Rare is the opportunity to see so stark a difference in worldviews as this year’s Valentine’s Day movie choices. In our world plagued by a postmodern, moral relativism where truth is merely subjective to the bearer’s opinion, morality is defined in shades of grey and contradictions. We are required to believe the absolute truth that there are no absolutes. We are forced to know the truth that truth is not knowable. Truth that stands the test of time is disregarded, mocked, even persecuted. Just ask florists, photographers, and bakers who esteem the old fashioned truth of marriage between one man and one woman.
This postmodern worldview is antagonistic toward all metanarratives. Postmodernism is suspicious about any truth claim that argues for a transcendent, all-encompassing understanding of reality. Truth to a postmodernist is not something outside of him to be discovered. Truth is something to be made as the situation warrants.
Postmodern philosophers like Richard Rorty do not believe that truth can be knowable or explainable. “Truth cannot be out there – cannot exist independently of the human mind – because sentences cannot exist or be out there. The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not. Only descriptions of the world can be true or false.”
Why should Rorty try to explain the truth to us that truth explanations are pointless? By using words to convey a truth claim, Rorty contradicted his own explanation.
The point of postmodernism is not really to deny the truth. It is to deny shared meaning. Rorty affirmed this when he said “To say that we should drop the idea of truth as out there waiting to be discovered is not to say that we have discovered that, out there, there is no truth. It is to say that our purposes would be served best by ceasing to see truth as a deep matter, as a topic of philosophical interest, or true as a term which repays analysis.”
What exactly are “our purposes?” Truth is not a deep matter to Rorty. Rorty’s “truth” is a utilitarian tool to serve him best. Truth doesn’t guide his behavior; “truth” justifies it. The power to define truth, then, is the power to excuse deviance, or more accurately, the power to erase deviance.
“The question is not whether human knowledge in fact has foundations, but whether it makes sense to suggest that it does – whether the idea of epistemic…authority having a ground in nature is a coherent one.” Rorty asserts his own truth claim that truth claims do not have a transcendent anchor beyond cultural development. His postmodern philosophy is not really new or progressive. The postmodernist philosophy sounds suspiciously like an ancient lie. In tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden, as recorded in Genesis 3:1, the serpent challenged God’s truth claim. “Did God really say?” In other words, “God did not define good and evil. You can define morality for yourself.”
Challenging the ultimate source for truth is exactly where postmodernism wants to go. If ultimate reality is defined by each individual, morality is as well. This leads to the rare opportunity I mentioned above of such a clear contrast between postmodernism and Christianity.
Valentine’s Day 2015 saw the opening in theaters of one of the most anticipated movies in a decade. The filthy Fifty Shades of Grey opening weekend is on pace to outsell The Passion of the Christ for a February opening weekend. This sadomasochistic bondage flick about a man who abuses women for his own sexual gratification is quintessentially postmodern. Postmodernism has defined sexual torture as romantic and fulfilling. It harkens back to a time when brutality in sexuality was celebrated. Fifty Shades, however, defines its own reality. It pretends that women want to be brutalized – that a sexual deviant really cares about the women he tortures. That is fantasy. That is a lie. Any redeeming qualities in the film cannot free it from its postmodern dungeon. No wonder we have an epidemic of sexual assaults in our culture that embraces Fifty Shades.
Fifty Shades of Grey stands in stark contrast to the other film about relationships that opened on the Valentine’s Day weekend: Old Fashioned. Unlike the regressivism of Fifty Shades of Grey, the film Old Fashioned is about old things passing away and all things becoming new.
This antithesis to Fifty Shades of Grey doesn’t paint a picture of one, flawless, noble character and one lost soul coming together. It is about two imperfect people letting God forgive them and make old things new. Amber is a free-spirited woman who moves away from problems as far as her tank full of gas will take her. She rents an apartment from Clay. She brings her conventional wisdom baggage about relationships and dating with her. Yet, her philosophy is that there is enough greatness in the world but not enough goodness. As her budding romance with Clay hits a brick wall, her fears of abandonment are calmed when she reads “I will never leave you nor forsake you” from the new Bible she just took out of its wrapper. Strengthened by the timeless Word of God, she abandons her itinerant life and finds her home.
After leaving his hedonistic frat party days, Clay retreated to the monastery of his old fashioned relationship theories. This monastic lifestyle kept him from the dangers of hedonism, but he also let it keep him from the joys of community. Unable to form a romantic relationship with anyone in nine years, Clay’s barricade of stubbornness is finally cracked by his great-aunt Zella when she demanded “Stop using the grace of God as a brick wall.” Clay and Amber find new love within old fashioned boundaries.
Old Fashioned‘s Clay Walsh is not Fifty Shades‘s Christian Grey. A former frat-boy, he owns an antique shop where he restores antiques like new. Haunted by a debaucherous past, he is now small-town, humble, and respects women enough to establish boundaries for his interaction with them. He respects their emotions as well as their bodies. Clay reveres sex as delicate and sacred. His philosophy is to never be alone with a woman who is not his wife. He requests Amber, his tenant, step outside of her apartment as he fixes her sink. Most people see his white picket fence surrounding his honor as old fashioned. Clay sees nobility in controlling himself. He is reliable. He is…boring.
The postmodern Christian Grey is a business tycoon from Seattle, self-absorbed, and treats women as objects for his own deviant gratification. He is not a grown-up. Sex to him is not about committed love, but merely about a contractual arrangement. Christian is living the life of a narcissistic, banal, impetuous, undisciplined frat-boy. He offers women a fantasy, a lie. His self-assuredness, even his cockiness, is attractive and exciting, at least until the next morning. He is not a romantic hero. He is a selfish cad.
This Valentine’s Day offered America a clear choice. The venerable, timeworn values of Old Fashioned stand in contrast to the postmodern immorality of Fifty Shades of Grey. America is at a crossroads. Would you prefer the honor of a man with boundaries who binds himself for the safety of others or would you prefer the ignominy of a man of bondage who binds others for the pleasure of himself? After watching Old Fashioned you will long for the virtuous struggles of authentic, real life love and despise the pernicious lies of pleasurable, temporary fantasies.
Culture is a collection of individual choices. I do not know what choice you will make, old fashioned or postmodern. As for me, I want to be old fashioned.