on February 12, 2003
Veith is perhaps the most poignant and well spoken writer I've ever read. Couple that with his mastery of this subject matter and its relevance, and you have one outstanding book. Five years ago, after growing unease at the disjointed, illogical, and - to me - inexplicable moral/ethical state of America, I consciously set out on a quest to understand the causes behind it. This was not the first book I read, but it was (and is) the best. Veith delves deep. He deftly paints a relevant history, and in it reveals the psychological/philosophical roots of our modern 'crisis of meaning' (or in fact the lack of meaning). The story he tells so fits the world I've seen while working the streets of NYC for 15 years, and so jives with previous reading that reading it was pure excitement. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who wishes to understand the 'why' behind the apparently happenstance moral morass in which we as Americans, and Westerners find ourselves today.
on August 15, 2003
In this book, Gene Edward Veith offers a readable and insightful look at the worldview and effects of postmodernism, which dominates much of American culture.
After first explaining the origins and characteristics of modernism, Mr. Veith then shows its decline and demise, leading to the fresh position of postmodernism. He highlights the heavy influence literary criticism had in the development of postmodernism, with deconstructionist theories reformulating how people thought about truth. This section I found particularly interesting, since I hadn't had much exposure to deconstructionism before.
Having outlined the fundamental principles of postmodernism, Mr. Veith spends the rest of the book explaining how postmodernism is revealed in our culture and what to look out for. He explains the difference between modernist and postmodernist art and architecture. He observes the explosion of postmodernism in books, music, and television. He describes postmodernism's influence on politics, spirituality, and Christianity. Pretty much every sphere of life has fallen under some segment of postmodernism's shadow, and Gene Edward Veith exposes this fact in no uncertain terms.
Mr. Veith closes his book with some practical suggestions on how Christians should interact with postmodernism. He notes that there is a degree of truth in what deconstructionists say, and it should be embraced as such. Christians should seize the true benefits postmodernism has brought in overturning modernism, and not throw them away with the system. But we must also watch for the negative effects of postmodernism, and the ways it subverts the gospel. This system of thinking is indeed quite dangerous, and Christians must be watchful, and cognizant of the peril.
Do you want to understand contemporary American culture? its overriding philosophy? its danger? If so, this is the book for you.
on February 28, 2002
An important history of thought is provided in the first part of this book, which briefly outlines the transistion from Modernism to Postmodernism. Essentially the modern era began with the Enlightenment, and claimed human reason and science could determine all truth. Postmodernism does not have such a clearcut starting point in history, although Veith gives examples of when various stages of postmodernism began. Postmodernism essentially abandons the modernist ideology of rationalism, and the existence of objective truths. He then makes an important distinction between the postmodern era and postmodernISM. He identifies postmodernism primarily as relativism, which is the philosophy that truth is relative to the individual, and therefore there are no objective truths.
Although few people are conscious of this belief system in today's society, it is subtly pervasive. Veith's four part analysis of Postmodern Thought, Art, Society, and Religion ranges from interesting to startling to mildly cynical. While I found his discussion of postmodernism to be very revealing and largely accurate, I question whether modernism is as "dead" as he suspects. Perhaps the best example I see of an extant modernist philosophy is that of methodological naturalism: a necessity for evolution. (Philip Johnson does a great job of explaining methodological naturalism in his book "The Wedge of Truth).
However, for the most part, Veith hits the nail on the head in his diagnosis of postmodernism, especially with recognizing the trend in Christianity (but perhaps in religion in general) toward consumerism and empty spirituality (lack of truth). At times the book is repetitive and somewhat pessimistic, yet Veith also has hope for the postmodern age. Christians can build their thinking and live their lives on the foundation of Christ, and share this with society, as the postmodernism's self-contradictory relativism will inevitably collapse.
on October 23, 2000
In daily conversation I notice the tenets of postmodernism cropping up all the time. People who have no idea what "postmodernism" is are nonetheless deeply influenced by it, mouthing its words, speaking its assumptions, believing its claims because they have been so deeply inculcated with it without even realizing it. I don't think people realize just how distinctively different a philosophy of epistemology it really is, compared to historical norms.
That said, Veith's book is a good introduction to the subject, and worthy reading for every person who is seeking a well-rounded education. From a Christian perspective (more specifically a Lutheran, not protestant, one) Veith traces the rise of Modernism from a biblical worldview, and the inevitable transformation from Modernism's empty claims to certainty to Postmodernism's notorious uncertainty and relativism. Between the two Veith charts a path that seeks to avoid the errors both of pompous Modernist dogmatism and Postmodernist denial that truth can be reasonably ascertained.
Veith's book conveys understanding and insight, if not a straightforward guide to helping others out of the morass of Postmodernism. Ultimately Postmodernism fails because it is so internally inconsistent (how can one argue rationally for it if rationality itself is suspect?) Rather than point to the internal inconsistencies, I suspect a better route will be to present a positive epistemology that is more consistent than the Modernist ideology that Postmodernists abandoned; in short, the biblical worldview.
on October 21, 2000
Dr. Veith's own spiritual travels from non-Christian through Evangelicalism to his current Lutheran orthodoxy, as well as his academic background, make him a great source for beginning to understand the end of the so-called Modern Era and the Postmodern Era which appears to be replacing it.
