Sunday Conversation: God, Aliens, & Postmodernism

image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons / (c) rubyblossom.
Students ask the best questions. They are brash enough, and blatant enough, to say what they're thinking. And that usually makes for good discussion!

I was approached by a 9th grade student a few Sundays ago with what he deemed to be a crisis for Christian faith.

After his parents called him away, an adult came up and asked what in the world that kid was talking about!

Here's how those conversations went:

9th grader: If we found life on another planet and they had never heard of God, Jesus, or the Bible, then it would pretty much disprove Christianity.

Me: We have people on this planet who have never heard of God, Jesus, or the Bible. That doesn't disprove Christianity. Expanding the zone of creation to include another planet disprove Christianity either.

9th grader: Well, I mean, I don't even know if there is a God. How would you even really know if there was or if there wasn't?

Me: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - the religions that trace their heritage back to Abraham - all rely on three starting points: 1) There is a God who has existed from the beginning; 2) God desired for creation to come into being; 3) God has devised ways to reveal himself to, and communicate with, human beings.

9th grader: But someone could just claim that God existed from the beginning. And if they were wrong, you would be wrong too. Like, if someone grew up in a family that says God is a Pop-Tart, then they would probably believe that God was a Pop-Tart too.

Me: You're right. What you're talking about is called epistemology - the study of how we know things. I'll put some stuff together to help you make sense of what is knowable and how you would even know it's knowable. Those are some good questions, and I'm glad you're asking them.

9th grader: Cool. Thanks for listening. See you next Sunday!

[student leaves, adult walks up]

Adult: What was he talking about?

Me: He's just wondering about the existence of God, and how he would even know if God was real. He doubts the certainty that people claim to have, so he's ready to just throw the whole thing out - if he hasn't already. He is part of an emerging postmodern generation that questions everything and points out the fallacies of the closed system of cause and effect that modernity advocated. But he doesn't even know that's what he's doing, and he wouldn't even describe it like that. It's just normal to him. An unquestioning brand of certitude is not normal to him.

Adult: But he didn't grow up in a home like that.

image courtesy of ASBO Jesus

Me: Yeah, but he's got a television. And he goes to school. He's influenced by a lot more than what his parents say. Think about it like this: Modernity took Proverbs 22:6 ("Train up a child...") as if it were a guarantee from God about what would happen. Do this, and that will happen. And, of course, if and when that didn't happen, it was dismissed with the explanation that - apparently (obviously) - you didn't do your part right. According to the closed system of cause and effect, that was the only explanation (unless you said that God didn't do his part, but no one was going to say that). But postmodern people, like that student, embrace a lot of mystery, ambiguity, and an open system where unexpected things can and should happen. They see Proverbs 22:6 not as a guarantee, but as a wise saying: "It's usually the case that when you train up a child..." But it's not a guarantee because the world is open and people are free.

Adult: Wow. That's a tough one. What do you mean by the closed system versus the open one?

Me: Well, modernity said "A+B always = C." Or, this cause always gets you that effect. Or, this input always yields that output. You can be certain because you measure the outcome with some object metric. It dealt with people like machines (think: human "resources"). But that student sees that "A+B doesn't always = C." Or, this cause does not always get you that effect. And, even still, your objective metric was a lot more subjective and self-serving than you thought it was. Postmodernity's problem comes when it tries to put forth an epistemology. Right now, it just points out the arrogant, over-reaching nature of modern thought. It makes the point that everyone is equally wrong. But that just leads to relativism because if everyone is equally wrong, then - in a sense - everyone is equally right in the wrongness. If everyone is wrong then nobody (and hence, everybody) is right. That's the problem, so there's a way to go.

Adult: I'm blown away. I had heard something about modernism and postmodernism, but I hadn't heard it put like that. The future is a very different place.

Me: Yep. Big changes are in store for how churches minister to students.

Related Posts:
Sunday Conversation: On Reading the Bible
Philosophy of Christian Education


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