We are reading through Colossians along with Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat (W-K), with their Colossians Remixed, and today we will look further at the first chapter.
We read Colossians in its context and — just as importantly — we read Colossians from our context. W-K see three major themes in our context today, and they are the one shaping “William’s” quest — who represents the postmodern — as we begin to read Colossians:
1. Postmodern disquiet, flanked simultaneously by
2. Cybernetic global optimism fueled by
#1: “In the face of betrayals [the world doesn’t bring what we say it offers] and failures of past overarching metanarratives, culturewide suspicion and incredulity takes hold. A single story, providing coherence to personal identity, grounding for ethical action and passion for life in history, is displaced by a carnivalesque existence of fragmentation, numbness and boredom. Final decisions based on rational analysis give way to the undecidability of keeping all options open and the spiritual promiscuity of pop religion” (25).
In other words, “Someone has told them a story, spun them a line, about the good life, and it has proved to be a lie” (22).
Crucial, so it seems to me, is the combination of #1 with #2: those with a postmodern numbness somehow are also confident and optimistic about world progress (an old modernity theme) through technology. Is the campaign to ending poverty part of this? Is it the revival of an old modernist optimism of world peace in a new guise? (I sometimes refer to this as the eschatology of politics and I want you to know that this question haunts me at times.)
#2: “the new and improved [cybernetic] modernity is confident that information technology will be able to deliver on our deepest dreams and realize our most precious values” (27). This cultural force comes with promise: “the blossoming of a new civilization that will eventually bring an end to international conflict, resolve hitherto intractable problems like poverty and environmental degradation, and produce increased prosperity for all” (28).
Here’s my question: Is the attraction of some in the emerging movement for progressive liberalism, or classic Protestant liberalism, not a postmodern but a modernist impulse? Is it an attraction to an eschatology of political process?
Hauerwas: “To often postmodernists turn out to be liberals in their ethics and politics who no longer believe in the conceits of liberalism but have nowhere else to go.”
#3: Globalism transforms the imagination and is in essence a religion. It is not “just an aggressive stage in the history of capitalism. It is a religious movement of previously unheard-of proportions” (30). Globalization is an empire that is totalizing. And W-K argue that the postmodern disquiet is participation in globalization and its protest against power is really its defense mechanism for choice and pluralism. “Not only is postmodernity no real threat to the empire of consumerism, it also provides ideological comfort to that empire” (32).