uno itinere non potest perveniri ad tam grande secretum -- Q. Aurelius Symmachus, 384 C.E.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mohler Hates Postmodernism Almost As Much As Modernism

I find it richly ironic whenever conservative Christians complain about post-modernism, given that they've been railing against modernism now for well over a century.

Yet a lecture by Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, this morning on Christian-right radio was devoted entirely to warning his evangelical flock about the horrors of postmodernism, academia, psychology -- really any profession whose work is not produced from within the Southern Baptist Convention.

It's fascinating to hear Mohler defend modernism and attack postmodernism when just 40 years ago, evangelicals like Francis Schaeffer were attacking the movements that led to modernism, like the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Mohler does this too, obliquely, but he largely subscribes to the fact-based, objective basis for modernity -- as long as they're his facts. Indeed, he rejects science as a privileged arbiter of this basis, and instead says we have to follow the truth as revealed in the Bible. The Bible as interpreted by him and his Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, that is.

I have my own qualms about post-modernism, but Mohler's take on it is laughable. Not just two minutes after ridiculing literary theories that focus on the reception of a text rather than authorial intent, and suggesting in the process that it is nonsense that a text is reinterpreted by readers depending on their own ideologies and purposes, Mohler quotes no less an authority than Archie Bunker of the TV series All in the Family to make another ridiculing point. For Mohler, Bunker is apparently a great American moralist, not the satirical parody that Norman Lear often makes him. That anyone would watch that show and think the writers are promoting the views of Bunker, rather than satirizing and criticizing them, is beyond me, but there I go again, appealing to authorial intent. Mohler instead reinterprets the text of the show to suit his own purposes, even while asserting that no one does this and it's absurd to suggest so.

He also ridiculed Bible studies that ask those in attendance "what this verse means to you," because, as we all know, there is only The One True Meaning of the Bible. Modernism (which Mohlers of yesteryear vociferously opposed) had an answer for figuring out what the writers of the Bible meant: the historical-critical method, which Mohler also seems to reject, which aims at understanding the texts as products of their time. As such, they don't soften or apologize for those passages that presume an ancient mindset on patriarchy or slavery, but instead accept them for what they "clearly and straightforwardly" are. Mohler et al. do not, instead softening the language on wifely submission and elaborately arguing against the obvious fact that the Bible takes slavery for granted as a condoned institution. Because, after all, if the Bible can't be made tenable to modern sensibilities, its status as the source of The Truth is in doubt, so it's little wonder then that the list of sciences, social sciences, and literary approaches that we must reject in order to maintain the Southern Baptist party line keeps growing by the year.

The more often Mohler is out there talking, the less credible he should seem to thinking, educated people. But then, he's not interested in being credible to people like that. Rather, his railings and ridicule against any profession that operates outside of approved Southern Baptist perimeters illustrate precisely that aspect of postmodernism that he most rejects: namely, the fact that power structures will build and reinforce ideology to maintain their hierarchical hold. Don't listen to any of those scientists, professors, psychologists, or journalists -- indeed, don't listen to any "fact" and give it any credence, unless Mohler says it's OK.

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