Metamodernism and It’s Impending Challenge to Christianity

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Metamodernism and It’s Impending Challenge to Christianity

Among the trend-setters in society, postmodernism is already dead and in its wake, a new zeitgeist is emerging known as metamodernism. In this article I will take a brief dive into the metamodern ideology and its impending challenge for the mission of the church.

 

In keeping with postmodernism, metamodernism has yet to be adequately defined. It can also be separated into three expressions: 1) philosophy, 2) art, and 3) pop-culture.

 

In its philosophical strand, you will find the same level of complexity and diversity that marks postmodernism. Hence, political philosopher Hanzi Freinacht could say,

 

There are many strands of thought in contemporary philosophy that could be branded as metamodern… [that offer an approach to] life, science, reality, spirituality, art, society and the human being.[1]

 

Of course, its artistic expressions differ from the philosophical perspective and its pop-cultural manifestation is more diluted still. Therefore, in the spirit of pragmatism, I will highlight only its most common manifestation and make some practical observations.

 

In doing so, it is my goal to explain the metamodern foundation to the non-philosophical reader, thus the following observations will be simplified. For those who want a more thorough philosophical treatment of this topic, feel free to visit the sources annotated in the footnotes and linked below.

 

A Simplified Look at Metamodernism

 

Metamodernism is not new. It is, in fact, quite old (as in 1970s old) and has recently begun to claim attention as one of the leading contenders in replacing the fading influence of postmodernity.[2] But it’s more accurate to say that metamodernism is continuing postmodernism rather than replacing it. This is because much of postmodernism remains in metamodernism with new elements introduced.

 

To keep things simple I will, as stated before, focus exclusively on metamodernism’s most common manifestation. That manifestation can be best described as a non-rhythmic bouncing back and forth between two opposing ideologies. An “extension of and challenge to both modernism and postmodernism.”[3]

 

But that definition does not help much, so let’s zoom in a bit and try and make more sense of it. Metamodernism is an oscillation between the cynical irony of postmodernism and the naive sincerity of the modern age.

 

Modernists naively believed they could change the world through science (as one tiny example). Postmodernists, on the other hand, distanced themselves from this belief by virtue of its failure to manifest anything it promised. For the postmodernist, cynical irony took the place of this positive view of progress. But the cynical irony has left us bankrupt. We avoid the foolishness of believing the world is trending somewhere good, but end up empty.

 

So the metamodernist suggests that the way forward is to keep the distance while simultaneously embracing the naivety. To quote Freinacht again,

This… perspective leads us… to see that you can be an atheist but still have a profound spiritual life and be brimming with faith in the divine; to be both Left and Right… to have a holistic perspective where all things are beautifully interconnected, yet recognizing that the universe is always tragically broken and that there is no hope for full salvation.

And in that hopeless place of a broken universe, and no God, and no direction of progress, and with a guarantee that you’ll always be mistaken in the end, and with the recognition that whatever you say will be misinterpreted and misused, and that you won’t be the hero or the good guy in the end – you still go ahead with religious fervor, with pristine sincerity…[4]

 

Perhaps one of the best sources (that I can think of) to understand the metamodern mind is the #IAMSORRY performance by actor Shia LeBeouf at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival.

 

LeBeouf emerged on the red carpet with a brown paper-bag covering his head, two neatly cut holes for his eyes, and the words “I am not famous anymore” written on the front end of the bag. How does this bizzare scenario to reflect the metamodern oscillation? Film director Abigail Ann Schwarz explains:

 

#IAMSORRY seems to be itself swinging like a frenzied pendulum between opposing thematic elements: LaBeouf wears a bag over his head that reads “I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE,” yet people are lined up around the block just to see him wear it… his face is [originally] covered, but he is crying and seems to present an emotionally open front… you can do whatever you want within the exhibit, but there will be no record of you ever doing it… LaBeouf is sorry, and yet he again borrows from an artist uncredited… he is listening and reacting to what the audience has to say, and yet he wears earplugs… The list goes on and on.[5]

 

By exhibiting a list of contradictions in relation to each other, LeBeouf is oscillating. This in-between state is precisely what metamodernism is attempting to birth.

 

So what is metamodernism? If we are to focus on its most common manifestation (which practically speaking is the part that the culture will run with) then we are talking about an emerging vision du monde that embraces two equally opposing ideas at the same time: (such as hopelessness and enthusiasm).

 

However, the metamodernist is not balancing the two ideas as in a paradox, but rather swaying non-rhythmically between them with cynicism remaining the core and sincerity playing the role of escape.

 

Metamodernisms Challenge

 

How does this present a challenge to Christianity? That awaits to be fully seen. Taking into account the garbled nature of pop-postmodernism, one can only assume a similar manifestation in cultural metamodernism.

