Postmodernism is typically described as a reaction against the presuppositions of modernism; specifically, the notions of progress, an autonomous self, universal reason, and objective reality.
In architecture, postmodernism reflects an eclectic style, mixing motifs from any period or culture. The Vancouver Public Library (photo) reflects postmodernism in its mix of ancient architecture (the Roman Coliseum) with modern materials (glass).
The modernist sees progress resulting from the individual’s use of reason to master objective reality. The postmodernist denies all of those things– progress, self, reason, and objective reality.
A more refined understanding of postmodernism, however, is to see it as the natural progression of modernism in light of the latter’s defective worldview; particularly, its flawed epistemology. Modernists don’t have a good answer to the question of “how do you know that you know?” Postmodernists don’t either, but they take that embarrassment and turn it into a weapon to attack the Western worldview.
The impact of postmodernism on the college campus is profound, redirecting every discipline except those firmly rooted in the hard sciences, and even they feel the pressure. Literature is no longer about great works that carry on conversations across the ages about the deeper things of life. Instead they are deconstructed into the narrow politics of postmodern thinking. Art is no longer about works of great beauty. It’s more about denying the very idea of greatness with works intended to shock audiences out of their cultural biases. Law is no longer about principles woven into human nature and society. It’s become whatever lawyers and judges want it to be. Education is no longer about passing on a body of truth, but about letting children discover their own “truths.” History is no longer about great people, events, ideas, and movements. It’s about revising history to address imbalances in present-day power structures. And on and on …
The impact of postmodernism on today’s college students is also profound. By the time young people reach college, they will have absorbed a thoroughly postmodern mindset. They will be estranged from parents and other adults and “tribalized” into their own peer groups. They will be entertainment-oriented, responding more to stories, emotions, spirituality, pride, and shame than to reason, abstractions, facts, objective innocence, and objective guilt. To them, tolerance means having no strong opinions, not about being patient despite having strong beliefs. Pluralism is taken for granted and diversity is a desirable goal in itself. Truth is whatever you want it to be. Community and relationships take precedence over individualism and hierarchy. They are drawn to experience, mysticism, and symbols. Concern for appearances outweighs questions of substance. Contradictions will not bother them. Being different people in different circumstances comes easily. They reject radical individualism, the idea of progress, reason, universals, linear thinking, and objectivity in relation to truth, knowledge, and reality. Appeals to science, reason, knowledge, and merit are suspect. All opinions are equally true. Claims to objective truth– Christian claims in particular– are considered rude, oppressive, arrogant, or just plain ignorant. All religions, cultures, and civilizations are the same. The noblest pursuit is to equalize power relationships among religious, ethnic, and social groups. Preferential treatment of people based upon their social identifications is necessary and good.
Postmodernism is a mixed bag of good (e.g., emphasis on community) and bad (relativism). In the end, Christianity is just one lifestyle among a host of equally legitimate alternatives.