COLUMN: An Old Absolute Newly Discovered – (A series of 5 articles) – Part 4 – PARADOX AND POST-MODERNISM: The ultimate goal of this Part 4 is to examine briefly and discuss the nature of our contemporary postmodernist movement. But before we take up the topic, it is essential that we consider the rationality/non-rationality paradox. This will serve as a vital prelude to our discussion of postmodernism.

The rationality/non-rationality paradox refers to that phenomenon which confirms to us that rationality is never pure, but exists at all times intermingled with irrationality. To help us understand how this is so, we again consider the utopian drive in rationality. Along this line, let’s imagine for a moment a utopian setting.

John C. Garrison, authorWould it not be a peaceful world if in every basic aspect of life everyone agreed on what was true, reasonable, and good? This would be one indication that human beings were experiencing a utopian communal environment. Such a universal agreement would mean that only a single rationality-defined as a reasoned view or rule of life-existed, one that was universally endorsed without the slightest reservation by every human being.

To further complete our imaginary world, we could also envision that, in this context, the subjective or mental life of every individual was absolutely free of any dysfunction whatsoever. Furthermore, we could imagine that this inner freedom was such that, without the slightest inward impediment or struggle, every individual would choose freely and flawlessly to act at all times in harmony with the principles of the single rationality.

This last aspect of our vision that relates to the subjective life of individuals would indicate that human beings were not just communally experiencing utopia, but also individually and subjectively. Under this state of affairs, there would be no sense of guilt felt by anyone over behavior that betrayed the agreed-upon communal rule. Nor would there be experiences of inner struggles with an adverse, subjective non-rationality that manifests itself mentally in such things as fear, prejudice, jealousy, hate, anxiety, shame, depression, despair, impaired thinking, and bewilderment.

Obviously, this utopian world is not the world we know. There is in our world no one universal rationality in human communities. As for individuals, struggle with non-rational tendencies in the inner self often prevent behavior that is consistently rational and constructive. Consequently, human rationality never attains the utopia it ever seeks to experience. Why? Because non-rationality, both within the community and within the subjective or mental nature of individuals, is always present and inextricably mingled with all human rationality.


Whenever we witness disagreements between individuals in a group, we discover time and time again that group or collective rationality is never pure, but mingled with non-rationality. In such settings, others with whom we disagree on issues will at one point or another reject our reasons as reasonable. We may employ scrupulous logic. We may also act in good faith and sincerity. But these fail to make a difference.

The same thing happens when we find that extremely rational experts do not agree on issues they write about and discuss. Everyone comes to issues under discussion with their own version of what they believe is reasonable and rational. Even learned atheists cannot agree among themselves. What is reasonable for rationalist atheists like Freud or Bertrand Russell is not reasonable or rational for irrationalist atheists like Sartre.

There is, in other words, no pure, universally recognized and authoritative rationality anywhere by which we can objectively measure what is rational or reasonable (Footnote “Fn” 1), or, for that matter, what is truth. Christians look upon Christ as the embodiment of truth. But, obviously, even this standard in not universally recognized as rational or reasonable.

Thus, as we rationally discuss and debate with others as to any issue of contention, giving rise to disagreements that frustrate our desire for agreement, we begin to see the reality of the rationality/non-rationality paradox. In other words, we see how, paradoxically, our rationality can be both rational and non-rational. It is rational with respect to its own inherent logic and order and to the extent others join in complete agreement; but it is non-rational to the extent that it becomes embroiled in conflict with the rationalities of others, each having their own logic and order.

As a consequence of such conflicts, compromise, the rule of the majority, or the law of the state become the only ways for human communities to get along and survive. This is the inescapable consequence of the rationality/non-rationality paradox.

Certainly, to advance learning and maintain meaningful relationships between people, rational discussions over areas of common interest are necessary regardless of potential conflicts. These are good enough reasons why rational dialogue under any circumstance must go on. However, for the point I am trying to make concerning non-rationality, the issue I raise is not whether rational discussions are important or fruitful-they are and can be. Rather, the issue is the unavoidable impact non-rationality has on collective rationality.

At some point or another, the reasoning of my rationality is not rational to you, nor is yours to me. And who is to judge between us if every human being has the same problem? It is in this sense that we can conclude that the non-rationality principle asserts itself even in the process of seeking to attain collective agreements.

