9/11

I really thought that September 11, 2001, marked the end of post-modernism. It has been said that the Fall of the Bastille in 1789 marked the end of the pre-modern age and the beginning of modernism. It has been said that the Fall of the Berlin Wall exactly two hundred years later in 1989 marked the end of modernism and the rise of post-modernism. Surely the Fall of the World Trade Center was another collapse that made post-modernism seem outdated. Those planes crashing into those buildings was a truth that we did not construct for ourselves. On that day we saw that both evil and good are real. Instead of being just a cacophony of mutually antagonistic cultures, as the postmodernists call for, America came together. We also saw that all religions are NOT equally valid, that they do NOT teach the same thing, and that they do NOT all lead to the same ends. You would think that relativism died in the rubble of the World Trade Center.

And yet, all of that, seven years later, is back. Postmodernism, after hiding out in a hole for awhile, came back with a vengeance. How could that have happened?

Or did postmodernism die after all? Are we perhaps seeing a new kind of postmodernism, or some new world view emerging?

On this seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks, do you think America has, for better or worse, changed because of 9/11/2001?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Kirk

    I’ve heard it said that we’re in the age of post-post-modernism. No longer are we expected to be overtly tolerant to such a painful degree that we have to express how tolerant we are every time we meet someone of a differing mindset. Rather, tolerance today means simply that we don’t care in the slightest degree. It seems more logical that post-modernism, but also more horrifying. At least with post-modernism, there was some strain of civic involvement and care for others, even if it was misplaced. Now we see self-actualization at its worst.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    It feels to me that we’re all in bunkers of our choosing. We poke our heads out long enough to snipe at our neighbors’ in their bunkers, but we don’t come out or interact with them except in shallow ways, and we seldom come outto take real stock.
    More and more of us are in denial of many things: God, enemies, conlfict, morality, reality. We’re in purely defensive bunkers where we see, hear, and experience only what we wish–what little we can stomach (more cocoon than bunker); sometimes enticed out by hopes or signs of hope, but keeping one foot in the bunker for hasty retreat when that hope disappoints.
    I think very few of us step out of the hidey-hole long enough to grasp reality. Most of us prefer to manufacture our own.
    It’s a problem, this lack of reality-based thinking. Maybe it’s an age of post-reality.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    I think Kirk said it well. Sadly so.

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer Theresa K.

    Maybe it’s just my local perspective, but people seem more open to each other than before 9/11. I think that if post-modernism died, then a cousin took its place. My perspective comes from closely watching the upcoming generations of 15-20 year olds and their parents. They are well-educated, family-oriented, very caring, are conservative in their values (adjusted for today’s world), are good problem-solvers and are excited about life’s possibilities. Yes, they are too open with their personal lives on line, but it doesn’t worry them and they all do it. I have a lot of confidence in those who will be in their 40′s when I’m in my 70′s. Although the baby-boomer age still has lots of retirement dollars and votes, I think their cultural influence is over (and I’m a tail end baby boomer). I’m glad for it. Get to know the youth of today; they are something special. They will name the successor to post-post modernism.

  • http://www.rebelliouspastorswife.blogspot.com Rebellious Pastor’s Wife

    Postmodernism didn’t give up…I was in California at the time and there were interfaith worship services that night that called for forgiveness, programs in the school that studied Islamic issues to help our children understand why the Muslims might hate us (denying our own right to an objective reality, but making an effort to understand theirs).

    I think there is also sense of futility after 9-11, which is why there is a lack of help in the military efforts, why people just seem to go through the motions, and I think why the “hookup culture” and the plague of other relationships that deny any sense of a future, etc.

    Lets not forget that we don’t have a society of people who knew stability before 9-11. We have a society where more people than not grew up with divorced parents. This rocks a child’s world. It is very common for children of divorce to go through life with an expectation that the floor is going to drop out from underneath them at any time. The very relationship that should have been their sense of stability and trust failed, and usually over boredom, selfishness, or inability to work together. This generation expects and fears catastrophe, and may not have the skills to deal with it. This is the mentality of a whole society that was forced to deal with 9/11. We can’t expect the same reaction as when Pearl Harbor was bombed. The forces that have shaped these generations are not there.

    I fear we are heading away from being the society that can conquer the world, or feels that what we have to offer is good….we are the Romans, who are fearful of our borders, looking for the government to solve all of our problems and sacrificing our own rights to do so, and fearing the Barbarian at our gates and the next one, and the next one. When their families disappeared for the sake of sexual pleasure, when they had huge industries supporting their food industry and their survival, when they no longer contemplated what made man great, and instead worried about themselves and watering down their own beliefs and embracing those from outside, their society fell.

