Modernists or the Postmoderns - Sample Essay

Who’s Right About Reality: Traditionalists, Modernists, or the Postmoderns? According to Smith (2001), it was in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Europe where people stumbled on a new way of knowing that we refer to as the scientific method. It centers in the controlled experiment and has given us ways to make modern science more comprehensible.

This is why Smith (2001) divided the traditional, spiritual view of humanity and the cosmos, which had suffered a loss of plausibility under the assaults of modernity (with its scientific cosmology) and a loss of moral authority under the assault of postmodernity’s “fairness revolution. ” modernity and postmodernity have their own problems—they are incapable of satisfying the hunger for meaning that is the strength of the traditional view, nor can they accommodate the spiritual experiences that people will always insist on having.

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Chapter 2. The Great Outdoors and the Tunnel Within It Traditional worldview may mean less interesting and less important to many theologians but also, it may be a more uncomfortable topic for them to consider because it often is manifested in unexpected ways. Smith (2001) deemed that modern society is currently moving into a tunnel. At the grounded level, the spirit moves in mysterious ways—apparently too mysterious for some theologians.

Not only may theologians’ discomfort reflect the unusual nature and character of the specific areas of integration of society and religion that occur at a grassroots level but also it may reflect the challenge they may feel on issues of identity, power, and authority. Smith (2001) indicated that improvements are possible and we should do our best to effect them. But Smith (2001) cited Robert Frost that he put the matter into perspective that each must wreak our will on the world in our own ways.

Chapter 3. The Tunnel as Such. In this chapter, Smith (2001) expounded more on the questions of truth suspended. He discussed the scientific worldview that faired poorly in the preceding chapter. Smith (2001) deemed it seems safe to say that the five-point comparison of the traditional and scientific worldviews in the preceding chapter shows the former to be more conducive to a positive lifestance than is the latter. Smith (2001) mentioned that the twentieth century replaced utopias with dystopias.

The century in which politicians preyed on hope as never before-promising “the war to make the world safe for democracy,” “the century of the common man”, “the four freedoms”, “one world”, “the great society”, and “the new world order” — saw utopian writing come to a dead halt. Smith (2002) proved in this chapter that people have been positioned in the tunnel in the terrain it runs through. Chapter 4. The Tunnel’s Floor: Scientism One aspect of scientism is the idea that any question that can be answered at all can best be answered by science.

This, in turn, is very often combined with a quite narrow conception of what it is for an answer, or a method of investigation, to be scientific. Specifically, it is supposed that canonical science must work by disclosing the physical or chemical mechanisms that generate phenomena. Together these ideas imply a narrow and homogeneous set of answers to the most diverse imaginable set of questions. Everywhere this implies a restriction of the powers of the human mind; but nowhere is this restriction more disastrous than in the mind’s attempts to answer questions about itself.

This topic, the effect of scientism of this sort on attempts to understand the human mind and the human behaviour through which the mind is displayed, is what this book is about. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, misguided approaches to the understanding of human behaviour, or human nature, are fraught with danger. Smith (2001) indicated our scientific age has summoned concerns with scientism’s effect on our time and our collective mindset.

Also, Smith (2001) accused society has maneuvered science “to turn it into a sacred cow is idolatry. He thought the media and our legal and educational systems all participate in putting science on a pedestal as the final agent of truth. Chapter 5. The Tunnel’s Left Wall: Higher Education According to Smith (2001), higher education has always been a vehicle for social mobility, but now a college degree is needed simply to stand still and and stave off the specter of the minimum wage.

Though university scientists today have bemoaned the new cultural criticism of science and religion, there are no strictures on teaching. The greatest complaint from natural scientists might be that, still, some students reject the theory of evolution. Smith (2001) also criticized the logical limit of today’s depersonalized education is courses that proceed entirely by Internet. However, Smith (2001) suggested that we should become optimistic that the future will resolve, one by one, the mysteries of genes and the history of life.

