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Darkness At Noon: The Closing of the Postmodern Mind

The prophet Joel spoke of a day when the sun would be turned to darkness, and the
moon to blood. This picture–besides giving us a glimpse of that terrible, coming
Day of the Lord in judgment–is also a graphic picture of our own times. Even today,
in the gathering clouds of our culture, we see darkness at noon.

One of the central realities of this darkness is the dawning of a post-Christian culture – and a
central reality of our emerging culture is the closing of the postmodern mind. Something is
happening to the worldview, the mentality, and the consciousness of this age. If we listen
closely, we can hear something like the closing of a steel door — a solemn, cataclysmic
slamming of a door. We have been watching the postmodern mind in its development, and it
is now well developed. Not only do we see the themes of postmodernity taking hold of the
larger culture, but we understand the challenge this pattern of thinking poses to Christian
truth and Christian truth-telling. Tolerance is perverted into a radical secularism that is
anything but tolerant. There is little openness to truth, and growing hostility to truth claims.
Indeed, the postmodern mind has a fanatical, if selective, dedication to moral relativism, and
an understanding that truth has no objective or absolute basis whatsoever.

The late French philosopher Jacques Derrida shaped the postmodern mind by arguing that
the author of a text is effectively dead in terms of establishing the text’s meaning. One of the
fathers of literary deconstructionism, his concept of “the death of the author” exerts a
powerful influence on the culture at large. Derrida’s basically nihilistic philosophy suggested
that texts mean nothing in themselves. In other words, it is the reader who comes to the text
with meaning and determines what will be found within the text. The author is dead, Derrida
proclaimed, and can no longer dictate by his totalitarian authority what the text means.
Even before Derrida’s death, new debates about deconstructionism arose in the academy.
More significantly, these nihilistic philosophies have already filtered down into popular
culture. Even now, for example, many of our judges are practicing deconstructionists, seeing
the law not as what it was or what it was intended to be, but rather as a tool they can use for
their own agenda of social engineering. In the elite institutions of American academia,
deconstructionism is the order of the day. The text means what the professor says it means,
and it eventually means whatever each student would have it to mean. The reader reigns
supreme.

Unfortunately, deconstructionism has also found its way into many pulpits, sometimes in a
hard, ideological form, but more often in a soft and seductive form. In the hard form of
undiluted liberalism, it is simply the idea that this text, the Bible, may be a privileged text, but
the authors are dead. Thus, it is now up to us to decide what it should mean, so we can turn
the text on its head. And we can do so in the name of liberation, and freedom from
oppression. We are no longer bound to the oppressive truth of the text because we can now
twist the text to mean something it has never been understood to mean in the past – even the
opposite of what the words and grammatical structure would seem to mean. In so doing,
postmoderns seek to liberate themselves by deconstructing the text. After all, all the authors
are dead.

Of course, it is worth keeping in mind that such a hermeneutic must also assume that the
divine Author is dead. In its softer, subtler form, we find deconstructionism among some
who would never consider themselves liberals, and who would even claim to have what they
would characterize as a high view of Scripture. Yet when they encounter the text, they also
deconstruct it. The biblical text, they argue, has to be understood in terms of our modern
understanding. Modern psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and cultural studies have
something to bring to the interpretation of the text, they argue, something to tell us which
the human authors of Scripture missed. In other words, one may start with what it said, but
now we ourselves can decide what it means.

In both its hard and soft forms, deconstructionism has filtered down to the popular culture,
even to those who never heard of Jacques Derrida but have been nonetheless infected with
this postmodern mentality and this subtle form of subversive relativism and subjectivism.
You can hear Derrida in the discourse of adolescents in the mall. You can hear it in the
conversation on the nightly news.

The closing of the postmodern mind is the opposite of what postmodernism claimed to be its
aspiration. Postmodernism claimed that this new postmodern age–with the end of
modernity, the demise of scientific objectivity, and the openness to new forms and
understandings of truth–would lead to an opening of the mind. But as is always the case, the
totalitarian opening of the mind always ends with the radical closing of the mind. There is
nothing less tolerant than the modern ethos of tolerance. There is nothing less open than
the modern idea of open-mindedness. In the darkening sky and the gathering clouds, we see
the haunting closure of this supposedly open mind.

Sociologist Peter Berger reminds us that every single individual operates on the basis of
plausibility structures — certain frameworks of thought that are necessary for our
understanding of the world. For years, Berger and others have been telling us that the
plausibility structures of most Americans have little, if anything, to do with biblical
Christianity. The way most persons think about the world, the way they envision beauty, the
way they conceive love, the way they understand authority and marriage and structure and
principle and truth, all of these things are now basically secular in form. Not only so, but in
recent years we have witnessed the acceleration of this secularism into something that is
deeply dark, and increasingly nihilistic. What Karl Marx once promised would happen seems
to be coming to fulfillment–all that is solid melts into air. In the world of postmodernism, all
institutions are plastic, and all principles are liquid. We can reshape anything. Nothing is
given. Nothing is objective.

