Taking On the Myth Behind the Facts

I think it’s the Bush administration and their deluded “faith” in the “strength” of their capitulations to the power games and the economic domination and manipulation of the “less than elite” opens me to the realization that all “ideologies” are based on “narratives”, regardless of whether they identify them as such;; in fact, they often appeal to “common sense” and “the way it is” and borrow from the narratives in an often sickly-twisted way. This section from JKA Smith’s Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? says it well:

Lyotard very specifically defines metanarratives as universal discourses of legitimation that mask their own particularity; that is, metanarratives deny their narrative ground even as they proceed on it as a basis. In particular, we must note that the postmodern critique is not aimed at metanarratives because they are really grounded in narratives; on the contrary, the problem with metanarratives is that they do not own up to their own mythic ground. Postmodernism is not incredulity toward narrative or myth; on the contrary it unveils that all knowledge is grounded in such. Once we appreciate this, the (false) dichotomy that Middleton and Walsh, Grenz, Ingraffia, and others propose is dissolved insofar as the biblical narrative is not properly a metanarrative. As a result, new space is opened for a Christian appropriation of the postmodern critique of Enlightenment rationality.

What characterizes the postmodern condition, then, is not a rejection of grand stories in terms of scope or in the sense of epic claims, but rather an unveiling of the fact that all knowledge is rooted in some narrative or myth an insight earlier made by Schaeffer and Van Til. The result, however (and here I note one of the genuine problems of postmodernity), is what Lyotard describes as a “problem of legitimation” (PC, 8) (or what Habermas describes as a “legitimation crisis”) since what we thought were universal criteria have been unveiled as just one game among many. If we consider, for instance, the reality of deep moral diversity and competing visions of the good, postmodern society is at a loss to adjudicate the competing claims. There can be no appeal to a higher court that would transcend a historical context or a language game, no neutral observer or “God’s eye view” that can legitimate or justify one paradigm or moral language game above another. If all moral claims are conditioned by paradigms of historical commitment, then they cannot transcend those conditions; thus every moral claim operutes within a “logic” that is conditioned by the paradigm. In other words, every language game has its own set of rules. As a result, criteria that determine what constitutes evidence or proof must be game relative: they will function as rules only for those who share the same paradigm or participate in the same language game. The incommensurability of language games means that there is a plurality of logics that precludes any demonstrative appeal to a common reason. Recognition of the incommensurability of language games and the plurality of competing myths means that there is no consensus, no sensus communis. Many especially Christians lament this state of affairs (hence the renaissance of natural law theories that purport to find a common ground for all). But is this situation as bad as we think? Are we lamenting the loss of what was a very modem hegemony of America, for instance? Is our situation really all that different from the situation of the apostle Paul or Augustine? Should we be trying to establish a common myth for an entire nation a Constantinian strategy or should the church simply be a witness amid this plurality of competing myths?

10. For a nuanced discussion of the latter, see Herman Dooyeweerd, In the Twilight of Western Thought: Studies in the Pretended Autonomy of Theoretical Thought, ed. James K. A. Smith, Collected Works, B/4 (Lewiston, NY Edwin Mellen Press, 1999).

—-p.70 Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?


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