    I’m not in the habit of being the guy on the corner with the sign that says “repent” or “the world is coming to an end,” but history does repeat itself. A society that does not believe in itself, that does not have a common sense of right and wrong, that is hedonistic and selfish….does not remain.

  • CRB

    I think that #5 Rebellious..sums up best what America’s future may become. Chris Martin of Coldplay expresses
    the same outlook in the recent hit, “Viva la Vida” here:
    http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/c/coldplay/viva_la_vida.html
    Sad to say, but I believe America is headed for an age of
    nihilism, from which only the Lord Jesus Christ can deliver us.

  • http://www.rewdy.com Andrew

    I just found your blog yesterday. I really like it. Thanks for writing from a perspective that we don’t get to hear very much. It’s refreshing.

    If anything did change after 9/11, I think people have, to a large degree, forgotten about it. The sad reality is that while some thousands of people died or were hurt and many more thousands were affected by it, the very large majority of the country has only felt a difference in longer lines at the airport.

    It’s been easy to disregard “a truth that we didn’t construct” when the effects of it don’t impose themselves on the nation as a whole.

    If anything has changed, sadly, I think it’s only we’re more numb than ever.

  • eric

    Dr Veith, I think you are correct, Post-modernism did die that day, but we did not revert to modernism. The proposition that Man is too subjective for a fixed sense of right and wrong or good and evil is what died. What remains is, Yes there is wrong and evil, but that does not automatically make us right and good. For your consideration I submit the past seven years of mistakes and missed opportunities.

    Just sticking my head out of the bunker. :)

  • ELB

    I’ll second #5!

    But I’ll add that regardless of the reality that intruded onto the post-modern worldview on 9/11/01, many (most?) of those educated in the last 60 years have been ill-equipped to deal with matters of truth and reality. What have we taught, really, rigorously, about logic and evidence and analysis as a means of discovering the truth about something?

    As I mentioned in a previous post, people who are post-modern in their general view of the world don’t actually live that way in specifics. If somebody runs a stop sign and hits them, they don’t accept the ridiculous notion that “the stop sign is just YOUR reality.” Even so, you might be surprised how difficult they find the task of expressing the truth of what happened.

    One of the attractions of classical education (particularly among the Lutheran confessors) is that it conscously taught the tools of learning, discovering, conveying, and defending truth.

    The very tools and modes of thinking have caught many in a post-modern mindset regardless of the realities they face.

    Surely this campaign is an example! What inanity!
    When will someone ask these people who hope to take an oath to abide by the constitution just what the really mean by that? Will they be bound by the letter? By the “penumbra” of the constitution?
    The word demogogue was invented for those who offered to use the government to “take care of” everybody. It resorts to “feel good” instead of truth to influence the voters because so many are prone to feeling their way to a decision rather than reasoning. Feeling is a decidedly inferior way to discover objective truth.

  • http://www.christlutheran.net Jeff Samelson

    Answering the question — but really agreeing with all the previous posters in a way — I think that 9/11 actually just accentuated the lines of division that were already in our society. The “new unity” that came in its aftermath was more an emotional bond than anything else, and, like most feelings, eventually faded.

    And it wasn’t long after that we began to hear that the cause of 9/11 wasn’t Islamic radicalism in particular but religion — or at least any kind of religion that held to absolute truths — that was to blame. And many “absolutists” in turn laid blame at the feet of the “anything goes” relativists for inviting/inspiring the ire of Islamic radicals.

    9/11 thus became the slam dunk evidence for the rightness of each “side’s” views, and the basis for subsequent “We can never let this happen again” encouragements. A few people who had been sitting on the fence between these two ways of seeing things may have been pushed one way or the other, but all-in-all I think it was probably a wash — no great movement or trend.

    So, no — I don’t think 9/11 forged greater unity or a new worldview in America. It just gave everyone something more concrete, vivid, and profound to talk about for a while.

  • Anon The First

    America has changed profoundly far for the worse. We accept surveillance that our grandparents, much less the Founding Fathers never would have stood for. We are afraid of what to say because we might get sued, or pursued by BHO’s promised internal control military force as large as those commanded by the Pentagon.

    The Republic itself is pretty much finished, with Biden promising to take legal actions against the President after he is out of office. That is in significant part how the Roman Republic ended. Once you realize that letting go of power endangers you and your loved ones, you don’t let go. The next step is the crossing of the Rubicon.