One mystery for which he has no use, however, is religion, and we should continually adhere to it without debunking the knowledge of evolutionary science to keep it all together. Chapter 6. The Tunnel’s Roof: The Media. The history of U. S. news coverage of the evolution-creation debate suggested that the Scopes trial in 1925 has been nearly impossible to forget. Its symbols and themes have dominated the press’s handling of the topic. The task of reporting facts with fairness and accuracy was sorely tested.

Some of the reporters are writing controversial matter, arguing the case, asserting that civilization is on trial. The average news writer is trying to stick to the facts as revealed in court, but it is a slippery, tricky job at best. Not until the 1980s were some of these assumptions shaken. The decade before, creationists had experimented with a new strategy: they claimed that teaching the “religion of evolution” violated religious freedom, or that Genesis should get equal mention to balance the viewpoints.

Fundamentalists and secular humanists were already doing battle on these topics, but when presidential candidate Jimmy Carter acknowledged being “born again,” many of these religious issues finally became fair game in newsrooms. Smith (2001) suggested that media should return to the general picture. It must frustrate camera reporters no end that the human spirit is invisible. This idea has not been toppled, but mass-communications experts have augmented it by saying “frames” imposed on the facts created a new media reality. And it is this reality that Smith (2001) is criticizing.

Chapter 7. The Tunnel’s Right Wall: The Law Religious influences on the political process may result in laws that are both constitutionally and morally problematic. In the religious freedom debate, particularly, a crucial understanding is lost when the debates are paraphrased, rephrased, and summarized: The same words are used to connote radically different ideas, and hence the vagueness of the terms framing the debate is the source of much of the confusion and complexity surrounding the issue of religious freedom within the Christian tradition.

The advocates’ (for there are no “neutral” theologians in this debate) own words, and word choices, reveal both the context and parameters of their conception of the extent of religious freedom (“macro” view), as well as the meanings and definitions they impart to often- used individual words which make up the debate (“micro” view), that is, terms as basic as “Christian” and “order. ” Furthermore, extensive exposure to the actual words and word choices of the participants can be helpful clues to motives, prejudices, passions, and attitudes which are driving the debate.

Thus, according to Smith (2001), through hundreds of federal and state cases relating to American religious freedom in the last two hundred years, the phrase “compelling state interest” had emerged as the test for state intervention. . Diversity in religion is foundational to U. S. society, and from the beginning, religious freedom has been held as an ideal in our country. This is why in our modern society, religion should be recognized and respected. Chapter 8. Light. Smith (2001) professed, in this chapter, that there is still hope at the end of the “tunnel”.

According to him, everywhere in recorded history light doubles for intelligibility, comprehension, understanding, and-underlying all of these is our conscious awareness. Smith (2001) perceived that light is essential, literally and figuratively. He deemed that the exchange of light maintains our universe from the level of atoms and molecules on up. He also explained in this chapter Einstein’s theory of relativity– that relativity concerns space; but physics locks space, time, and matter together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

He also mentioned that “Lusseyran’s account is the closest I have seen to a description of what Einstein’s and Planck’s light might feel like if we human beings could experience it directly” (p. 142). Chapter 9. Is Light Increasing: Two Scenarios Citing Niels Bohr, Smith (2001) assumed that prediction is very difficult, especially about the future. Similarly, Hegel cashed in on the forward-looking stance of those revolutions and fashioned from it a worldview. Again, in this chapter, Smith (2001) voiced out how religion has been marginalized by scientific worldview, both politically and intellectually.

He observed that present people keep trying to fill the void inside them. In the East, it is called enlightenment and in the West, it is called salvation. He considered that what we see now has been screened of beauty and what we see is the “Pure Light of the Void” as Goethe called it “light’s suffering, which too is arresting. As our history was composed of what Darwin appropriated, Hegel and Marx are hailed to be as the modernists who “tend to think with science on matters of truth” (p. 146).

Marx considered religion “the sob of an oppressed humanity”, whereas Hegel’s idealism transformed into materialism and progress became nightmare in itself. This is why Smith (2001) urged us to sees through the eyes of faith with our religion, and in doing so we could take gaze in a different world. Or better said, we see the same world in a different light. According to Smith, “If we are religiously ‘unmusical’ and religious accounts leave us cold, the situation is univocal: the God-is-dead pronouncement tells the tale.