 

In keeping with assumptions, I offer a purely speculative vision of a cultural mood in which a person can be both a Christian and an agnostic, believing that God is undiscoverable while simultaneously embracing the naive sincerity of the church-goer who thinks God is personal and intimate, believing that salvation is impossible while embracing the “self-deluding” scriptural promises of atonement and redemption, or believing in the reabsorption of consciousness into the universe while pulsing jaggedly toward the promise of a conscious eternity in a society rebirthed by God (a potential manifestation of the Christian-Buddhist trend).

 

Adherents to this cultural shift will prove difficult to reach while appearing open to the gospel. We may even see a resurgence in church attendance, baptisms and membership without realising that many of our “converts” may very well be oscillating between their cynical hopelessness in the final fate of the universe, and the gullibility of faith in a final restoration.

 

In other words, they won’t really believe the gospel but will add it to the cynical irony they already carry. This will be, in some ways, comparable to the Hindu who receives Christ and adds him to his pre-existing pantheon of gods (the “both-and” perspective of the metamodern is preceded by Eastern synthesis and appears to be a recreation of it[6]), or to the wolf who covers his authentic-self in the garment of a sheep while never truly experiencing a metamorphosis of being.

 

In a Huffington Post piece titled “Metamodernism: The Basics”, contributor Seth Abramson makes the following observation:

 

Metamodernism seeks to collapse distances, especially the distance between things that seem to be opposites.[7]

 

It is this collapse between distances—this sporadic dance between sincerity and irony, salvation and annihilation, dystopia and eutopia—that most clearly identifies the metamodern challenge.

 

From a philosophical perspective this is an insulting oversimplification, but recall, I am not concerned with the philosopher, but rather, with the broad culture that feeds on the regurgitated remains of her meal. And it is there, in the culture, that this attenuated brand of metamodernism will take its place as a new ethic for a new generation.

 

A critical analysis thus leads me to conclude that to a large degree metamodernism is a contemporary fulfillment of Karl Marx’s functional assertion of religion when he famously stated, “Religion… is the opium of the people.”[8]

 

This oft quoted declaration was Marx’s way of saying that religion often blinds people to the real changes needed around them. It promises them an escape from a reality they should be invested in reforming. Therefore, in Marx’s view, there is a real despair in society that needs to be addressed, but goes ignored because of the religious cloak that conceals it.

 

In metamodernism, it appears to me, the cloak is reintroduced (albeit adapted to the context) so that the practitioners experience in the divine is really an opiate they intentionally consume to avoid the cynicism of postmodernity they believe but refuse to concede. By oscillating back and forth between irony and sincerity, the metamodern maintains his ironic core but admits it is unlivable, and therefore—against all odds—embraces the naive optimism of the modernist. If this is not a contemporary display of Marx’s “opium-motif” I don’t know what is.

 

While this certainly poses a challenge for the disciple-maker, as in postmodernism, it also brings with it brilliant opportunities for dialogue and cultural transformation. For example, if cultural metamoderns engage in the metaxy (the in-between) of irony and sincerity then this opens up the heart to the possibility of redemption and restoration that was mocked in postmodernism.

 

The challenges posed by its negative slant on optimistic faith as “naive” is a challenge that, as in all other systems of thought, can be overcome by a combination of meaningful dialogue and the influence of the Holy Spirit upon the human heart. But at least there is a positive openness to the possibility, even if that openness is, in all honesty, a backhanded compliment.

 

Metamodernism, because of its oscillating nature, also embraces and rejects postmodernism’s deconstruction of truth and reason. Instead, it seeks to reconstruct. In doing so, the metamodern is required to re-embrace modernity’s assumed trust in the reliability of human cognition.

 

The relativistic approach to truth is thus discarded, but not entirely. It is more accurate to say it is enveloped in a resurgence of naivety toward truth as a potential absolute, though a multiplex one at best. Suspicion and cynicism toward hierarchy, history, and institutions is also subsumed by a pragmatic admittance of their necessity and reliability. All of these emerging moods coalesce to give us the metamodern worldview.

 

Why it Matters

 

But why is this important? The answer is simple. Adventism began to explore the impact of postmodernism when postmodernism was already beginning to fade. In fact, many of our discussions on the topic began in the current century despite the fact that postmodernism emerged post-World War 2 and was in full swing by the 1950s. We now discuss the postmodern mind in detail and with good reason.

 

Postmodernism is one of the dominant current milieus in the contemporary secular sphere. But this is already beginning to change. The millennial infatuation with social justice, political activism, and the humanitarian ethos is a phenomenon that fits more consistently with metamodernism and its re-embrace of modernism’s utopian potential, than with postmodernism and its “impulse” toward a dystopian vision of urban poverty and the future of society.[9]

 

The rising popularity of “occult New Age wisdom”, a return to the way of the ancients, #notmypresident (with its morally absolute critique of Donald Trump), and the nearly overnight stardom of the messiah-like Jordan Peterson also hint at the death of postmodernism and the arrival of a new ethos.[10]

 

Thus, metamodernism is already happening around us and will soon emerge as a dominant ideological construct for society at large. Shall Adventism respond decades late once more? Shall we maintain our reactionary posture toward cultural change? Or will we be proactively prepared to influence the culture instead?