    Americans have engaged in torture, something that was utterly inconceivable that American soldiers would -ever- do, it is so evil (and useless)

    We are over-extended, still vastly more dependent upon the Dar al Haj for oil than we were during the OPEC embargo, Russia is resurgent, the country is even more divided than before – I’ve seen Democrats post online that they would never want to live in a red country and that we should dare not live in one of their blue counties. We have the presidential candidate with the electoral lead promising to destroy marriage and force a demonic replacement upon the entire country, to undo all the laws restricting abortion, and based on his record, undo laws forbidding infanticide, and who promises a huge heavily armed internal security force to make sure that we all work, have our thermostats set his way, drive what he insists, and only eat our allotted food rations. (every one of those things he has promised in one speech or another).

    No, we are worse off. Much worse. If Hamas and Iran and Khaddafi get their wish and BHO is elected, it will be a nightmare, unless there is resistance in Washington.

  • Anon The First

    #5, we are in the age of the Gracci.

  • Anon The First

    ELB,
    The Educators who teach the future teachers say that we must teach the children how to think. I always thought that meant how to *think*, but based upon their statements, policies and actions, as well as mandated curricula in the schools, it would appear I misunderstood; it is *how* to think.

    They recovered very quickly after 9/11/01 with their attacks on objective truth as being the alleged cause of the attacks, rather than the teachings of al Quran and the Haddith.

  • Pingback: world trade center collapse

  • CH

    I would argue that we are in a post-modern-modernism. We still carry with us the relativism of postmodernism but at the same time there seems to be a revival of the social engineering/social planning that marked much of modernism.

    Look at Obama, he is trying to sell America on a postmodern “Great Society” built on the foundation of a postmodern facism. The insecurities and fractures that were a result of the fall of modernism are now being resolved with an appeal to a return to some of the modern trappings. The disparate communities so celebrated by postmodernism are now being “united” under a new form of central government.

    I would say though that this strong central government does not sound the nationalist trumpet in the same vein as the governments of modernism’s time. This is just one of many other postmodern characteristics that can be found.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Was talking to a friend about his wife’s work as a teacher in a private secular school. Last night was when the teachers got to share with parents their views on how children learn and education.

    My friend and I were lamenting the fact that if our Christian views about the sinfulness of children and how best to teach them were honestly shared with parents or with school administrators, we fully expect that his wife would quickly be fired from her job at a very “excellent” school in our area.

    Freedom of thought and expression IS disappearing.

  • Don S

    For about a year after 9/11, things were much better. There was a revival of faith, people were more thoughtful concerning their neighbors, etc. Then, as the event receded a bit into the past, people forgot. The Prince of this world is a powerful and tireless force, and his main job is to imbue in us a sense that our lives as we know them are permanent and we should just scurry about accomplishing our daily tasks. It’s kind of like when a loved one or close friend dies. You are reminded of your mortality and your need to focus on the spiritual, but then events overtake you and life tends to revert to its normal state.

    What really changed this country though, was when 9/11 and its aftermath because a political issue. That was truly unfortunate.

  • Michael the little boot

    Rebel @ 5,

    “I fear we are heading away from being the society that can conquer the world, or feels that what we have to offer is good….” I’m not following. Is conquering the world a good thing? You did say “or” rather than “nor.” Not trying to be nit-picky, just lost.

  • Michael the little boot

    I think the same things are wrong with the post-9/11 world that were wrong with it prior to the catastrophe. No one is willing to sit down and listen to each other so we can get past the talking, roll up our sleeves, and start WORKING for a better world. It seems clear none of the governments on this planet are going to do anything, so it’s up to us.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01763924682909630509 Orianna Laun

    I think that postmodernism has not died, yet it is in a transformation stage. A good book is “The Spiritual Society” by Fredric Baue which deals with the ends and beginnings of epochs.
    I’ve always heard that modernism ended with the sinking of the Titanic; maybe these isms carry over a while into the next ism.

  • CRB

    #19, just curious how “it’s up to us” can play out when there is some much factionalism and insistence “I am right, and you are wrong,” not only in the political realm
    but in the realm of religion. No one will give up his/her right to “be right” therefore, we stand at a stalemate.
    I’m not saying the Christian worldview should in any way be compromised but I think it is very naive to think
    that we can start working for a better world. I may sound quite pessimistic, but the reality is “we are pilgrims in this world” and we can continue to work for good, but we also know that we “have no continuing city here.”!

  • Michael the little boot

    CRB @ 21,

    I see where you’re coming from, and I share a bit of your pessimism. I don’t think a better world is guaranteed; but I think we’re guaranteed NOT to have one if we don’t work for it. Part of doing that, in my opinion, is being willing to do what you and I both said people are not willing to do: listen to each other WITHOUT a mind toward who is right or wrong.

