What does postmodern mean?

We live in a postmodern world. Or, so we’re told. What does this mean? Postmodern is a word used to describe changes in way people think — especially the way they view truth and reality.

Understanding post-modernity requires a review of modernity and the pre-modern world. What are the main differences in these eras?

Pre-modern, modern, post-modern

The pre-modern era was one in which religion was the primary source for truth and reality. God’s existence and revelation from God were widely accepted in the pre-modern world.

In the modern era, science became the predominate source of truth and reality. Religion (and the morality based on it) were arbitrarily demoted to a subjective realm.

In the postmodern era, there is no specific defining source for truth and reality beyond individual preference.


In postmodernity, relativism and individualism are radicalized and applied to all spheres of knowledge — even science. Truth and reality are individually shaped by personal history, social class, gender, culture, and religion. These factors, according to postmodern thinking, combine to shape the narratives and meanings of our lives as culturally embedded, localized social constructions without any universal application.

Postmoderns are suspicious of those who make universal truth claims. All claims of universal meaning are viewed as imperialistic efforts to marginalize and oppress the rights of others. The most important value of postmodernity is the inadmissibility of all totalizing ways of understanding life.

Postmodernity, as a worldview, refuses to allow any single defining source for truth and reality. The new emphasis is on difference, plurality and selective forms of tolerance. Postmodern thinking is full of absurdities and inconsistencies. It is, for example, the worldview that says no worldview exists. It is an anti-theory that uses theoretical tools to neutralize all theories. It imposes uniformity in an effort to resist uniformity. It employs propositional statements to negate truth based on propositional statements.

Postmodern concern for plurality, diversity and tolerance have not led to a more stable and secure society. Instead, the postmodern era exchanged one misguided mood for another. Postmodernity was fueled by a shift from the human optimism of modernity (based on scientific certainty and technological progress), to a pessimistic mood of skepticism and uncertainty.

One observer noted that, “Modernity was confident; postmodernity is anxious. Modernity had all the answers; postmodernity is full of questions. Modernity reveled in reason, science and human ability; postmodernity wallows (with apparent contentment or nihilistic angst) in mysticism, relativism, and the incapacity to know anything with certainty.”

This mood change was fueled by the devastation and disappointments of two world wars. Philosophies of despair and nihilistic existentialism became popular fare throughout Europe. These philosophies would later provide the ideological framework for the rejection of authority and institutionalism in America.

During the 1960’s and 70’s, the prevailing attitudes against authority, institution and establishment produced overwhelmingly negative effects on our nation. During this same period, we experienced a massive societal shift away from the institution of marriage and family with exponential increases in divorce rates and widespread acceptance of non-marital co-habitation.

The postmodern lie

As a result of these changes, pastors, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists are stretched to the limit as they try to help overwhelming numbers of people pick up the broken pieces of their lives and become whole again. Yet many of these helpers are equally lost because they accept the postmodern lie.

What is the lie? It is the wholesale rejection of universal reason and absolute truth. It is the delusional mindset that there is no objective goodness and rightness. These prevailing opinions have led to the dismissal of an absolute deity. Don’t misunderstand; God is warmly welcomed in the postmodern world as long as he doesn’t try to play God.

“Postmodernity returns value to faith and affirms the nurturing of our spiritual being as vital to humankind. Unfortunately, with the loss of truth, people will now seek faith without boundaries, categories, or definition. The old parameters of belief do not exist. As a result, people will be increasingly open to knowing God, but on their own terms.” (Graham Johnston).

Yet the true and living God will not be defined by finite creatures. While postmodern guru-philosophers like Richard Rorty have tried to write the obituary of the “God’s eye view of the world,” the Creator of the universe still determines the standard of truth, goodness and beauty.

Steven W. Cornell

About Wisdomforlife

Just another worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in Anthropology, Ethics, Modern, Morality, Nihilism, Philosophy, Postmodern, Worldview and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

56 Responses to What does postmodern mean?

  1. Ron F. says:

    Very well written explanation.
    Thank you.

