Postmodernist deconstruction and the “New Thing”

Isaiah 43:19: Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

Critical race theory is all the rage today and it has its roots in postmodernist deconstruction. In other words, the perspective shift which contemporary race theory employs is made possible by deconstruction. In fact, much of what is coming out of the college of liberal arts of many universities is also enabled by deconstruction. It might be tempting to be critical of and discard deconstruction, as many Christians I know already have, however, this would also be an ill-advised move. Believers should realize that deconstruction is more than simply the enabler of narrow-minded hypocritical thinking.

The (over) simplified explanation of postmodernist deconstruction is that it is just a tool which does one thing; it takes apart ideas and information (constructs) to reveal subjectivity or perspective. Deconstruction brings into focus the origin and source of information; however, it cannot and does not determine or decide which perspective is better or worse. Deconstruction itself cannot produce or construct “truth;” it is the tool of reverse engineering for the humanities. As a tool it does not judge or assume a moral position, it only unpacks information. Consumers choose information to believe based on their personal knowledge, priorities, and values. If one maintains the same perspective or subjectivity, one will continue to believe and perpetuate information from that perspective. Without deconstruction, challenges and conflicting information are easily discarded and ignored because that information does not make sense in that person’s perspective; that information is nonsense. Alternative perspectives are usually only considered when the cost of maintaining a particular perspective becomes too high for that person. The price paid can be quite high.

Consider the picture at the top of the page; a person facing the cylinder from one side will see a circle and a round shadow. A person observing the same object from another side will see a rectangle and a rectangular shadow. Each person will describe the same object differently and will disagree with the other for as long as each maintains their perspective; the people involved might even be tempted to call the other a racist as is often the case these days. Deconstruction can be employed to resolve the disagreement not by determining who was right or wrong, but by showing how information is the result of perspective. Deconstruction does not provide the perspective of the illustration where one can see both perspectives and realize that the cylinder is not a circle or rectangle. Leaving the discussion of the shape of the cylinder and having the perspective of the illustration requires getting out of the “box;” a more detailed discussion of the box can be found here. It should be easy to imagine that this might be what happens when people discuss the government, vaccinations, race, and religion.

To assist in maintaining a particular point of view, people will generally invoke “facts.” These facts are thought to be absolute (something which is true no matter the perspective), but most, if not all facts are produced from a perspective and are also subjective. Even though I do not actively do scientific studies, it is obvious over time that many ideas from science are the object of constant challenges and sometimes the information changes. With that consideration, invoking “facts” becomes a lazy way to avoid close examination of ideas and potentially having to change one’s mind (lose an argument). Casual rejection of certain facts is even easier when one remembers the illustration above.

Having said this about facts, I probably lost some readers, but keep in mind that this is the nature of the tool of deconstruction. “Reconstruction” or building one’s perspective is not covered in this post, but in that process, people are free to pick and choose whatever fact they want to believe. This is how we are free to be Christians and still peacefully coexist with atheists, though some of them may have a problem with us.

Deconstruction is useful because we live in a sea of information where consideration of perspective is rare. This sea of information is like a marketplace of competing ideas and information; each bit of information has promoters, believers, and opponents not to mention incentives and costs. The production of information is as varied as information itself; some methods are perceived to be more reliable than others, but all potentially change. In a free society over time, unproductive and destructive information is weeded out and better ideas continue, e.g., slave labor was replaced by wage labor. The more popular a school of thought or information is, the easier and cheaper it is to live a life based on that information. However, less popular schools of thought find their niche in the market for those looking for something different, e.g., a life based on scripture. Note that the concepts of “right or wrong” are not so important, because everyone believes they are right until perspective is changed in some way, e.g., flat earthers. Everyone is free to believe what they want to believe if they also take responsibility for those beliefs. There is no need to actively regulate ideas because expensive, dangerous, and destructive ideas are quickly found out and generally have only a few adherents, e.g., not serving certain people because of the skin tone. Those ideas may be detrimental to those who believe them but often not to others. There are other protections against less favorable ideas which would be generated in a free society which need not be discussed here.

