn beats with the ugly heart of racism: It is the perpetration of hateful thought and deed against people whom the perpetrators deem unworthy of life.
If our President’s abortion policies reflect the values of an increasingly “post racial” society, then “post” does not reflect true, to the root progress against the heart-level hatred that is the essence of racism.
Our society also bears the label “postmodern.” Among other things, the term designates our theological movement off the path of Modernism’s spiritually frigid Rationalism and its trajectory toward Deism and Atheism. We talk often as a society about being “spiritual” but not “religious.” To be spiritual is to touch the transcendent but to avoid grabbing it with the vice like restraints of religious dogma.
Thus, while atheism is still out there (its aggressive, angry proponents are quite vocal), our culture has enthroned agnosticism to rule the day in our thoughts about God and ultimate truth. But here again we must raise the question of how “post” we really are.
Agnosticism is one step removed from atheism and deism, which is a practical atheism. Both philosophies serve to keep God at a comfortable distance from us and therefore both serve to exalt autonomous human reason as the ultimate arbiter of what is good and right and true. Postmodernism values community over the autonomous individualism of Modernism, and thus “postmodern” is supposed to mark a move toward a humbler, less selfish way of life. But a tight-knit community which ascribes divinity to itself is no less dangerous than the isolated individual who does so. The latter breeds anarchy; the former, mob rule. And when the mob is murderous, its philosophical “post”-ness provides no comfort for people or communities in its crosshairs.
The book of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is nothing new under the sun. In other words, there are no truly unprecedented ways of life lived apart from life’s Lord, much less good ways of life lived apart from Him. Times have changed, but the human heart has not. We may invent new labels by which to describe and commend ourselves; we may address societal ills and mark certain pragmatic progress against them. But real, radical change and improvement comes only from the One whose character requires no progress.
Only by way of faith in Jesus Christ are we, as individuals and as societies, made truly, from the heart, new. One day, Christ will usher in fully a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. On that day and the eternity that lay beyond it, the church and creation itself will be perfected according to the image of the One to whom “post” ness does not apply. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.