We can take the family, for example, and we can melt it down and make it something else. In
fact, we can turn it into an infinite number of liquid arrangements. We can take any
institution, be it government or church, or marriage, or family, and we can make of it what
we will. All principles are liquid, too. We can simply pour them out in a different way. Since
there is nothing really there anyway, we can reconfigure any principle according to our
desires. So we will reshape our entire worldview. We will shape our new philosophy. We will
be humanity come of age, and we will do this in the name of liberation and tolerance and
diversity–and open-mindedness. George Orwell never saw it so clearly, yet this is where we
live. Openness becomes closedness. Freedom becomes bondage, and tolerance becomes
intolerance.

The closing of the postmodern mind is not a pretty sight, nor is it friendly to human rights
and human dignity. We can look to Europe, where the post-Christian age is already
coalescing into a system of laws and a pattern of culture. Sweden, for example, already has
imprisoned a Pentecostal pastor, Ake Green, for preaching a sermon in which he spoke of
the sinfulness of homosexuality. He was recently acquitted of that “crime” by Sweden’s
highest court, but the fact remains that he was arrested and convicted by a lower court – and
the law remains in effect. Across much of Western Europe there is legislation in which it is
can be considered a crime to speak of the sinfulness of any sexual lifestyle, and of
homosexuality in particular.

In Belgium and the Netherlands, there are now official protocols for killing children and
infants in hospitals. Euthanasia has advanced to the point that, in the Netherlands, the
largest medical school in the country just reported that 31 percent of pediatricians have
admitted to killing babies, and 45 percent of neonatologists have admitted to euthanizing
infants–even without informing the parents that that is what happened to their child. And all
this is done, of course, in the name of health, even in the name of compassion. Then along
comes the Christian to say “We have a message about the dignity and sanctity of life,” and he
is told to be quiet. We can say, “Well, that is Europe. That is a post-Christian future that is an
ocean away.”

But even in the United States, we see all this coming together, and the clinched fist of a
closed postmodern mind is increasingly evident. In 1995, for instance, a U.S. District Court
judge in the state of Texas ruled against school prayer, afraid that some teenagers might in
the course of their graduation ceremony actually mention the name of Jesus, or mention the
name of God. When he handed down the ruling, the judge warned teenagers in the state of
Texas, saying, “If any of you shall mention the name of Jesus or God, or any other deity, you
will rue the day that you were born and will spend up to half a year in the Galveston jail.” That
is not Arthur Koestler warning in Darkness at Noon of the Soviet Union in 1941. It is the United
States of America in 1995. Legal observers may argue that this judge’s comments were not
indicative of a universal trend, but is this truly reassuring?

In the state of California, those who would be foster parents are now required to pledge that
they will say nothing that is in any way opposed to homosexuality or to any chosen sexual
lifestyle. Effectively, that means that Christians can no longer be foster parents in the state of
California. What a switch in ten years! Ten years ago, homosexual couples could not be foster
parents in the state of California. Now it is the Christians – who would raise their children as
Christians – who cannot be foster parents in that state.

A recently published book by Sam Harris entitled The End of Faith even claimed that faith
itself is a form of terrorism, and that the United States can no longer afford its long cherished
ideal of religions toleration and religious liberty. According to Harris, religious liberty is
simply too dangerous in a world like this.

We need to take notice of these developments in order that we might understand the
challenge we are about to face, because I fear that as evangelical Christians, we tend to swing
like a pendulum between a naive optimism and a wrongful pessimism. In reality, we have no
right to be either optimistic or pessimistic. To be either optimistic or pessimistic is to be
deluded, and in some sense to deny the sovereignty of God. We cannot be pessimistic because
Scripture tells us we are to be a people of hope. Of course, that does not mean that we are a
naive and ignorant people of hope who close our eyes to the reality around us. No, we find a
hope in something that is far more secure than anything this culture can secure.
But, on the other hand, we cannot be optimistic, either. Optimism is the message sent down
from public relations. Optimism is the happy face that tells us with a chipper voice that
everything is all right. Well, it is not all right, and everything will not be well, not in this age
or in this life. We have no right to be optimistic, but we have no right not to be hopeful.
Evangelicals, sometimes demonstrating a nearly breathtaking naivete, swing between these
pendulum extremes of pessimism and optimism, when Scripture calls us to reality. Be soberminded,
we are told. Gird up the loins of your thinking. Be ready, be alert, be watchful. Be a
watchman on the wall. Have your eyes open. Be ready for action. This is our calling as
Christians, even as the darkness gathers. We are to be the community of the open-eyed, the
intellectually alert, the broken-hearted, and the resolutely hopeful. Pulling that off will take
more than wishful thinking.

~ by Dr. R. Albert Mohler

Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

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