Monday, November 02, 2009

Postmodern confusion . . .

I have to confess: I have not kept up on the details of postmodernism.

Yesterday, in church, I saw a young man handing out some fliers. I asked him what they were.

"They're for the youth," he said.

"Could I have one?" I asked.


And he handed me a couple of sheets of paper with two article on them. One was titled, "Postmodern Kids in the New Millennium . . . Reaching teens who find truth elusive." It's by Steve Schall, president of K-Life, Inc..

He launched his article with a quote from a 1998 news article about a cross-dressing boy in a small private school in Georgia.

Patrick Nelson, a classmate, had heard about this cross-dresser, but couldn't figure out who it was.
One day he was talking about the mystery to a friend, who smiled and pointed to the pretty blonde at the desk next to his.

“I said, 'No way, that's too weird!’” Patrick recalled. "Then I thought about it, and I said, 'So what's so weird about that?’”
Schall comments:
Did you hear the tension in Patrick's remarks? His initial response went one direction. But his next, "think about it" response was 180° in the other direction.

On the one hand, he instinctively reacted to something that was outside of God's natural, created order. But almost before the words got out, he was processing the situation with the skills that his postmodern culture had given him. To each his own. It may not be what I would choose personally, but who am I to impose my values on someone else? It's not what I’m about, but hey - it's a free country!

Imagine living in a world with no real rules, no real boundaries, and certainly no absolutes. No one, single idea is any better, necessarily, than any other. Historical accounts that were once undisputed and widely accepted are now open to revisionist interpretation. Everything centers around one's feelings and personal experience.

What you've just imagined is the very real world of today's adolescent.
I have written in the past (see also this) about some of my concerns with respect to transgenderism and s*xual identity.

[And, in the midst of writing this, I discovered that, though I had drafted the better part of a third article on this subject back in April of '05--along with the second article I reference in the preceding paragraph, I never finished nor published the third article. Considering what I want to say here, I went back and did the best I could to at least summarize (more or less) what I had intended to publish in that third article, and so you can find it here.]

If you pay attention to these stories I've referenced, you may guess what bothers me about Schall's article: While I am deeply concerned about the need to acknowledge and pursue absolute truth, I'm concerned that Schall confuses a potential willingness to acknowledge and affirm unchosen, possibly unwanted, and very real (though disturbing) differences-from-the-expected-- . . . he confuses those things with postmodern relativism.

Indeed, he states, unequivocally, that the story about Matthew Alex McLendon, the "cross-dressing" student, has to do with something "outside of God's natural, created order."

But, I think: What if McLendon is not so much a "cross-dresser" as an hermaphrodite--someone who is inters*xed or inters*xual? Is it appropriate and legitimate for us to think, speak and act as Steve Schall does, equating people's desire to recognize and/or acknowledge unusual but potentially (and sometimes very) real and clear biological distinctions . . . --Is it appropriate and legitimate for us to think, speak and act as Schall does, and equate these things with postmodern philosophical commitments to "no real rules, no real boundaries, and certainly no absolutes"?

If McLendon (by way of example) is, indeed, inters*xed, is it really just "one's feelings and personal experience"--not to mention a commitment to "no real rules, no real boundaries, and . . . no absolutes"--that would lead someone like Patrick Nelson, McLendon's classmate, to acknowledge the difficulties a McLendon faces and, perhaps, to afford him/her the opportunity to express him/herself as s/he feels most comfortable?

I could give you a slew of URL links to consider what others, far more deeply concerned about and involved in the discussion of inters*xuality have had to think and say on the subject.

Consider the basic question of marriage: If you know you are hermaphrodite (or "inters*xed" or "transs*xual" or "transgendered" or suffer from a "disorder of s*xual development"), are you permitted to marry? If so, to whom are you permitted to marry? And on what grounds are you permitted to make that choice? External g*nitalia? Internal? Hormonal levels? . . .

Here's something really strange: When I first thought I should write this article, I hadn't even thought about the issue I have raised above. I was actually more intrigued by a story Schall referenced from a book by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, Legislating Morality: Is It Wise? Is It Legal? Is It Possible?

The modern penchant for "tolerance" has struck me, often, as strange (to put it mildly), but I often find myself without tools to respond.

Geisler and Turek's story, retold here in Schall's words, provides a powerful and highly memorable parable for our time, I think:
[A] professor . . . was teaching a class in ethics at a university in Indiana. He assigned a term paper to his students, allowing them to write on any topic, as long as they had proper research and documented sources. One student who no longer believed in absolute values wrote convincingly on the merits of moral relativism. The student argued, "All morals are relative; it's all a matter of opinion; I like chocolate, you like vanilla."

His paper was well written, properly documented, the right length, on time, and stylishly presented in a handsome blue folder. The professor read the entire paper and then wrote on the front cover, "F. I don't like blue folders!"

When the student got the paper back he was enraged. He stormed into the professor's office and declared, “‘F. I don't like blue folders!’ That's not fair! You didn't grade the paper on its merits!"

Raising his hand to quiet the bombastic student, the professor calmly retorted, "Wait a minute. What's this talk about being fair? Didn't your paper argue that it's all a matter of taste? You like chocolate, I like vanilla?"

The student replied, "Yes, that's my view."

The professor responded, "Fine, then. I don't like blue. You get an F!"

Suddenly a light bulb went on in the student's head, as he finally got the message. He really did believe in absolutes, at least in terms of expecting his professor to be fair. In charging [his professor] with injustice, he was in fact appealing to an objective, "fair" standard of justice. That simple fact defeated his entire case for relativism.
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