Those who have religious sensibilities, however, have a problem” (p. 149). Chapter 10. Discerning the Signs of the Times Here, Smith (2001) provides appropriate anecdotes that contended that religion is not dead. It is quite deplorable for Nietzsche to think that God is dead. According to him, our sign of times provide plenty of rooms for us to fill in the gaps with our own philosophic or religious convictions. He cited that Marx was right about the suffering masses but wrong about social engineering as the solution.

That is why we should all preach better than we practice, so that should not be held against the truth of the Marx’s expositions. Surprising in his “straws in the wind” assertion suggested that “religion has been central to evolution since the human species appeared”, religion is returning to the universities as students wrestle with ultimate values and meanings, scientific triumphalism is giving way to peaceful co-existence, secular humanism has lost its intellectual supporters and mental health professionals are exploring the resources of spirituality.

Moreover, Smith (2001) related that “beyond reasonable doubt that the warfare model continues to remain solidly entrenched as the dominant one and scientific triumphalism has peaked, and hope increases for a peaceful coexistence” (p. 157). Furthermore, Smith (2001) contended that science has given religion a hard time. It reduced religions into slogans; religion is an opiate for the masses, illusion, slave-mentality, and surplus baggage (p. 162).  Three Sciences and the Road Ahead In this chapter, Smith (2001) discussed the imminent future of three sciences: Physics, Biology and Cognitive Psychology.

In physics, he pointed out the authority of the EPR (Einstein-Podoisky-Rosen) experiment, which establishes that the universe is nonlocal. This nonlocality provides us with the first level platform since modern science arose on which scientists and theologians can continue their discussions. Also, physics still grapple with irreducible uncertainty. No event can be perceived in exactly the same way by all observers, and there is an irreducible uncertainty that precludes the possibility. In biology, Smith (2001) aims his pot-shots on Darwin. He purported that the evidence is slim – fossil evidence has missing links.

Smith (2001) coined out what other force holds such regressive formalism in place: The only suggestion is that the anti-theological significance of evolutionism as a worldview continues to outweigh its scientific value. By calling into question the Darwinian universe, we would at the same time be restoring the openness to the transcendent creator. It is in other words the fear of God that prevents the biological community from too openly discarding a theory they have long ceased to honor in practice. Smith acknowledges that many professionals do not share his views.

Biology is granted no such respect. Smith is certain that evolution is a threat to the feel-good theism he promotes, meaning that it must be brushed aside. But he is a busy fellow who can’t be troubled to come up with his own bad arguments. So he boasts of his association with Icons of Evolution author Jonathan Wells, and brazenly repeats the charges of fraud and dishonesty leveled therein (p. 180). What is unlikely is that Smith (2001) affirmed that the anti-theological evidence significance of evolution may be more important than its scientific value.

Lastly, cognitive psychology, the youngest of the three, still has to resolve the mind-body problem foisted on the world by Rene Descartes, who split the world into mind and matter and used God to bridge the two halves. Chapter 12. Terms for the Detente Smith (2001) claimed that science is what replaced traditional societies with the modern, technological, industrial world. What accomplished that transition was the controlled experiment. As world-class scientists evolved, like David Bohm in quantum mechanics, Carl Sagan in cosmology, Ilya Prigogene in chemistry, and Karl Pribram in neuroscience, what they achieved is just repeat science.

However, Smith (2001) criticized that most of the things that most of mankind has most believed in did not show on the map of reality that education had gave him (p. 194). Smith (2001) further argued that there simply some things that science itself cannot deal with. For example, values (it can do instrumental but not intrinsic, descriptive but not normative values), Existential and global meanings, Final causes – the “why” of things and other invisible things. Chapter 13. This Ambiguous World In life, we are often forged incrementally (and almost unnoticed) by the daily micro-decisions life requires of us.