As for individual rationality, there is impact here as well. It is common knowledge that every individual struggles subjectively with adverse non-rational forces, emotions, or predispositions. These rise to oppose an individual’s rational judgments or to prevent their development. These impediments often succeed in preventing us from proceeding with integrity and consistency in the path that our rational value judgments, for example, had determined for us. As a result, we see that non-rationality also invades the subjective life of individuals. The rational processes in individuals are thereby impaired and limited by the inner presence and opposition of adverse non-rationality.

Given the above, we can easily conclude that, paradoxically, rationality within any group or individual is never pure and discontinuous from non-rationality. Rather, non-rationality exists always mingled with rationality. It is, in other words, a paradox which, on the one hand, affirms the reality and validity of rationality, yet, on the other, affirms that the presence of non-rationality is never absent from rationality.

Rationality is affirmed to the extent that, as individuals, we are able to think rationally and productively. It is also affirmed to the extent that individuals as a group come to agreement on common ground. On the other hand, non-rationality is affirmed to the extent that destructive or non-productive tendencies impact our subjective inner life and to the extent that disagreement and disputes exist between individuals within a community.

In the face of this, we see that we are hopelessly locked in an existence where non-rationality exerts a dominion that even rationality cannot escape. As such, the pure and independent reason of rationalism is a myth. Rationalist atheists, such as Freud was, are therefore living in illusion. Closer to reality are the irrationalist philosophers. The search for a one and objective universal reason that empirically determines all that is universally true and believable is therefore futile and doomed. Non-rationality, the dominant universal absolute inevitably prevents it.

It is therefore said of God and the wise rationalist pundits of the world, “He catches the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away. Darkness comes upon them in the daytime; at noon they grope as in the night” (Job 5:13-14).

Rationality gives rise to human craftiness-i.e., rationalistic philosophies and ideologies in their many forms. But God has caught and set limits on rationality-the source of human craftiness-by setting around it a wall of subjectivity, and, in its midst, the presence of non-rationality. For this reason, rationalist philosophies and ideologies have ever been in a state of change. Ever seeking for final reality, rationality never gets there. It merely wanders aimlessly through time, groping as in the dark. For a time, one or more idea is dominant in cultural history only to be replaced by others as time moves on. And who can tell where everything is headed or where it will end?


Having considered the rationality/non-rationality paradox, we are ready to focus on postmodernism. I doing so, we will see the important way in which this paradox applies here.

In our time, the old Enlightenment rationalism championed by Freud and others has largely given way to the relativism of what today is being called postmodernism (Fn-2). Postmodernism is best understood as a reactionary ideological movement. Its origins can be traced to rationalism and, as such, it moves and defines itself in reaction and opposition to what rationalism has stood for.

In passing, we may note here some interesting points in this ideological evolution from Christianity, to rationalism, to postmodernism. Rationalism repudiated the Christian faith it came from. But it retained as reasonable Christianity’s concept of absolute authority, though it substituted reason and science for God and Scripture.

In the same way, rationalism retained as reasonable Christianity’s traditional moral order, though it substituted human beings for God as the sustainers and regulators of that order. Reaching the end of the evolution, postmodernism repudiated both vestiges of Christianity that it found in rationalism-i.e., belief in absolute authority and in traditional morality.


Historically, rationalism, with its child, empirical science, has acted with enormous optimism concerning objective knowledge of the world and the universe around us. It has moved under the assumption that absolutely true and objective knowledge of surrounding reality is possible. Furthermore, and based on this assumption, rationalism has presumed that, in time, with the help of empirical science, we would finally have a true and objective explanation of all that could actually be considered reality and truth.

But after it dawned on certain philosophers within rationalism that all knowledge of external reality is inescapably subjective, and that this makes true objective knowledge impossible, the grand optimism of rationalism and of rationalistic science-as we find in Freud-eventually came to be repudiated and discarded.

It is not a matter of saying that knowledge of surrounding reality is impossible in any sense. After all, our senses do tell us that there is something outside of ourselves that we call the environment. Rather, it is simply to say that in the postmodern movement there has been a radical significance placed on the fact that this knowledge of the environment is indirect-that is, it comes to our consciousness indirectly through the senses (e.g., sight, touch, taste, smell).

Hence, the only direct and certain knowledge we have of anything is limited to what is in our subjective consciousness. But, here, individual differences come into play in terms of varying amounts, kinds, and interpretations of sensory data. Involved here are variances in mental states such as emotional dispositions, prejudices, or quality of each individual’s intellect. These factors determine knowledge differently for each person and in ways that can only be relative to the state of each person’s subjective consciousness.

