Have you ever been manipulated by someone to such a degree that when the entire thing is over you feel like an old bath towel that has been hung out to dry, just kind of waving back and forth in the wind? I know that I have and I don’t really care to relive those experiences or recount them. They are quite embarrassing to recall and usually emotionally painful as well. Perhaps, however, one of the biggest manipulations in our culture and society is the philosophies of post modernism. Whether we realize it or not, and most do not, the way that we think in our society and culture is influenced. Television, advertisements, the evening news, sitcoms, buying products at the grocery store, video games, movies, restaurants, theme parks, religious services even our closest friends are influenced.
Post modernism is the period of philosophical thought after the period of modernism when rationality and logic prevailed as the primary methods of seeking to understand reality. In the 19th century, however, philosophers divorced rationality from reality and placed a greater emphasis upon personal physical experience and existence (empiricism and existentialism). Philosophy gave up seeking to understand things by virtue of pure reason and instead sought to understand things by means of personal subjective experience. This meant that if something was outside of my personal experience, then it was unknowable because I could not subjectively experience it. Many have credited this movement with divorcing faith (defined as things outside of personal experience) and knowledge (defined as things part of personal experience) and today most simply accept this dichotomy of thought without question. Such was not always the case; the distinction between faith and knowledge made by early post modernistic thinkers was not present in the thinking of early Christians (see for example John 6:69, John 10:38, 1 Timothy 4:3, 1 Timothy 5:13).
Today you will see post modernistic thought reflected in just about every aspect of our society. The focus of society has shifted away from the question, “What do you think?” to the question, “What do you feel?” “Feeling,” as a way of discerning truth, has replaced “thinking” in the post modern culture. Feelings are the primary input in regard to sense experience and so whether we are content, discontent, or whatever, it all depends upon what we feel about something. This way of thinking is subtle and many do not understand they are being manipulated by post modern thinking; nevertheless they are manipulated into patterns of behavior that are personally destructive as a result of this philosophy and our default acceptance of it.
We need to understand that such thinking is antagonistic to Christian thought where we are exhorted to use our mind to control our passions. The concept of sobriety is a familiar concept in the New Testament which emphasizes exactly this point. Christians are to be sober ( 1 Peter 1:13) and not allow their personal feelings, passions, and experiences to overwhelm their Christian thought and knowledge. In Christianity, thought leads feelings, not vice versa. This is why Paul can write in Philippians 4:8 “think on these things.” By virtue of our thoughts controlling and shaping our experience, the Christian is able to have the peace that passes all understands ( Philippians 4:7). When our experience, however, leads our thoughts, then we are placed in the situation that James describes in James 1:6 “like the surge of the sea driven by the wind and tossed.” When we allow our experiences to dominate then our thoughts will follow and instead of having a positive, optimistic view of life that we know is ours through revelation, we begin to focus upon physical problems and difficulties that slant our thinking toward pessimism and a generally destructive view of life. We will then have no thought patterns that are capable of processing our experience meaningfully and constructively. Instead our thought patterns will be processed BY our experience, whatever that experience might be. It is due to this fundamental shift in thinking away from experience and toward allowing thought to control their lives that early Christians found themselves “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name” ( Acts 5:41).
It takes a fundamental shift in thinking and a supreme effort of the will in order to break the cycle of post modernistic thought and behavior. We must do this, however, in order to bring our lives back into a pattern that is dominated not by experience, but by thought. It helps when we have individuals around us who are also willing to make the effort. It is, however, incredibly difficult to do in a society where experience trumps thought in every direction we turn. The church can play a great role in providing a haven against post modernistic thought when Christians reject experience as the arbiter of thought and embrace the principles of Christianity as shaping their experiences.