    But I don’t really think it CAN play out in this world, when we keep saying things like “we have no continuing city here,” etc. Jesus sure thought it was worth trying to change things.

    I am definitely naive! I have no solution nor do I have a suggestion about courses of action. I was only offering what I think is a place to start. I have no illusions that I won’t find complete agreement here. :)

  • CRB

    I’m not saying that we should not work for it, but only that, as we work for it to temper that work with the reality that (as you said) “a better world is [not] guaranteed.” I think that as we work for a better world
    we can still keep in mind that we Christians “have no continuing city.”

  • Michael the little boot

    CRB,

    I just wonder if repeating the mantra “We have no continuing city” isn’t counterproductive. Although I understand your reasoning. Does that idea have behind it any motivational energy? It seems to subvert working for a better world.

  • CRB

    No, not at all. That is the reality for Christians, it’s biblical and yet we certainly can work for a better world.

  • Michael the little boot

    (Apologies if this strays too far from the topic…)

    So what about Jesus saying the Kingdom of God was at hand? The greek text seems to be more accurately translated “here” rather than “at hand.” As in, the Kingdom of God is here now, it’s not something coming at some indefinable future point. Seems to suggest a Christian’s “city” is wherever God is…and isn’t God everywhere?

  • Bill

    We ought not be surprised if 9/11/01 didn’t end post-modernism overnight. (Besides, that’s a very American-centric view of things.) Historical eras are always hard to define. Dates like 1789, 1989, etc., are easy handles imposed long afterwards for historical reference.
    A good example are the ’60s here in the US. We remember not the peace but the tumult, though that didn’t begin until maybe late ’63 with JFK’s death, and it lasted, arguably, through Watergate and Nixon’s resignation in mid-’74. But you couldn’t see that until years later.
    My own view is that 9/11/01 will be viewed decades hence as a signficant downward turn for the American empire. I suggest that the 21st century (another handy historical handle) will not be America’s century as was the last half of the 20th. We’re sliding because we have not taken care of our own house first.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Michael (@26), do you know (Koine) Greek? I only ask because I’d be impressed if you did. You could probably help me out on some matters. :)

    Anyhow, well said! God’s kingdom is in people’s hearts (and therefore why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer that his “kingdom come”, that is, that it would spread to all people) and it is here now — though not for all people. And so we Christians can say that we are in the world, but not of it, since our kingdom is with God and, ultimately, in heaven. (Does that sound confusing? We Lutherans revel in the apparent paradoxes of the Bible. But I want to be clear, as well.)

    Anyhow, as such, we know that making things better here on Earth is not our only hope for things getting better. Jesus was clear that we’ll always have the poor with us, that things will generally get worse as time goes on, the love of most will grow cold, etc. He doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the world.

    He did, however, not let that get him down. He spread the good news of salvation from sins to the people, to give them something to have besides this sin-mired world and what it offers.

    So it is that Christians mean something different than non-Christians when we talk about making things better. Helping out our neighbor, working at the food bank, giving to charity, feeding the poor, etc. — these are good things, we can all agree. But if that’s all Christians do, it’s ultimately of no value to those they serve, because those people will die along with the world. To be sure, Christians should and will love their neighbor, but the best way to do that is to share with them God’s love vis-a-vis Jesus.

    That said, Christians do sometimes seem to get so depressed with the state of things that they appear ready to throw in the towel, as if to say, “The world’s ruined; I can’t help it anymore; fooey!” That attitude’s of no use.

  • Michael the little boot

    tODD @ 28,

    I studied Koine for three semesters in college. I was HORRIBLE at it! So I’m probably no help, as I don’t “know” Koine. But it does help one’s understanding of the NT immensely. I remember certain things we translated, which is where I got the “at hand” translation. So I guess you can be partially impressed… :) I’m a generalist, which is why I work at a library.

    I definitely identify with what you’re saying about being so depressed that you give up. It’s tough not to feel that way from time to time; but I agree we should endeavor not to give in to those emotions, in order to help as much as we can.

    One thing I like about this blog is how much Lutherans DO revel in the (you say apparent, but you know we disagree on this point) contradictions of the Bible. I like the life between the cracks much more than what “fits” into the categories we create, which are really just arbitrary…

  • Anon

    Two comments on “no enduring city”

    polis isn’t an urban area, but a political unit. The area where a specific rule of law exists.

    Look up anakainaw, and what that means regarding the new Heavens and new Earth (or is that *re*newed, as anakainaw implies?)

    We weren’t made to be spirits floating about, we were made to be physical, and we will be raised in our own (healed, perfected, teleologically changed bodies) to live in the matter-energy universe, with sin and evil scrubbed away from every subatomic partical. And the Elementals (not the periodic table) will melt in the heat.