Thus, for the postmodern philosophers who moved away from rationalism’s pure or objective reason, the only alternative to this seemed to be relativism. For postmodernists, relativism means that since direct and objective knowledge of reality cannot be attained, absolute and objective truth about this reality cannot be known. For this reason, every individual can only SUBJECTIVELY make up and determine truth for themselves. Truth or reality is therefore not absolute, but relative-relative, that is, to each individual’s subjective perception and interpretation.


Postmodern philosophy is correct insofar as its judgment of rationalism is concerned. It is true that a pure rationality or reason does not exist. It is also true that our limited consciousness prevents us from attaining a true, direct knowledge of external reality. But it does not necessarily follow that because of this there is no way we can know an absolute truth, one that applies to all.

A flawed understanding of the kinds of knowledge human beings possess leads postmodernists erroneously to assume that because direct, objective knowledge of the external environment is unattainable, direct and universal knowledge of anything is impossible. This overlooks the fact that while no external, OBJECTIVE knowledge exists, there is such a thing as a certain and direct SUBJECTIVE knowledge.

The subjective awareness, consciousness, or knowledge everyone has of their mental states does not depend on data received indirectly by way of the senses. It is true that much of what occupies our consciousness developed originally from the external realm through the senses. But it is also true that once the resultant mental states are there, developed as they are each moment, knowledge or awareness of such states is direct. There is no intermediate faculty between the consciousness we have of our mental states and the mental states themselves.

It is true that interpretations of our mental states have to be made and these may not be necessarily correct. Yet such incorrect interpretations would constitute non-rationality. And this is precisely the point; we would then have an instance of direct knowledge of an absolute. In other words, though we cannot attain direct, objective knowledge of the non-rationality absolute in the external environment, we do have a direct, subjective knowledge of its existence in consciousness.

So I would say that the fundamental problem of postmodernism is an issue of misplaced focus or attention. This has to do with the postmodern failure to consider and recognize non-rationality as an absolute, internal reality. So let’s consider the center of the postmodern failure: the failure to recognize non-rationality as a self-determining and self-imposing absolute in human consciousness.


As an absolute, non-rationality is not a product of human rationality. It exists of itself, independent of human beings. People are born and they die. But from the beginning of the universe, non-rationality has always been there. Once the human mind and rational thinking came to be, this non-rationality absolute came to exist within the mind and continues to exist in each living person and within human groups. It will also remain as such as long as there is a human mind and the universe as we know it. Indeed, non-rationality permeates and stretches out to the whole of the universe. In a real sense, it IS the universe because, as we have seen in Part 2, our world or universe is non-rational to the core. From a biblical perspective, we can further say that above, behind and within this Universal Reality that we call the non-rational is the Eternal God, the Supreme Absolute: “He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17).

By contrast, neither the relativism of postmodernists nor the mythical pure reason of rationalism or rationalist atheism can ever be absolute since they are strictly subjective products of human rationality. In other words, they are both products of something that has subjective limitations (i.e., the human intellect). As such, they are not unbounded or limitless absolutes such as is non-rationality. They are instead mere intellectual abstractions and cultural phenomena that come and go as the history of ideas progress from one era to another.

Moreover, one’s subjective knowledge of the non-rationality absolute is not relative since at all times in every individual consciousness non-rationality simply is and remains uniformly what it is-non-rationality in every individual without exception.

In passing, it is relevant to note at this point that while postmodernists reject rationalism’s false notion of objective pure reason, they seem ignorant of the fact that they themselves still hang on to the same idea, though in a subjective sense. In other words, postmodernists reject the idea of OBJECTIVE pure reason but unwittingly operate under an equally erroneous presumption-that of SUBJECTIVE pure reason, which we have shown here that this is just as much a fallacy because of the ineradicable non-rationality that is subjectively present in all human consciousness. To prove this point with respect to the human consciousness of postmodernists, all we need to point out is that, paradoxically (i.e., non-rationally), postmodernists believe they have come to know the actual truth of existence: that no actual truth is knowable.

Thus we can definitively say that even subjectively, there is no pure reason since, as has been shown, reason (or rationality) is always, everywhere, and at all times, mingled with non-rationality: the inescapable absolute. As a result, any ideology that relies merely on rationalistic arguments to establish itself is, for this very reason, doomed to futility under the principle of non-rationality in consciousness.

The fact of the matter is that postmodernism supports itself conceptually, not so much on logic and reason, as may be supposed, but on faith that what postmodern logic and reason says is true, is actually the truth. In any case, taking at face value the postmodern dictum that no actual truth is knowable betrays a lack of awareness or concern that non-rationality is an absolute reality and truth known directly by every human consciousness.

