Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be English Majors

Finally, there is what the authors of the study call "postmodernism," a term I don't like in this context but which works as a good-enough shorthand. The post-enlightenment intellectual movements that chartered the social sciences and have come to define the modern humane academy represent a series of attacks on the "first truths" of the enlightenment: that the world is knowable; that human reason and human will are free; that personal identity is coherent and sacred; that truth, goodness, and beauty reinforce one another. Religion in its modern forms has fully integrated these first truths as organizing categoricals. If confidence in these organizing categories is disrupted, then the promises of religion are thrown into doubt.

It will be the great challenge of believers in this century to respond to these challenges. If the last century's encounter with science is any guide, religious voices will first deny the challenges of the social sciences and humanities, and then will largely sidestep them by pulling back the scope of their claims. Finally, a minority of religious voices will respond directly to the challenge, and that way forward is already coming into view. Religions offer a social vision of human experience, a communitarian cradle for sharing knowledge and interpreting. In this sense they can embrace the postmodern observation that all knowledge is contextual. Simon Peter asked Christ, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." Knowledge is nothing more than a web of relationships: that truth connects humans over the seminar table just as it does over the sacrament table.

4/26/2011 4:00:00 AM