SPidge Tales

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Classical, Modern, and Post-Modern Culture

Three umpires sit at a bar after the baseball game, sharing some drinks and discussing their respective strategies on calling a game behind the plate. The first umpire declares, "there are set rules for what balls and strikes are, and I call balls and strikes as they are." The second umpire says, "I call balls and strikes as I see them." The third umpire, speaking gleefully, announces, "there are no balls and strikes until I call them."

I think this story is an interesting way to explain the differences between classical/ancient/medieval, modern, and post-modern thought. We always here these terms brandied about in reference to culture or ideas, yet often we, and the speaker, have no idea what is being talked about.

The first umpire represents the classical worldview. Balls and strikes, the rules of the game, of life, and the way things are, is set. It is our task, in this understanding, to see the world the way it is. Umpire One believes that there is an objective order of which our duty is to conform ourselves to it.

The second umpire represents the modernist worldview. Descartes's famous line, "I think, therefore I am," refers to his belief that we are radically separated from one another, and have no way of really knowing anyone outside of ourselves. From this flows the notion that the classical view of a shared reality, and an objective order of which me must conform ourselves, is false. Everything, according to the modernist umpire, is a matter of perspective. There are no "balls and strikes as they are," but only "balls and strikes as he sees them."

The third umpire represents the post-modernist worldview. Going beyond saying everything depends on one's perspective, the post-modernist claims that there is no order of any kind, there is nothing that can be claimed to be real, other than that which we construct. There is no such thing as gender, such as the way men and women are supposed to be, and there is no such thing as culture as something beyond ourselves. These are all just social constructions. There is no such thing as human nature. It is up to us to create entirely for ourselves who we want to be. Like the third umpire says, "there are no balls and strikes until I call them."

I find irony in the term "Enlightenment." The period of history known by this name is so called because historians see this as the time when we shed our "medieval" superstitions and prejudices and began to make the world a better place. Yes, we have improved in areas such as health care, science, and technological. However, religiously, and morally, we have strayed way off the path. Our classical worldview told us that we are created by God, that their are moral laws inherent in our nature. That is, there are some actions that by their nature are just plain bad for us. The modernists, beginning with Descartes, were not atheists. Descartes, in fact, was a strong believer in God. However, though possibly justifable, considering the horrendous religious wars rought by the Reformation, their attempt separate moral truths from an attachment to God failed. The modernists tried to justify our moral objective truths, not with God as the reference, but with Man. The problem is, which man is the reference? It ends up just devolving into the notion that each person himself must decide for himself what is right or wrong. It is all a matter of personal perspective.

The post-modernists, especially Nietzsche, saw a flaw with the modernists. Nietzsche agreed with their desire to excise God from the equation. However, Nietzsce rightly pointed out that one cannot get rid of God and still hold claim to ultimate truths. Without God, anything goes. Nietzsche did not see this as a problem. For him, this is a good thing. We should get rid of both God and "objective" morality, and then each person not only decides for himself what is right and wrong, but creates for himself his own right and wrong and own worldview.

The criticisms of the ancient classical view by moderns and post-moderns have some value. It is true that we each see things from our own perspective. This does not mean that there are no objective truths. It just makes the task of conforming ourselves to these truths all the more crucial, since we do each see things from our own perspective. We need to recognize that we can be wrong, and it is good to conform ourselves to what the real truth is. The umpire does call balls and strikes as he sees them, but there are "balls and strikes as they are," and if the way the umpire sees them isn't the way they are, he can be sure to hear an earfull from the fans and from the player who is wrongly called out on a pitch 6 inches off the plate.

The post-modernists helped us to see the flaw in the modernists desire to try and keep an objective worldview without God. However, we need not just "abandon all hope, ye who enter." We can recognize an objective order, and understand that "they are balls and strikes when I call them" precisely because the Grand Rulemaker of our lives made "balls and strikes as they are."


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