Don't get me wrong, I identify with postmodernism in many, many ways. I am more right-brained than left. I embrace doubt. I consider narrative to be the definitive context for all meaning and I believe communities guide the meanings of texts. I am suspicious of hierarchy and authority. I am content with a plurality of Christian communities. I am deeply aware of and concerned for the Other. Etc. Etc.
Most of all, I appreciate the general postmodern trend of epistemic humility. This humility offers a way through modernity's arrogance and, in my field, such humility might just save the church altogether. As I wrote in a previous post, postmodernism offers the church a way to return to a confessional community of witnesses to the Christ Event.
But there is a point at which I cannot take postmodernism's humility any longer. There is a point at which such epistemic humility turns into an idol in itself. The humility becomes no longer the means to genuine dialogue of ideas, but rather an easy escape from the risk of holding convictions. Allow me to explain.
It is not uncommon to hear many a postmodern lady or gent confess "But this is just my view, and I might very well be wrong." Of course you may very well be wrong! - such is the premise of postmodern reality.* Why, then, enunciate this confession? The reason, I believe, is because many a postmodern would rather hide behind false humility than stand with conviction - which always includes the risk of being wrong. In other words, it is much easier to presume one's view "might be wrong" and still hold that view, than to believe that one's view is right. This approach offers only the illusion of humility, while embodying the reality of a lethargic escape from risk and anxiety.
The irony, however, is that confessing one's humility ("I might be wrong") does not negate the fact that the one who confesses still believes s/he is right! G.K. Chesterton explains this well in Orthodoxy:
"At any street corner we may meet a man who utters the frantic and blasphemous statement that he may be wrong. Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view!" (p. 37)
On this Slavoj Zizek comments, "Is the same falsity not clearly discernible in the rhetoric of many a postmodern deconstructionist? Chesterton is quite right to use the strong term 'blasphemous', which must be given its whole weight here: the apparently modest relativization of one's own position is the mode of appearance of its very opposite, of privileging one's own position of enunciation. Compare the struggle and pain of the 'fundamentalist' with the serene peace of the liberal democrat who, from his safe subjective position, ironically dismisses every full-fledged engagement, every 'dogmatic' taking sides." (Welcome to the Desert of the Real, 78)
The problem with what I have deemed a postmodern "false humility" is that it attempts to eschew the responsibility of holding a viewpoint. One cannot hold a view without simultaneously embodying the hope that it is "right."
The Difference Between "Right" and "Better"
All of this reminds me of a conversation I had with my sister years back wherein we argued whether or not persons should believe their own opinion is the "right" opinion. As the above indicates, anyone who holds a viewpoint invariably believes the said view to be right, regardless of whether or not s/he confesses that it might be wrong. Thus, in that conversation long ago I argued that everyone ought to believe their view is the right one until convinced otherwise.
Now, however, I would change this slightly. Instead of believing we are "right," I think that it may serve our day better to believe that our view is "better" (or, in the right context, "best"). This slight nuance changes the ethos of dialogue by using comparative language rather than dualistic, zero-sum language. The term "better" does not invalidate all other views as "wrong," yet still stands with conviction that it is "better" given the circumstance. Moreover, the term "better" is open-ended, leaving room for improvement and future adjustments, while at the same time taking responsibility to stand up for itself in the moment.
This terminology also takes into consideration the plurality of contexts in which viewpoints can be "better" (or "worse") rather than simply "right" and "wrong." It is also advantageous because, unlike the term "right," it does not automatically apply universally to every person in all situations. Instead, this language leaves room to learn from new experience.
Much more could be said about the benefit of this language.
Be Humble... Be Confident... For Now.
We are blessed to live in an age where millions of people critique the metanarratives of our world. I am so happy to have inherited a tradition of doubting the metaphysics of oppressive institutions and the assumptions of Enlightenment ideals. Yet, as per usual, we must find the balance rather than ride the pendulum all the way to the other side. Epistemic humility is a necessity if we deeply spiritual beings are going to find our humanity in the way of faith. So hold your views with humility and openness, knowing that we see through a glass darkly. Yours is not simply the definitive "right" answer, but rather the "better" or "best" one... for now.
At the same time, remember that faith is not only the embrace of doubt, darkness, and death, it is also the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen. So spare me your false humility and ideological escapism. Hold your view with conviction and believe in it... for now.
* In my opinion, such is the premise of reality; and it was modernity's pride in science that gave us the false reality of certainty from which postmodernism offers liberation.