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Modernity as opposed to postmodernity

25 December 2007

There’s an interesting description of the attitude of modernity (as opposed to postmodernity) in the middle of a post about the writings of Owen Barfield:

You can see this the most clearly in the modern (not post-Modern) attitude towards the traditional Lives of the Saints among most Protestants and their fellow travelers for whom whatever could have been recorded by a time-traveler with a video camcorder is considered true and everything else is imaginary; that is to say – false, illusionary, leading to deception. Of course, these same Protestants take it very hard when you approach the Bible itself with the same attitude. You are either told that if you refuse to hear the voice of God speaking in the Bible, you are not likely to consider the truth if it comes to you from another source (presuppostional apologetics), or you are buried in a avalanche of minutae about Darius the Mede or ingenious arguments about alternative dates for the regencies of Hebrew kings (evidential apologetics).

It put me in mind of someone I was speaking to about 30 years ago about the Transfiguration of Jesus, and I had been speaking about the Uncreated Light of the Eighth Day, and he was very concerned about that, and wanted assurance that if you had been there at the time with a light meter, you would have been able to measure the light. That was his Protestant/modernist mentality, I think. To me it was a very odd question, and I found it slightly shocking — the idea that one could measure uncreated light with a created instrument, a human artifact. It seemed to me like a demand for a God that one could measure, circumscribe and put in one’s pocket, whereas for him, I think, my saying that the light was “uncreated” and unmeasurable seemed threatening, as if that somehow made it unreal. I wonder what he would have made of the Orthodox hymns in the leadup to Christmas, describing Mary’s womb as more spacious than the heavens, and he who was uncircumcribed condescending to be circumscribed.

Oh, and there’s some good and interesting stuff about Barfield on the original post on Actually reading Barfield. It’s just that it sent me off on a tangent.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. 26 December 2007 12:32 am

    I’ve been surprised lately, while in discussion with an atheist, to reflect on how passionately modern his arguments were. Either every syllable in the Bible was exactly true in every sense or the Bible itself was completely a fabrication. The idea that other cultures and other times might evaluate truth on another scale seemed, to him, to be evasion of the obvious. His were arguments cast in the methods of fundamentalism, yet in defense of atheism. Strange, is it not, how invisibly our world prejudices us?

  2. 26 December 2007 1:55 am


    Thanks for the comment. A few months ago an agnostic friend remarked on a similar experience with atheists, who insisted on the exact specifications of the god they didn’t believe in. I quoted from some of his comments in a post on Militant atheism goes west. I tried to persuade him to start a blog, but he didn’t bite.

    Fundamentalism and militant atheism seem to be two sides of the same modernist coin.

  3. 28 December 2007 12:19 pm

    I have a question: what’s modern about this attitude? Don’t we see it in paganism (both ancient & modern)?

  4. 28 December 2007 7:33 pm


    Where do you see this attitude, in either ancient or modern paganism?

    Paganism is, of course, hugely varied, so it would be hard to find a singlwe consistent attitude running right through it, and there may well be some pagans, somewhere, who have a modernist attitude. It would be interesting to know who they are.

  5. 28 December 2007 10:59 pm

    We believe in the Holy Trinity – Omnipotent and Omniscient God. So we are not able to measure in any way or to have complete knowledge about God eternal, immortal, invisible. We are to believe in God.
    In paganism the principle belief is in idols. Aren’t it? So I conclude, that to pagans it must be quite possible to measure “deity”, to know it throughout. It is true even if idol isn’t made of any material. It may be concept or idea. The main thing is that it must be produced by man.

  6. 29 December 2007 5:34 am

    Steve, thanks for the tip on the Militant Atheism interchange. I enjoyed it.
    Modernity, to me, seems dysfunctionally certain that everything is either black or white, true or untrue, which leads both atheists and fundamentalists of that stripe to insist that their arguments are more absolute than they really are.
    I wondered, as I read the M.A. post, if, in fact, Christians are part agnostic. For don’t we all have times when we say, “I believe (don’t I?). God is there (isn’t he?). I will follow him (won’t I?).”
    Faith is faith, after all, not sight; in the next world there will be no need for it.
    And I suspect modernity’s compartmentalization of us all into atheist, agnostic, or believer to be a gross oversimplification.
    Thanks be to God, he knows our hearts, and accepts us with mercy.

  7. 31 December 2007 10:56 pm

    Interesting post. I’d like to know more about this uncreated light & Mary’s womb in orthodox hymns. Can you point me in the right direction? Thanks, and Happy New Years!

  8. 1 January 2008 4:36 am

    Painter of Blue,

    There is a hymn from the Liturgy of St Basil (which is used twelve times a year in Orthodox Churches), about Mary’s womb, which expresses the meaning of Christmas pretty well:

    All of creation rejoices in you, O Full of Grace, the assembly of angels and the race of men. O Sanctified Temple and Spiritual Paradise, the Glory of Virgins, from whom God was incarnate and became a child, our God before the ages. He made your body into a throne, and your womb He made more spacious than the heavens. All of creation rejoices in you, O Full of Grace. Glory to you!

    And you can find more here.

  9. 2 January 2008 1:12 am

    This is amazing! Thanks. Can you repost the link, it doesn’t work.

    I have this quote from Meister Eckhart about uncreated light:

    “Sometimes I have spoken of a light that is uncreated and not capable of creation and that is in the soul. I always mention this light in my sermons; and this same light comprehends God without medium, uncovered, naked, as he is in himself; and this comprehension is understood as happening when birth takes place.”

    He is the only oe besides you who I have heard speak about it. I would love to hear more.


  10. 2 January 2008 3:36 am

    Painter of blue,

    Sorry about that — I’ve tried to fix the link.

    There’s another link here here

  11. 3 January 2008 8:52 pm

    Got it thanks!

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