Non-rationality as an absolute has both an actual subjective and an actual objective presence. We have direct and certain knowledge of non-rationality’s subjective presence in consciousness, but only indirect and imperfect knowledge of its objective, external presence.

Furthermore, these two aspects of the non-rationality absolute do not represent two discontinuous non-rationalities any more than total Universal Reality is discontinuous and compartmentalized. By being in direct mental contact with the subjective aspect of the non-rationality absolute we are in this subjective manner in direct and certain contact with this absolute in its total universal continuity. At the same time, our senses lead us to be assured that this same non-rationality absolute, whose subjective aspect we grasp directly through our mental states, stretches out into the infinite reaches of the universe in its objective aspect.

For these reasons stated, essentially that we know directly the non-rational absolute in its subjective aspect, the postmodernist argument that absolutes cannot be known because there is no objective knowledge is irrelevant.


We can now consider how postmodernism has failed to improve on rationalism and how it has rather increased the adverse problem of non-rationality. This will become clear as we note that, in reaction to rationalism’s exaltation of reason, postmodernism has unwittingly embraced non-rationality with a vengeance. So much is this the case that postmodernism has left no place for any meaningful affirmation of the rational or reasonable.

Consider this: postmodernist philosophers appear to have some perception that truth (or reality) can manifest itself in paradoxical (i.e., non-rational) ways (Fn-3). This is precisely what we have been arguing here. Yet, to an extreme degree, postmodernists have become so fixated on such paradox they act as if paradox is something that has to be deliberately created when none is obvious. So strong is this fixation that postmodernists feel driven to create deliberately artificial paradox-in terms of conflict, confusion, or contradiction-where none is apparent or where circumstances do not practically or normally call for it (Fn-4). I will explain this.

We have noted that for postmodernism all individual knowledge is relative. So on this basis, it is asserted that no one has a right or authority to tell others that they are wrong for having different views of what truth is. It is here where the problem enters in.

Postmodernism is not content with simply acknowledging that among human beings disagreement exists. The postmodernist takes the point further. He or she will insist that everyone passively accept under one tent a diversity of views and lifestyles. In other words, the degree of tolerance for diversity that is called for is such that active and competitive advocacy in behalf of one’s views is stifled. The result is that a world built in the image of postmodernism is a world where every view and lifestyle is placed on such equal footing no one is allowed to promote their particular view as better or superior.

Here is the hypocrisy of postmodern philosophy. While others are castigated for trying to promote their point of view as superior, postmoderns think nothing of it when they seek to do this with their own philosophy. The movement as such does not appear to be one intended to achieve or promote fairness for diverse points of view. Rather, it is one that gives every indication of seeking arbitrarily to suppress, marginalize, and undermine the settled or traditional and arbitrarily to exalt their opposite:

“Contemporary [i.e., postmodernist] scholars seek to dismantle the paradigms of the past and “to bring the marginal to the center”…Scholars attack received [i.e., traditional] ideas with withering skepticism, while constructing new models as alternatives. Those who celebrate the achievements of Western civilization are accused of a narrow-minded “Euro-centrism”; this view is challenged by “Afro-centrism,” which exalts Africa as the pinnacle of civilization. Male-dominant thought is replaced by feminist models. “Patriarchal religions” such as Judaism and Christianity are challenged and replaced by with matriarchal religions; the influence of the Bible is countered by the influence of “goddess-worship.” Homosexuality must no longer be considered a psychological problem; rather, homophobia is (Fn-5).”

Hence, postmodernists cannot stand to see things in a rational, settled, or orderly state because such stable states tend to bring the veracity of relativism, as they see this, into question. For postmodernists, this is obviously unacceptable. This would tend to deny the conflict and disjointedness that is inherent in their idea of relativism and diversity. Consequently, postmodernists will seek to “deconstruct” any stable state or condition. This is what Gene Edward Veith has called the “studied rootlessness and rejection of permanence (Fn-6).”

In terms of confusion and contradiction, consider the postmodernist rejection of the Enlightenment legacy. This legacy was rejected because of its extreme view of reason and reason’s science as final authority concerning what is true, reasonable, and good. But, in their rejection of rationalism’s mythical pure reason, postmodernists have deliberately embraced a contradictory extreme-the absolute of relativism, clearly a non-rational oxymoron. Naturally existing non-rationality is difficult enough to deal with without human beings going out of their way to artificially concoct and add their own versions. Yet, this is precisely what postmodernists do.

