Is there a place in today’s postmodern society for absolutes? The question itself is self-contradictory, considering the fact that by definition postmodernism admits the existence of no absolutes. However, though this is theoretically an oxymoronic proposition, in the reality of daily life it is all too relevant a question. Allow me to explain.
I am convinced that all human beings live their lives based on certain philosophical, religious or moral principles. These vary from person to person, culture to culture, age to age. Yet, it is true for each one of us on this planet. Why we think and act and interact as we do is rooted in what we believe to be true about life, and about how we think life should be lived. Christian author and cult watcher Jack Sparks expressed it this way: “Creed determines conduct.”
This is true. We live what we believe. You show me your beliefs and I will predict your behavior. And generally we do this in a manner that clearly indicates that we accept our core beliefs as absolute. Even the postmodern thinker does this. He absolutely believes that there are no absolutes, and he lives accordingly. Yes, we all live this way. We live as we believe. I could cite many examples—yet a few will suffice to make the point.
Consider Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton’s lifestyle and belief system is such that you might consider him the poster child for postmodernism. If there was ever a man who behaved as though all things were relative, surely it is he! Remember when he would not admit even the certainty of the verb “is.” Yet, his actions and behavior were consistently determined by certain underlying assumptions. I think it is evident that if we were capable of examining the reasons why he behaved as he did in specific situations—whether it was acting a certain way in private, proposing a certain legislation, or interacting with friends in a particular manner—you would find that there was an underlying belief behind each action. For instance, from his view, he could have oral sex (in the Oval Office, no less) and not consider it adulterous behavior because it fell outside of his personal definition of what a sexual encounter was.
Another example concerns his view regarding the nature of human life itself—a much more far-reaching personal belief. An article in Time magazine several years pointed out that Clinton takes his position on abortion as a result of a specific theological teaching. There is a Baptist seminary professor who teaches that the human soul does not enter into the body of a developing baby until the moment of birth. He derives this concept from semantics. In both Hebrew and Greek the words that mean “breath” are also rendered as “spirit.” Thus, it is not until a baby actually breathes air that he/she then may be said to have a human spirit. To accept this notion means that before birth a fetus is only a mass of organic tissue, but is not a human being with a soul. So to kill the fetus in the womb and then remove it is no more morally wrong than excising a polyp from your nasal cavity.
Do you remember the first day of Clinton’s presidency, way back in 1993? Immediately following his being sworn in he went to the White House and signed a couple of executive orders. One of these threw wide open the door to increased abortions in federal institutions. As reprehensible as I find this (and at the time I was both furious and saddened), it was not surprising. Clinton was only acting consistent with his convictions in respect to when a fetus (tissue mass) becomes a baby (human being).
Another illustration of my premise concerns someone who is definitely not a postmodernist. Far from it. Rather it concerns a dogmatic man who tenaciously held to certain religious beliefs as absolute. After the tragedy of 9-11-01, how many of you have asked yourself questions such as these: How could any man hate as much as Osama bin Ladin did? How could he so gleefully orchestrate the massacre of thousands of human lives? Why would he embark on a career devoted to destroying human life? And why America? Why did he hate us so? It may surprise you to find that the answers are relatively simple.
First, you must understand what influences bin Ladin had in his life. During the late 1980’s Osama bin Ladin was engaged in holy jihad in Afghanistan, fighting to liberate that land from the oppression of the Soviet Union. It was during that period of time that much of this personal philosophy was formed. Bin Ladin came into contact with the writings of a theorist in Islamist studies named Sayyid Qutb. Qutb taught that most of the world existed in a state of spiritual ignorance called jahiliyyah. Jahiliyyah is the term used for the condition of Arabia before the revelations of Muhammad and the enlightening power of Islam. Qutb wrote that all non-Muslim nations are jahili nations, as indeed are most so-called Muslim nations. They do not live in the light of true Islam. They do not operate according to the genuine principles of Muhammad and the Quran.
Now, let us draw a parallel between ancient Arabian jahiliyyah and contemporary society. When Muhammad observed his native land in ignorance and spiritual darkness, what did he do? Well, he certainly preached and taught Islamic truth. But he also did more. He purposely and determinedly engaged in holy jihad. He took up arms and went to war for Allah. Muhammad literally conquered Arabia for Islam with the sword, as well as with the word. This is a simple fact of history. And so, Qutb said, if it was good enough for the Prophet…! If one accepts the idea that most of the world is in the state of jahiliyyah, ignorance, then is it not acceptable to undertake the same methods as the Apostle of Allah did? Jihad, holy warfare, fighting for Islam then becomes not only permissible, it becomes a moral and spiritual responsibility. It is the duty of all true Muslims to fight to overcome jahiliyyah and conquer the world for Islam. Thus, to bomb embassies, to blow up school buses, or to crash planes into skyscrapers is all part of the divine plan to eradicate ignorance and to war in the cause of Allah.
But why is the U.S. singled out especially? There are several reasons for this. The United States has a number of strikes against it. We are a predominantly Christian nation. (Oh! If Osama only had known the truth!) We have historically been an ally of Israel. Our culture is seen as immoral (touché) and anti-Islamic. However, there is one preeminent reason. Beginning with Operation Desert Shield, and followed soon after with Desert Storm (the Gulf War), we have stationed American troops in Saudi Arabia. And since that time, we have continued to have a military presence there. This was totally unacceptable to bin Ladin. Indeed, from his perspective it was an act of the utmost blasphemy.
Islamic tradition credits Muhammad with uttering an edict just prior to his death. He proclaimed that the holy land (Arabia) could only have one faith existing on it. Of course, that one faith must be Islam. Thus, it has been the traditional Muslim position that no non-Muslim must be allowed to live in the “Land of the Two Holy Places.” So for American troops to be permanently stationed on the Arabian peninsula is reprehensible. Bin Ladin is an ultra-orthodox, fundamentalist Muslim, from Saudi Arabia, of Yemeni extraction, who has been taught the conservative faith of the Wahabi sect. Add all this together, and you have a man who is steeped in a dogmatic version of Islam that countenances no other view. And according to the view Osama held of things, the U.S. was the great Satan who had invaded the holy land of Arabia and for years desecrated the very ground under Mecca and Medina. Thus to hate, kill and destroy America (and Americans) was to answer a divine call to free Arabia from being defiled by infidels. And the execution of this call pleased Allah.
Two men. Two vastly different lifestyles. Two perspectives very divergent from one another. Yet, the commonalty is that each man behaves in a manner thoroughly consistent with his belief system. Each man lives what he believes.
So, is belief important? Indeed. It is of ultimate importance. This is why the church has consistently insisted on a definite Rule of Faith. Throughout its history it has asserted that we must proclaim that some things are assuredly true, and other things are just as assuredly false. This has been seen as fundamental, as basic to Christian life. In the early church it was the common practice for new converts to be required to state their basic acceptance of essential Christian doctrine. This was done before the convert was baptized, and is the origin of the Apostles Creed. Through the centuries the church has accepted as an obligation not only the propagation of the true faith, but the exposure of false doctrine. Heresy cannot be tolerated. (No, we mustn’t kill heretics, but we also cannot allow heresy to be promulgated unchecked.)
So, what do you believe? I submit that what you believe will determine the course of your life. Believe right—you will live right. But, believe wrong and your very life will turn out wrong. And in this day where beliefs, like morals, are considered relative and changeable, do we not need to return to the historic, orthodox faith of the church? Should we not do as the biblical writer Jude encouraged: “Contend for the faith once delivered to the saints”? This is our only sure confidence in the tempestuous seas of contemporary naturalism, scientism, post-modernism, and false religion.