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From the Spring 2002 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

C.S. Lewis on Postmodernism?

by Arthur W. Lindsley, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow, C.S. Lewis Institute


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Lewis Disagrees

  Certainly, C.S. Lewis would disagree with many of the positions postmodernists take, especially that there is no objective knowledge of truth or morality. Here are some things that he might say if he were alive today:
  1. Many postmodern contentions are self-refuting. An ancient example of this was the Greek philosopher Gorgius, who maintained that “All statements are false.” The problem is that if the statement that “All statements are false” is true, then it is false. Similarly, postmodernism maintains that it is (objectively) true to say that there are no objective truths. It uses reason to deny the validity of reason. If the statement, “all perspectives on reality are culturally determined” is true, then is this statement itself also culturally determined? If all metanarratives are suspect because they lead to oppression, then can it not be equally maintained that postmodernism is itself a metanarrative and equally suspect? If all knowledge claims are a grab for power, then are not postmodernism’s contentions equally motivated by a will-to-power?
  Lewis argued this kind of thing about Freud and Marx. They were merrily “sawing off the branch that they were sitting on.” If, according to Marx, all philosophies are economically motivated, what about Marx’s own philosophy? If all belief came out of the non-rational unconscious (Freud), then is this not true of Freud’s own views?
  2. Suspicion can work both ways. Lewis argues in his essay “Bulverism” that the psychological charge that “Christianity is a crutch” might be answered by the counter-charge that atheism is a crutch. Atheism is an opiate of the conscience. Atheism is a giant Oedipus complex wishing the death of the Heavenly Father. So, we need to ask the postmodernists to suspect their own suspicions.
  3. Lewis would point out that a view that maintains there is “no neutral ground” on which we can condemn the Holocaust deserves suspicion. Some radical feminists (not believers) maintain that this radical relativism actually perpetuates oppression and injustice to women because it makes the term “justice” only an emotive statement.
  4. Perhaps Lewis would point out that all these claims are partial truths exaggerated into the whole truth. Postmodernists exaggerate the influence of culture, they exaggerate the problem of objectivity, they exaggerate the difficulty of interpretation, they exaggerate the difficulty of cross-cultural communication. He might say that while the claim to absolutes can be oppressive, the denial of absolutes could lead to even greater oppression. In fact, Lewis argues in The Abolition of Man that the fruit of history is already clear. He points out that no relativist has ever been given power and used it for “benevolent ends.”
  5. Above all, Lewis would caution us about tying our methods or theology too closely to a passing mood or trend, like postmodernism. He says, “If you take your stand on the prevalent view, how long do you suppose it will prevail…all you can say about my taste is that it is old fashioned; yours will soon be the same.”
  Perhaps in its most innocent form, postmodernism points us to the finitude of our knowledge and can point us to the complexity of reality itself. I think, though, that Lewis would keep reasoning firmly but gently with postmodernists, saying “Does this make sense?” or “How do you see this?” or “Don’t you see where this leads?” Perhaps also he would tell stories. Lewis held that “Reason is the natural organ of truth and imagination is the organ of meaning.” Perhaps those that are not open to a direct approach of reason may be more open to the indirect approach of the imagination.
  At the end of The Abolition of Man, Lewis says that those who want to debunk or “see through” normal traditional or conventional truth or morality should be cautious. It’s good to have a window to see through in order to see the grass, trees, or sky outside. But if you can see through everything, there is nothing left to see.

Stuart McAllister

Dr. Arthur W. Lindsley Senior Fellow, C.S. Lewis Institute – Art Lindsley has served at the C.S. Lewis Institute since 1987. Formerly, he was Director of Educational Ministries at the Ligonier Valley Study Center, and Staff Specialist with the Coalition for Christian Outreach. He is the author of C.S. Lewis’s Case for Christ, True Truth, Love: The Ultimate Apologetic, and co-author with R.C. Sproul and John Gerstner of Classical Apologetics, and has written numerous articles on theology, apologetics, C.S. Lewis, and the lives and works of many other authors and teachers. Art earned his M.Div. from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently the Vice President of Theological Initiatives for the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE:  Knowing & Doing is published by C.S. Lewis Institute; 8001 Braddock Road, Suite 301; Springfield, VA 22151. Portions of the publication may be reproduced for noncommercial, local church or ministry use without prior permission. Electronic copies of the PDF files may be duplicated and transmitted via e-mail for personal and church use. Articles may not be modified without prior written permission of the Institute. For questions, contact the Institute: 703.914.5602 or email us.
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