According to Smith 2001, “Life is a tale told by an idiot” and it comes to us like a giant Rorschach inkblot. As human beings, scientists can invest themselves in many questions, but their science alone will not help them find answers to them. Smith (2001) argued that our questions in life’s answer-book will just deprive us with free will and we could not apply them mechanically to our problems. Moreover, he lambasted the “Dear Abby” column from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in which Abby expressed disbelief at a reader’s being able to belong simultaneously to a Presbyterian church, a Catholic church, a synagogue and Christian Science.

With this, Smith (2001) judged that the reason why Abby could not comprehend the multiple affiliations was that “she was a Westerner. A Chinese would have had no difficulty” (p. 208). Also, religious liberals and conservatives were not spared because Smith (2001) said that “liberals do not recognize the spiritual wholeness that can come from the sense of certainty” (p. 211). Chapter 14. The Big Picture Smith (2001) described the “Big Picture” found in all human traditions, in which we could recognize variously the twofold reality of “this world” and “the Other world”.

This world includes the material and the immaterial (like sentience); the Other world includes God as both knowable and utterly beyond us. He discussed that the contemporary middle-class citizens of the United States–have, he says, entered a tunnel whose end we cannot see and whose walls turn our gaze away from the world beyond us and back upon ourselves. This constriction prevents us from having a Big Picture, a view of things as a whole from which we can derive a sense of meaning and direction for our lives. The long-term absence of any such view starves the spirit and brings with it varieties of malaise.

This narcissistic spiritual starvation is, for Smith, our fundamental problem as the third millennium begins. Having a “Big Picture” will empower to find meaning and will permit us, spiritually speaking, to breathe freely again and to have a more complete view of things. Life without such a Big Picture is narrow, dark, and difficult. Chapter 15. Spirituality Types Smith (2001) envisioned that religion could cut across all religious communities, the four “spiritual personality types”: atheists, polytheists, monotheists, and mystics.

The first type affirms only material reality; the second adds spirits; for monotheists, one God rules all things; and for mystics, God is “all in all”. Smith (2001) viewed these “types” as exhibiting more important religious differences than those between the great world religions, and he sees spirit as more fundamental than matter. Thus, there is perceived futility of trying to discover how consciousness comes from material reality. The general term religion covers all of the various forms of organized worship. Worldwide forms such as Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity are obvious examples.

Each of these has a number of sects or denominations that differ from others within the same religion. Of course, many numerically smaller types of religions exist as well, such as Bahai or Gnosticism. Even though these groups are small, their adherents are as devoted to the spiritual beliefs of the religions as members of larger groups. Spirituality as a part of everyday life has been important to all civilizations (Smith, 2001). Chapter 16. Spirit Smith (2001) engaged to explain the differences between spirituality and religion. He deemed that spirituality is not institutionalized.

Spirit in each of us survives bodily death, and all individuals are eventually saved. Salvation may mean beatific vision, or absorption into the divine with loss of personal self-awareness. In his final plea to scientists to try to understand the religious sense, Smith (2001) outlined its four characteristics: (1) it recognizes that asking ultimate questions is the defining essence of our humanity; (2) it recognizes the enormous distance between these questions and our answers, which never quite reach their goal; (3) still, we advance toward that goal; and (4) we do it in community.

Conclusion Although Smith (2001) sounded somewhat self-righteous in writing this book, he had proved that his intentions were quite viable. Smith criticized the scientific community, academia, the law and the media for contributing to increasing secularism in American life. In addition, he placed much of the blame squarely on the shoulders of modernism and the worldview stemming from the scientific revolution. He said that modernism led to faith in technology; unhindered progress; and the provable, quantifiable natural world.

This was the main cause of religion being attacked as something superstitious or an “opiate for the masses” and providing psychological comfort. However, there are salient points when he argued that for a meaningful life, in addition to relating to nature and learning to get along with other people, we need to relate to the total scheme of things. Having a “big picture” provides meaning for our existence, casts some light on the problem of pain and death and orients us in the direction of religious faith, hope and love.

All in all, Smith produced a “spirited” work that could spark debate, which makes this book s an intellectually exciting exposition both accessible to laymen and scholars. Clearly, he demonstrated familiarity with a vast range of topics from scientific, philosophical and religious explanations.


Smith, Huston. Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief. New York: Harper San Francisco, 2001.



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