Put in a different way, we can say that postmodernists have overthrown the reason of rationalists from the throne of absolute authority because they believe knowledge of absolutes is impossible. But in a non-rational act of contradiction, postmodernists have placed relativism as a new absolute of authority on reason’s vacated throne. Other examples of such artificially created non-rationality can be shown.

Postmodernists came to see rationalists as dogmatists for promoting reason as an absolute. But in the place of rationalism’s dogmatism, postmodernists have installed a dogmatism just as intense and unyielding–if not more so. For rationalism, everything is acceptable as long as it does not contradict or disturb the authority of empirical reason. But, for postmodernism, everything is acceptable as long as it does not contradict or disturb the new authority of relativism. So woe to those who assert a belief in absolutes. The wrath of the postmodernist god, relativism, be upon them!

If absolutes cannot be known, then this must include relativism. If relativism is being made an exception to the rule, then by what or whose authority is this established if in the view of postmodernists no one-not even postmodernists-is able to know, and, thereby, establish an absolute?

On the other hand, if relativism is not an absolute, then why press it on a whole culture as if it was? Again, these contradictions are deliberately created by postmodernists. They believe this is what their philosophy requires and that their philosophy represents reality.

The fact is that relativism is not an absolute and the proper significance of relative knowledge is not the postmodernist idea of relativism. To understand the significance of relative knowledge we need to see it in relation to each individual’s understanding of non-rationality.

Stated in different words, we can say that the proper significance to be associated with relative knowledge is not so much the difference that exists between each individual’s knowledge of reality. Rather, it is how close or how far in their relative knowledge each individual is from understanding the significance of the non-rational as an absolute. Consequently, to think of relative knowledge strictly in relation to differences in views between individuals is to miss its proper meaning entirely. The absolute oneness of non-rational reality must be the center.

Another postmodernist contradiction involves the oft-repeated phrase, “There is no right or wrong, only opinions.” If there is no right or wrong, then this statement is itself neither right nor wrong, only an opinion. As such, the statement should not be taken as an absolute. Yet, postmodernists act on this statement as if it were an absolute: not a mere opinion, but an absolute truth to be accepted seriously, universally, and without question.

The bewildering irony to all this is that such obvious non-rationality is held and asserted by many who are otherwise quite rational and intelligent. This, incidentally, is further attestation to the absolute rule of non-rationality. Postmodernists, who make it their special business to repudiate all absolutes, find themselves captured and enveloped in the absolute of non-rationality. In this case, it is that aspect of non-rationality that arises in their subjective consciousness and takes over and subverts their thinking processes.

In view of all the above, we see that in the past hundred years at least, culture has been bounced between the myth of rationalism’s pure reason and the futile, non-rational concepts of postmodernism. In our time, postmodernism has become in itself an eloquent and ironic confirmation of the absoluteness of non-rationality. There is just no place to hide from it. Just when human beings think they have outsmarted and dismissed it, non-rationality pops up in their midst. In the case of postmodernism, it seems to have totally overrun it-of course, with the unwitting help of postmodernists themselves.


The postmodernist movement reflects a current phase of civilization as it engages in its never-ending quest for a settled understanding of existence. As is true of other phases in the past, the postmodernist phase will also predictably end in futility and another will take its place in a cycle of birth and demise. Hence, Paul speaks of those who are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (II Tim. 3:7 NASB).

Merely on the strength of their rational powers, human beings will never find a final settled order. The universal presence of non-rationality will always prevent it. As Paul has correctly observed, “For it is written, ‘I [that is, God] will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise [person]? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish [through the inescapable intrusion of non-rationality] the wisdom of the world?” (1 Co. 1:19-20).

Clearly then, the existential dilemma for all people everywhere is the universal absolute we call non-rationality. So the goal of true wisdom is finding an effective way to peacefully deal with this dilemma. Paul’s statement above gives us to understand that more than mere “worldly (i.e., rational) wisdom” is needed to accomplish this. In the next and final part of this series on rationalist atheism, we will examine why faith served by reason, is the answer.

1/See Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David
Basinger, Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to
the Philosophy of Religion (New York: Oxford University Press,
1991), 117-122.

2/Rationalism is synonymous with “modernism.” “Postmodernism,”
as the term implies, is therefore that which follows the
“modernism” of rationalism. For an excellent discussion
of postmodernism, see Gene Edward Veith, Jr., Postmodern
Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture
(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994); see also David S.
Dockery, ed., The Challenge of Postmodernism: An Evangelical
Engagement (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1995).

3/Veith, Postmodern Times, 60.

4/Ibid., 59-60, 86.

5/Ibid., 57.

6/Ibid., 86.

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