 

But there is a slightly more complex reason why understanding and influencing the metamodern conversation is so important. According to political sociologist Brent Cooper, there is a sense in which

 

[t]here can be nothing beyond metamodernism… because it implies building permanent peace based on conciliating between past, present, and future.[11]

 

In other words, metamodernism “is a totalizing ideology in the best sense possible”[12] and thus, we may very well be looking at a philosophical construct to which there is no “beyond”.

 

In short, this means that our evangelistic mission will increasingly have to adjust to the systemic entropy and cultural fragmentation that metamodernism seeks to resolve. And when it fails—as the fall of Babylon predicts—humanity will be left with no philosophical alternative to turn to. All will have been tried and tested to no avail. And when the dust settles, only Christ will remain.

 

Of course, we are free to disagree with this observation. Perhaps metamodernism is not the end of man’s ideological road. Nevertheless, I agree with Coopers statement that, “[o]ne way or another, [metamodernism] will come to define the 21st century.” [13] We, the church, cannot afford to ignore it. And because it is only now emerging into the academic consciousness, we are poised to be on the front end of its development and not the tail.

 

In conclusion, postmodernism is dead in the philosophical and artistic worlds. Metamodernism, while not the only emerging alternative, appears to be taking the lead. In due time, a diluted version of this complex system of thought will trickle down to the culture and emerge in a series of platitudes, cliches and banal axioms that will (and I speculate) fuel a whole new approach to faith as an intentionally incongruent refuge from an a priori embrace of approaching despair.

 

Christians will have to work hard to both understand the nuances of the phenomenon as it unfolds and, simultaneously, present to the culture an authentic Christianity that works in the lives of believers by exhibiting in them the reality and reliability of the gospel’s transformative promise. And if they see that reality unfold, they will perhaps be more open to the possibility that universal redemption is true and a promise worth believing without oscillation.[14]

Editorial Note: To learn more about how to reach Postmoderns and Metamoderns see Marcos Torres latest e-book “How to Study The Bible with Post Moderns


______

Notes.

[1] Hanzi Freinacht, “Metamodernism: The Conquest of a Term,” Metamoderna, accessed: 01/19.

[2] Other emerging alternatives (though less influential) include: Digimodernism, Pseudomodernism, Automodernism and Altermodernism. For more see, Timotheus & Robin van den Akker Vermeulen, “Notes on Metamodernism,” T & F Online; accessed: 01/19.

[3] Michael D. Harris, Transatlantic Dialogue: Contemporary Art In and Out of Africa (University of Washington Pr; 1st. ed, January 1, 2000), p. 49.

[4] Hanzi Freinacht, “Metamodernism: The Conquest of a Term,” Metamoderna, accessed: 01/19.

[5] Abigail Ann Schwarz, “On LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner’s Metamodern Performance Art,” Metamodernism; accessed: 01/19.

[6] For a more thorough exploration of Eastern synthesis see: Jared Williams, “Logic Battle – East vs. West,” Countertop Ministries; accessed: 01/19.

[7] Seth Abramson, “Metamodernism: The Basics,” Huffington Post; accessed: 01/19.

[8] As quoted in, Blau, Rosie. “What is the Opium of the People?1843 Magazine; accessed 01/19.

[9] Jeffrey Loyl Hicks, “The Dystopian Cityscape in Postmodern Literature and Film,” Escholarship; accessed: 01/19.

[10] For more on the Jordan Peterson phenomenon, see Josh Petti, “On the crisis of Metamodernism, Jordan Peterson, and the coming revolution,” Medium; accessed: 01/19.

[11] Cooper, Brent. “‘Beyond’ Metamodernism,” Medium; accessed: 01/19.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Further Reading

Metamodernism: The Basics by Seth Abramson

What is Metamodernism? by Hanzi Freinacht

The Difference Between Post- and Meta-modernism by Hanzi Freinacht

Notes on Metamodernism by Timotheus Vermeulen & Robin van den Akker

The Metamodernist Manifesto

 

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About the author

Marcos Torres

Marcos Torres is a pastor in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. He loves talking about faith, culture and Adventism. You can follow his blog at www.thestorychurchproject.com.

  • The Abs-Tract Org.

    Marcos, great article! I really appreciate the citations and engagement with metamodernism. I recently published about new sources of MM, two of which comes from Christians – Borgmann and Gonzalez – so there is ample ground for a post-secular metamodern christian perspective. I’d love your thoughts. It is a 4-part series, starting here: https://medium.com/the-abs-tract-organization/missing-metamodernism-5da6b0b35dde