Culture Wars

America and other industrialized nations are in the throes of vicious culture wars [1].   Social conservatives and evangelical Christians are increasingly the object of various forms of discrimination.  We as Christians fail to recognize that, for our opponents, the issue is not about who's wrong or who's right; the issue is who has POWER.  Consistent with their belief in relativism, both secularists and postmodernists are increasingly empowering themselves through the political doctrine of Machiavelli, which denies the relevance of morality in political affairs and holds that craft and deceit are justified in pursuing and maintaining power.  The few moralists left are jokingly viewed as both socially and politically naive.  

Today's emphasis upon multiculturalism and diversity has produced a free-for-all in the average workplace.  Religious freedoms guaranteed under the First Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act are regularly violated by persons left of political center.  Under this tension, both employer and employee often consider themselves legal experts, but there is no common understanding of the applicability of existing law.   Consequently, to resolve differences and find relief for injustice, parties are regularly forced into courtrooms.

On August 14, 1997, the Clinton Administration issued GUIDELINES ON RELIGIOUS EXERCISE AND RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION IN THE FEDERAL WORKPLACE.  While conservatives and Christians are understandably suspicious, these guidelines may help curb widespread abuse in federal offices as well as set an example for other work environments.  The guidelines, formulated by the Office of General Counsel, represent official legal opinion on a variety of common interpersonal situations which occur during a normal workday.   While still allowing for legal challenge, the guidelines go a long way in providing a specific legal and ethical framework for offices currently devoid of civility.  It would now appear, that at least in the federal realm, neither employer or employee will be able to claim ignorance as a legal defense.

[1] Victims of the Culture Wars - by Charlton Heston

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Valuing Diversity and Teamwork?

In October 1997, President [name here] issued a memorandum, on behalf of management, expressing a desire for all employees to feel welcome and believe they can succeed in our organization. He sought to assure us that management would emphasize the importance of diversity of thought, background and experience. This idea was subsequently incorporated into the [company or organization's] Strategic Planning Framework as one of six critical success factors designed to engender trust and confidence amongst personnel.

While management took steps to begin identifying and then modifying or eliminating any traditions or practices that might hinder employees from reaching their full potential, I believe this effort should be extended to address harassment, ridicule, and insult toward people of faith in the work environment. At present, a sizeable number of employees actively strive to create a politically-correct (PC) environment based on their shared tenets of social and moral relativism and aversion to social conservatives--most notably evangelical Christians. Often those identified outside this PC consensus are subject to defamation.

I offer four suggestions which may, over time, help the division more effectively inspire trust and confidence and achieve the goal of Valuing Diversity and Teamwork:

  1. Management should ensure fairness and objectivity in the hiring and promotion process and guard against either overt or subtle discrimination. Individuals known to harbor prejudice against any religious individual should not be allowed to participate in campus recruitment or be given an opportunity to pre-screen or influence the employee selection process.

  2. Management should seek to increase their awareness of the diversity which exists amongst employees. Under Federal anti-discrimination law, the term "minority" should not be narrowly interpreted to include only categories of race, gender, or age. Under Title VII, religious belief also constitutes a legitimate basis for minority status. Per these guidelines, several philosophic viewpoints are considered 'religious' in nature, and are to be afforded protection. This protection includes maintaining a non-hostile work environment.

  3. Management should develop uniform policies of what constitutes acceptable, on-the-job behavior and should impartially apply them. Those in the majority should not be granted freedom to advance their particular political or social views at work, while other employees [Christians] are censured for not maintaining silence.

  4. Finally, any effort at valuing diversity within the [company or organization] should avoid seminar training or groups which incorporate "postmodernist" concepts or views. Attached is an explanation of this contemporary phenomena.


Postmodernism

Jim Leffel*

We live in strange times. Increasingly, American academics [as well as many average citizens] regard claims to objective and universal truth as intolerant and uninformed. What accounts for this bizarre and growing consensus? It's called postmodernism. Postmodern ideology rejects the authority of reason and views all claims to objective truth to be dangerous. For these enormously influential thinkers, truth is political and created by "belief communities," not discovered rationally and objectively. That the academic community is experiencing a major ideological revolution is beyond doubt. Like all intellectual movements, postmodernism deeply effects the broader culture.

