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Opinion
Postmodernism

By Dale O’Leary
Posted: 5/4/2007

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Catholic theologians have always understood that the principles by which you decide issues are crucial. While it may not be apparent at first, if you don’t get the fundamentals right, in the end the results will be disastrous. John Paul II addressed this problem in his encyclicals “The Splendor of Truth” and “Faith and Reason.” Benedict XVI has also recognized the importance of first principles.

Americans are in general a pragmatic people looking for practical solutions to problems and not always aware of the importance of getting the philosophical foundation right, but the foundation matters.

The proper foundation for decision making is two-fold -- the revealed moral law and the natural moral law. The revealed moral law is a special treasure --given to us as a guide by God and secured by His promise to never leave us. The natural moral law is available to all men by reason. Because the God who reveals His laws to us and the God who created the world, are one in the same God, the revealed moral law and the natural moral law will, when properly understood, be in complete agreement.

This unity of revealed and natural law was challenged in the “modern” period by those, who seeing the plurality of religions after the Reformation said that since there are many interpretations of the revealed law, governments must rely on natural law. Therefore, our Declaration of Independence appeals to the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.”

As Catholics in a pluralistic society we recognize that telling legislatures or courts that “Scripture says” or “the pope teaches” is rarely effective. We are able, however, to appeal to the natural moral law. We can present social science evidence to demonstrate the dangers of not respecting the natural moral law. In this way as Catholics we can work together with people of other faiths or even no particular religion to find solutions based on a shared respect for natural law. Unfortunately we have moved from the modern period where natural law was respected into the era of postmodernism, and the natural law is under attack.

When ordinary people try to read postmodernists, they usually feel that they, like Alice, have fallen down a rabbit hole into a world where nothing makes sense. The wonderland of postmodernism is not a charming fantasy land, but a frightening landscape where the rules of logic don’t apply. A woman wants to call her unborn child a clump of tissue and the reality of the existence of a human life means nothing. All that matters is the woman’s right to “choose.” A man wants to call himself a woman, and we are told that his birth certificate should change to reflect his decision and his medical insurance pay for surgery. Two men want to call their relationship marriage; we are told that kindergarteners must read stories about two princes marrying each other.

Postmodernists reject revealed and natural law. On what foundation do they build?

Passion and power.

According to postmodernism, people have a right to do or be what they want and other people should applaud their choices. The postmodernists view the revealed and natural law as something made up by the powerful to oppress the weak. Not only do the postmodernists want to be free from the restraints of revealed and natural law, they don’t want to be made to feel bad about the consequences of following their passions. In the wonderland of postmodernism, making people feel bad is “oppression” and that should be a crime.

You may think I am exaggerating, but consider the following statement from the decision of the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey:

“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

This case was not about the right of people to think whatever they wanted to about existence or the mystery of life, but whether or not people had an unlimited right to act on their personal concepts. This ruling, according to Justice Scalia, “ate the rule of law” and called into the question the government’s power to regulate any behavior.

This is postmodernism: No natural law, no revealed law, just what I want when I want it.

Now, the postmodernists are very clever. They cast their demand to do whatever they want regardless of the consequences as “rights.” They expect us to respect their made-up rights because they know we believe in human rights, but in making up fake rights, they are undermining the foundation on which real rights are built -- the natural law.

Do we have to tolerate postmodernists?

It depends on what you mean by tolerate. If you mean, grant them the right to freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly. Yes. We are obliged by our principles to honor their rights, but they don’t have a “right” to feel good about engaging in dangerous, destructive behaviors. They don’t have the “right” to teach their nonsense to our children. If the truth makes them feel oppressed, they need to understand that truth makes demands on all of us.

We most definitely don’t have to allow them to drag our society down the rabbit hole into the moral anarchy that is postmodernism.

Dale O’Leary is an internationally recognized lecturer and author of “The Gender Agenda: Redefining Equality.”