  • F.Scottie

    Postmodernism, generally speaking, was negative and, in some respects, nihilistic. Could it be possible that the pendulum is swinging the other way toward a more positive outlook, albeit non-reformational? For instance, gnosticism? I heard Sproul talking about it on the White Horse Inn as one of the prevailing worldviews of the day. I think people like it because it’s not atheism; there is a transcendental world to believe in. But it’s not dogmatic like Christianity with it’s Trinity, atonement, the virgin birth and etc.

  • Pr. Schroeder

    Maybe the common basis in Dr. Veith’s post here, Sen. Obama’s denial of absolute truth and the vitriol in modern debates is diagnosed in an article by Joseph Bottum in First Things, “The Death of Protestant America: a Political Theory”. At one time, the Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist churches were the bedrock of American civil religion. And Protestantism and the American state reinforced each other. But no more…and that from the decline of the Protestant churches in changing their fundamental understandings of Christianity and I would say their fundamental charters as churches. So toward the end of his article Mr. Bottum writes:

    “Social nature abhors a social vacuum, and the past thirty years have seen many attempts to fill the place where Protestantism used to stand. Feminism in the 1980s, homosexuality in the 1990s, environmentalism today, the quadrennial presidential campaigns that promise to reunify the nation—the struggle against abortion, for that matter: Leave aside the question of whether these movements are right or wrong, helpful or unhelpful, and consider them purely as social phenomena. In their appearance on the public stage, these political movements have all posed themselves as partial Protestantisms, bastard Christianities, determined not merely to win elections but to be the platform by which all other platforms are judged.
    Look at the fury, for instance, with which environmentalists now attack any disputing of global warming. Such movements seek converts, not supporters, and they respond to objections the way religions respond to heretics and heathens. Each of them wants to be the great vocabulary by which the nation understands itself.”

    In other words, new orthodoxies and fundamentalisms have resulted…new religions with this exception: with the loss of the recognition of God and His claim on us to judge us regarding the relative nature of our opinions and calling us to account for uncivil behaviour, has resulted in the vitriol, the oxymoronic absolutism of relativism and the exaltation of our opinions in our movements as absolute truth. Yes, social nature abhors a vacuum and it has been filled with every passing year by ‘movements’. It is religion and religious without reference to God.

  • Michael the little boot

    Anon @ 30,

    Just a question on this comment: “We weren’t made to be spirits floating about, we were made to be physical, and we will be raised in our own (healed, perfected, teleologically changed bodies) to live in the matter-energy universe, with sin and evil scrubbed away from every subatomic partical.” So, what do you do with the fact that your body and my body and the bodies of everyone here are made up of materials that once made up other bodies? Does God have a list of favorites who are going to be resurrected first? I’m just wondering where the extra material is going to come from, since material is finite.

  • Don S

    Now, Michael @ 30, I recognize that you don’t believe in God, so this whole resurrection idea is no doubt one you would treat with skepticism. But, if you did believe in the all-powerful God of the Universe, would your belief in the resurrection really break down over the difficulty that all-powerful God might have in assembling enough material to restore the physical bodies of those believers? Would material be finite to the all-powerful God of the Universe?

  • Michael the little boot

    Don @ 34,

    I wasn’t concerned with ideas like “all-powerful God” or JUST the finite material problem. I was addressing the idea that “We weren’t made to be spirits floating about, we were made to be physical” which mr. or mrs. Anon brought up. I was only talking in light of this intriguing thought. So I was thinking…does God use the material from all the (other) animals and the nonbelievers in order to have enough material for those who are redeemed? If we’re not souls floating around, we would have to be made of the stuff that’s here. Right? I guess God could just make MORE material; but, in light of Anon’s assertion that we have no immaterial soul, I have to assume “me” or “I” – that is, myself – would BE the stuff of which I’m made. Hence why I asked the question about material being finite.

    BUUUT…you bring up an interesting topic. How do you define “all-powerful” as it relates to God as you define God (him/her/it)? How ’bout the old stand-by “Can God create a rock too heavy for God to lift?” Because you can’t have it all. If God is all-powerful, how can God simultaneously create a rock too heavy for God to lift, and also be all-powerful enough TO LIFT IT? I mean, this is philosophy of religion 101 stuff. :)

    (Smiley smile just in case my sense of humor is still on the fritz…)

  • CRB

    This probably does not pertain to Dr. Veith’s question, but it is relative to 9/11 and is an excellent article:
    http://www.victorhanson.com/articles/hanson091108.html


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X