Today, many scholars weaponize deconstruction to undermine certain information in order to promote preferred alternatives. Deconstruction, which only reveals subjectivity, is used to attack certain beliefs and the people who hold them. It is as if there are only two perspectives; going back to the illustration above, the cylinder is either a circle or a rectangle. It is pure hypocrisy to replace one set of ideas with an alternate as if the replacement does not suffer the same issues of having a narrow subjective perspective. Scholars do not simply discuss possible candidates for replacing prevailing points of view, they “creatively” lobby politicians to codify through regulations their preferred alternate perspectives. These concepts which could not compete in the free market of ideas enjoy protection as other competing ideas are censored from public and educational discourse. In other words, because people are forced to adhere to specific government protected information, it is easy to see that censorship and other regulations with the same ultimate effect are required to promote destructive and unpopular ideas. Those ideas would otherwise not be seriously considered; however, good ideas generally require no subsidy or protection to be widely adopted.

In a society where ideas are censored or banned, not only are consumers of information no longer free to choose according to their values and needs, but people are socialized through the various arms of the state to see the world using the same preferred perspective. The result of such efforts will be even more widespread injustice in society. Equity, for example, is sought by employing the very methods scholars accuse others of using which marginalize and discriminate against others; again, this is hypocrisy. This will not result in the intended equity, rather efforts of this type at the very least will result in the marginalization and discrimination of yet other groups of people.

If deconstruction were used consistently and continuously, this hypocritical phenomenon would not occur because scholars would see many more perspectives beyond their own pet perspective. Scholars would not stop deconstructing ideas once they have deconstructed the opposition to their pet subjectivity. This means that people should be allowed to believe in Critical Race Theory or “Performativity at Urban Dog Parks” (2018), but everyone else should also be free to disagree and believe something else. Protectionist policies however, force people to believe or else incur penalties. “Curious” exercises in subjectivity, both serious and parodic, become standard which socializes or spreads out the costs associated with those beliefs to everyone in society. Hiding the costs of various ideas slows the process of evaluation, eventual rejection, and sets the table for various forms of “malinvestment” into those bad ideas, e.g., jobs created to police and enforce the regulations of equality.

It seems that many people in the church see deconstruction as a threat to long held moral and theological beliefs in addition to the problematic phenomenon stated above. While this is possible, moral and theological beliefs which cannot push back against the gaze of deconstruction should be re-viewed in case tradition and culture is being held higher than scripture. In other words, scripture is scripture. It is the constant (translations notwithstanding) for the generations of God’s people. It is how we learn about God’s grace and love for his people and the world. The gospel is preserved and transmitted through scripture (and the Holy Spirit). Most people encounter scripture while having it explained to and interpreted for them. Though scripture remains relatively constant (a kind of absolute), the interpretation of it is varied. This is fine as it is a character of human life in space-time. One must continue to strive to finish the race as the apostle Paul did by continuously growing in our knowledge and understanding of the word of God; this is a critical part of the life of faith. As our society, location, and science changes, our faith and understanding of scripture will also be challenged and we must be able to respond. In other words, without the benefit of deconstruction people can declare certain perspectives as absolute or definitive which ushers in a new orthodoxy and heterodoxy and eventually, ossification and regression in the life of faith of believers.

Deconstruction may also serve, then, as protection against bad ideas which may arise in life and the church. Deconstruction reminds me of Cornelius Van Til’s presentation of presuppositional apologetics. Often knowing someone’s assumptions (presupposition) and a point that someone desires to make will reveal most of what person will ever say with that perspective; it’s basic math. Deconstruction is not just useful in discovering a shady politician’s hidden agenda, it is useful to steer clear of ideas and choices which may be harmful to the body of Christ, e.g., budgeting which relies on a destructive understanding of economics.

It is through deconstruction that we continually check our assumptions and keep an open mind for better more consistent interpretations of scripture, the “rivers in the desert.” Though finding a better interpretation is more likely on an individual level, rather than in a theological school of thought, we should be ready and open minded enough to see the “new thing” God has promised to show us. Yes, the new thing is our Lord Jesus, but it is also the new ways his blessing will manifest in our lives seen through the perspective of faith. It includes the creative solutions in our lives which can assist us in our desire to keep the word of God and remain on the road of righteousness. Our unending search for the possibility of better and more consistent interpretations is not so that we can champion moral ambiguity, but to be equipped and prepared for the next challenge the world will throw at us. The freedom God has given us through faith is meant to inspire believers to live exploring their ever-expanding potential to reveal more of the glory of God for those still trapped in their narrow, regressive subjectivity.