Rebutting The Postmodern Philosophy Of Language

Adam_and_Eve019Much of postmodernism stems from an assertion that language shapes the way humans think, but humans, in turn, cannot stand outside of language to investigate it objectively. Thus, language is powerful because it shapes human thought, but it is impoverished because it is unable to serve as a means to examine itself.

Recognizing the power and poverty of language, poststructuralism implies that all knowledge, including its own, must be taken on faith.
How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith, Crystal Dowing, p. 126.

Downing asserts that this view of language is Biblical, citing God’s identification of His name to Moses as Yahweh—I AM WHO I AM. “As though in recognition that language molds perception, God communicates a Self that transcends the limitations of any noun referring to a created entity” (p. 127).

Her summation follows:

The power of language to mold, and hence limit, our understanding of God thus implies its poverty. Language cannot capture the essence of God because it is a human, not a divine, creation.

This is wrong on many levels.

First, Man did not create language. Downing’s own assumption destroys this theory–how could a man without language create language if we are molded BY language?

I refer back to the Bible, where God commanded Adam to care for the garden, keep it, cultivate it, refrain from eating of the fruit of a certain tree. Clearly, God initiated this conversation. Language had to be His idea.

He also put Adam in charge of naming the animals BEFORE Eve was created. Adam had no “cultural” reason to name things, yet he did so as a response to God’s command.

Does this mean that Man created language? Not the concept of language, surely. Individual words, yes–in that regard only, Man “creates” language.

Other Scriptural evidences that language is God’s creation include the fact that He named Man. He named Woman. Later in history, He wrote with His finger in stone the commandments He wanted His people to follow. He also specified that He inspired all Scripture–the words that reveal Who He is and what He does.

Secondly, the idea that Man cannot capture the essence of God because of the poverty of language is flawed.

Man cannot capture the essence of God, according to the Bible, because sin separates us from Him. Sin blinds, so we do not see His essence. We do not seek after Him. We are, like Adam, hiding from Him.

Postmodernism promotes the concept that God is hard to find, transcendent and mysterious.

The truth is, He was not any of those things before sin.

God and the people He created walked in the garden and talked together. Adam and Eve weren’t on their faces in fear, weren’t mystified by God’s presence or His essence–no more than a toddler is in the company of his mother, though she is certainly not a person he can fully grasp.

I posit that any poverty of language is a direct result of sin that defaces all creation.

When I was little—second grade, I think—I got in trouble one P. E. period for being too loud. We were right outside the 6th-grade classroom playing kick ball on the asphalt with lines painted for the bases. (Why someone thought this was a good place for little kids to play anything is wrong, so very wrong for so very many reasons! 😦 )

For a competitive, excitable seven-year-old lacking self-control, staying quiet during a close game of kick ball was just too much to ask. My punishment was to miss P. E. the next day.

This was back in the era when no one thought much about leaving kids inside classrooms, so on the day of my punishment, my teacher told me I was not to get up out of my seat, then left with the rest of the class.

Most of them, that is. A little boy was also staying in because he hadn’t finished some work. We talked a bit, and I guess he told me what was stumping him. I was pretty sure I could show him what to do, but there was my teacher’s order, Don’t get up out of your seat.

Ah-ha, a solution presented itself. I wouldn’t get up out of my seat, I would get down. Yep, I got down on my hands and knees and crawled across the room. And yeah, I got busted–lost P. E. for a week, but worse, I was embarrassed, caught in front of the whole class, not just for my disobedience but for lying as I tried to walk the line of literalism. True story.

What does that have to do with the postmodern philosophy of language? If my teacher had been a postmodernist, she might have thought the problem was with language. Perhaps we needed a discourse that would allow us to communicate outside the tower in which our language group had us confined–hers the language of adults, mine of second graders.

Poppycock. I knew exactly what she MEANT by Don’t get up out of your seat. But I didn’t like it. I wanted to find a way around it. I also didn’t want to suffer consequences for going against it. So I, in my mind, manipulated what she said and justified myself to myself by pretending I was not disobeying as long as I didn’t break her mandate in the precise way she stated it.

I am so thankful God gave me a teacher who didn’t let me get away with that. The problem was in my sinful little heart, not in the language my teacher used. Not in my perception of that language.

We cannot speak of God as He really is because we no longer know Him as He really is. Not because of who He is but because of what we became–sinners with a nature that no longer allowed us to relate to Him.

Without Jesus, that’s the state we’re destined for.

However, with Jesus, I now know the Father.

And yet, I see through a glass darkly. One day, even that will change, and I will know in the same way I am known.

That’s something to look forward to! 😀

This article combines two posts from a series on Postmodernism published here in 2006.

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Published in: on February 5, 2014 at 6:37 pm  Comments (5)  
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5 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Human Action and God.

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  2. “First, Man did not create language. Downing’s own assumption destroys this theory–how could a man without language create language if we are molded BY language?

    I refer back to the Bible, where God commanded Adam to care for the garden, keep it, cultivate it, refrain from eating of the fruit of a certain tree. Clearly, God initiated this conversation. Language had to be His idea.”

    Genius!

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    • Thanks, Karl. I appreciate you sharing the article on your site.

      A lot of these debated issues become clear, I think, if we start with God as He identifies Himself–sovereign, omniscient, good, infinite, all powerful, eternal, Creator.

      It seems almost silly to think that Humankind came up with the idea of language if God is the al-knowing Creator. What, He simply forgot to give us the means by which to meet the need He’d put in us to communicate? The more we exalt humans, the more we belittle God.

      Becky

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  3. LOLNOPE. You might need to actually study postmodern ideas of language before you debate them. In any case, relying on a literalist reading of the Bible is poor evidence for linguistic theory.

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  4. Sure, sin is not a problem of linguistics. Language is good enough to convey moral law, and we’re responsible to obey the word that was communicated to us.

    But that doesn’t mean that language is sufficient to express the totality of reality, that which always is, God Himself. If there were no sin, God wouldn’t be hard to find, but the notion that God could be anything other than transcendent contradicts my worldview. (I suppose calling God “mysterious” is subjective and emotional — if you don’t like that word applied to God, then I don’t mind as long as you are aware that God is greater than our frame of reference.)

    Your philosophy of language sort of presupposes a perfect celestial language, where the names of things were actually the true Platonic essences of the things. That is actually an interesting idea that is intriguing to me, a concept that is referenced frequently in high fantasy. I’m not sure about it in reality, though.

    This gets dicey (and interesting) when you consider that God’s highest name is “I AM.” There has to be deep philosophical ramifications to this sacred fact, a fact that God evidently has allowed us to know objectively through our imperfect languages, since He expressed His name first in ancient Hebrew, and allowed it to be translated and carried over through tradition to us (doubtlessly imperfectly). We can’t simply dismiss the fact that God’s name is deeply profound and mysterious while also being comprehensible within reasonable objectivity.

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