Veith gives a broad view of the origins of Postmodernism, an often chilling view of the new (non-) thinking. He possesses a light touch in dealing with often heavy philosophy and he challenges Christians and society in general to find effective means of communicating with postmodernists and of dealing with the excesses and perceived liabilities of Postmodernism.
The careful reader will be given new eyes with which to view the surrounding world and will have opportunity to take advantage of Veith's wisdom in dealing with the challenges of Postmodernism. Area pastors think so much of the book that it is going to be the topic of discussion at our next year or so's monthly meetings. From this beginning, we hope to sharpen our own perception and better focus on a Christian response to the current spirit of the times.
on May 31, 2000
Like other reviewers, I experienced quite a bit of frustration the first time I read this book; I was looking for a much more specific methodology to apply in communicating my faith relevantly to my generation. Instead, Veith gives us a synopsis of the major features of the postmodern worldview (or system of thought and belief) within the context of the premodern and modern worldviews, shows how it influences the general populace's perspective of historic Christianity, and challenges us to find the cultural opportunities it presents.
Vieth is cautiously hopeful. He recognizes postmodernism's potential weakness for despair; when a person believes that all truth is relative and indiscoverable, they will quickly loose hope. He also correctly identifies the dogma of absolute tolerance as intolerant.
Nevertheless, his hope springs in part from the fact that Christ was no stranger to the use of image and story to communicate the Gospel; living (as Vieth contends that we do) in an increasingly post-Christian culture, we are able once again to communicate the fundamental tenets of Christianity through allegories, parables, and pictures. Postmodern thought's ability to embrace paradox without tension leads postmodernists to instinctively understand certain aspects of our faith which the material, clinical mindset of the modern era has failed to adequately illuminate.
This book is no condemnation of postmodern thought, nor is it a postmodernist's apology; Vieth makes the distinction, for instance, between postmodernism and postmodern thought patterns, and posits that the latter lends itself to authentic, historic Christianity. He begins with the premise that the Christian faith is a timelessly relevant embodiment of truth (not the exclusive domain of modern Western thought), meaning that it will speak relevantly to any system of thought, and concludes that postmodern thought is no more alien to Christ's message than is the receding modern worldview. I have read and re-read this book, referenced it countless times, and it has aged well on my shelf. While the first third of the book has proven to be the most helpful section (as of yet), five years of re-reading and a brief encounter with the author leads me to conclude that "Postmodern Times" is offered without agenda as a well-informed perspective on the challenges and opportunities postmodern thought poses for Christ's followers today.
on May 25, 1998
The first few chapters of this book are great. They provide a down-to-earth introduction to postmodernism and how it is shaping culture. But throughout I just got the feeling that Veith was an alien to postmodern culture, trying to analyse it, yet trying to stay on the outside; trying to understand it, yet trying not to be "tainted" by it. The further I read, the more this perception appeared to be justified.
His message is that the church failed to respond to rationalistic modernism, and we should be grateful for the fact that postmodernism is now shutting up those who would question Christianity. However, he sees a real threat ahead, as people stop attacking, and just start ignoring Christianity. Although I disagree with his analysis of the church vs. modernism issue, I think he is correct here.
However, the remainder of the book is a total bemoaning the fate of the world if left in postmodernist hands. From about half way thorugh the book, he didn't seem to have anything new to say, and I really had to drag myself to the end of the book.
The last section of the book was supposed to be an application to Christians. But I found it had nothing to offer in the practical approach we should be taking to postmodernism. It just warns us to be a confronting and countering force. Veith is a modernist, stuck in modernist ways, and although he has a theoretical understanding of postmodernism, does not have a personal understanding of its approach nor of its goals.
I personally believe that the postmodern era holds an incredible amount for Christians, and that we should not shy away from it.
on December 29, 1997
Perhaps Veith's greatest contribution in this entire book is his acknowledgment of the paradoxical situation in which postmodernism finds itself. Postmodernism has claimed to be all about "no absolutes," and yet the "fact" of no absolutes is itself an absolute truth. Christians, in particular, can be comforted in this because it seems that the pendulum has swung as far away from God as it can go...It can only swing back. The hopelessness of no absolutes will bring back many who yearn for something more certain and more comforting. Here is Veith's positive assessment of a movement in thought that is often viewed with a great deal of negativity by many Christians. I highly recommed this book.
on January 5, 2001
Well written introduction into the current world of thought. Vieth's excellence is in his approach from a Christian viewpoint as well as surveys such broad fields as literature, theology, art. architecture, and politics.
Veith confirms that he is apt to be a critic of postmodernism by his research and reading in each of these areas. I found his analysis of postmoderism's inroads into literature, art and architecture as extremely informative and revealing to me.
This would serve as basic reading on the subject. Libraries everywhere would be well-served to have this volume on the shelf.
on January 15, 2003
Veith's understanding (and embrace of) the postmodern mind is best demonstrated by the fact that he recently wrote an article for World magazine in which he argued (seriously) that the commercialization of Christmas marks the triumph of Christian culture! I jest not. Upon first reading this piece I thought it was satire. Veith is straight right-wing, big business, triumphalist (read "ugly") Christianity. Since postmodernists love irony, it is appropriate that Veith has also written a tome on the spirituality of the cross. If it pays, it must be good!