We are witnessing a broad-based backlash against reason in our culture. This backlash is widely promoted in contemporary higher education. The argument is that every time somebody claims to be in possession of the truth (especially religious truth), it ends up repressing people. So its best to make no claims to truth at all.

Rejecting objective truth is the cornerstone of postmodernism. In essence, postmodern ideology declares an end to all ideology and all claims to truth. How has this seemingly anti-intellectual outlook gained such wide acceptance in history's most advanced civilization? That question requires us to understand how postmodernists conceive the past three hundred years of western history.

Postmodernism abandons modernism, the common and widespread humanist philosophy of the European Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinking is based on the authority of French philosopher Rene Descartes' autonomous man--the one who starts from his own thought ("I think, therefore I am") and builds his world view systematically from reason alone. Naively, postmodernists charge, modernists assumed that the mind was a "mirror of nature," meaning that our perceptions of reality actually correspond to the way the world is. From this presumption, modernists built a culture that exalted technological achievement and mastery over the natural order. Expansion-minded capitalism and liberal democracy, outgrowths of modernist autonomous individualism, subjugated the earth to the eurocentric, male dominated paradigm.

But modernism planted the seeds of its own undoing. As arrogant, autonomous modernists conquered the globe and subjugated nature in the name of progress, oppressed and marginalized people have responded. "Progress toward what?" they cry. Postmodernists say that the idols of autonomous reason and technological proliferation have brought the modern age to the brink of disaster. The "myth of progress" ends up in a nightmare of violence, both for marginalized people and for the earth.

Enter postmodernism. Postmodernism rejects modernism's autonomous individualism and all that follows from it. Rather than seeing humanity as an ocean of individuals, postmodernists think of humans as "social constructs" -- nodes in a particular cultural reality. We do not exist or think independently of the community with which we identify. So we can't have independent or autonomous access to reality. All of our thinking is contextual. Rather than conceiving the mind as a mirror of nature, postmodernists argue that we view reality through the lens of culture. Consequently, [in contrast to theists who allow for revelation, or modernists who limit truth to that which can only be scientifically verified], postmodernists reject the possibility of all objective truth. Reality itself turns out to be a "social construct" or paradigm. In the place of objective truth and what postmodernists call "metanarratives" (comprehensive world views), we find "local narratives," or stories about reality that "work" for particular communities--but have no validity beyond that community. Indeed, postmodernists reject the whole language of truth and reality in favor of literary terms like narrative and story. It's all about interpretation, not about what's real or true.

Postmodernists hold that the pretense of objective truth always does violence by excluding other voices (regarding other world views to be invalid), and marginalizing the vulnerable by scripting them out of the story. Truth claims, we are told, are essentially tools to legitimate power. That's why in postmodern culture, the person to be feared is the one who believes that we can discover ultimate truth. The dogmatist, the totalizer, the absolutist are viewed as both naive and dangerous.

A growing number, especially among the emerging generation, believe that reason and truth are inherently political and subversive. That's why they are often so cynical. According to the voices in contemporary culture that shape "Generation X" thinking, claims to truth are clever disguises for the pernicious "will to power." Consequently, rather than dominating others with our "version of reality," we should accept all beliefs as equally valid. Openness without the restraint of reason, and tolerance without moral appraisal are the new postmodern mandates.

For most people, the postmodern outlook I've described is more "absorbed" than thought out. An impressive majority of Americans believe that truth is relative. But few know why they think that way. Still fewer have any clue about how their beliefs practically relate to their own lives. In general, people are more ideologically confused than deeply committed to their convictions. So while we hear the rhetoric of openness to everything and tolerance for everyone, it's rare to find someone who really understands what this means. It's just the socially appropriate attitude to have. Postmodern ideologues have been successful in transforming ideology into popular zeitgeist. Ironically, this radical subjectivity leads to the dangerously arrogant inference that no one can ever be wrong about what they believe. If we are free from the constraints of rationality, nothing separates truth from self-delusion.

* Jim Leffel teaches philosophy at Ohio Dominican College in Columbus, Ohio. He is a co-author of the book, The Death of Truth, What’s Wrong with Multiculturalism, The Rejection of Reason, and the New Postmodern Diversity, ed. Dennis McCallum (Bethany House Publishers, 1996).

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