  2. Pingback: Absurdity in postmodernity « Take Five with Pastor Steve

  3. matthewdavidcameron says:

    Hot Dog! I’m not alone in the world. I have just been dialoging with a thoroughly postmodern Christian type, and it was discouraging, so your cogent critique of the philosophical morass we’re in is very much, by contrast, encouraging. Thank you!

  4. Sarah Y. says:

    beautifully written definition. I feel satisfied and informed =)

  5. patrys fourie says:

    Thank you so much for this well written piece. There are so many people lost in this black hole of post modern thinking and your information and reasoning gives me a whole new angle for debate. May you be blessed!

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  9. Mutax says:

    “The only absolute truth is that there are no absolute truths” is the postmodern dogma.
    So, it is possible to deconstruct the deconstructivism.

  10. Dan says:

    Very informative post. Found your blog while researching this topic and this was definitely one of the best responses out there! I’m curious to know if you’ve written anything about how to better engage/adapt to the changing postmodern culture while still be a biblically grounded Christian? Thank you!

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  13. Julie says:

    For the first time, I have an understanding of postmodernism. THANK YOU!

    • James Dalton says:

      As someone whose life is infinitely better for the contributions that Post-Modern thought and art have made to it, my truth differs greatly from yours. Whilst I embrace all perspectives as having some value (a decidedly Post-Modern and Christian perspective, I should add), I must take issue with the demonising of Post-Modernism that I perceive as taking place here. Both the Buddha and Christ were the forerunners of Post-Modern thinkers. We should do well to return to Christ’s non-judgemental embrace of all of his brothers and sisters as revealed to us in the Gospels. This is what the non-judgemental stance of Post-Modernism is really about. Who amongst us has absolute knowledge of anything? Certainly no one who judges others and their truth in Christ’s name. I respectfully ask that those of you who would attribute the world’s woes to the evils of Post-Modernism give it another look in the light of Christ’s own words and actions.

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  15. Timbo says:

    Brilliant, and so do I now have an understanding of postmodernism

  16. dear steve, i fully agree with the above comments. i searched the whole morning on the topic of postmodernism and i found your short, concise, and straightforward article as the best! as a catholic, it makes a whole lot of difference (i’m referring to your concluding point). more power and god bless. – jun rayco (philippines)

  17. Beth Clark says:

    Wow. This article is excellent. I feel like I’ve heard the term “postmodern” one too many times and realized I don’t fully know what it means. You wrote an extremely well-rounded, well-reasoned, article about it. Thank you for that. Best in class.

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  19. Ted L. says:

    The postmodern definitely can hold some bizarre tenets. It seems natural to believe in universal truth, but the postmodern rejects it. In their worldview, murder is not inherently wrong. They will tell you it is always wrong, but morality is dictated by society. Universal truth is replaced with mere preferences.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Studying Sociology and stumbled upon your blog ‘postmodern’. Too many confusing definitions, but fully understand this. Thank you. Blessings

  21. google says:

    Outstanding post but I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this topic?
    I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit more.

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  23. Anonymous says:

    Instead of viewing postmodernism as a theory which silences God, I’ve always considered it to be one which empowers Him. Applied to Christianity, it would mean that the voice of God is not present in any single object or concept, but is immanent in the plurality of aspects in the universe. It does dismantle the idea of a centralized church, and I might be alone here in welcoming that dismantling–it has always unsettled me that certain men and women presume to know God thoroughly by their own experiences, and presume that others can be forced into the same understanding. This practice has proved malicious in many situations that I have personal knowledge of, resulting in many turning away from a church that they feel is ostracizing them, through no fault of their own.

    Postmodernism empowers me as a Christian in that it gives me confidence in God’s immanent voice in me, when before my primary anxiety was: “what makes you think the voice of God in you is more true than the voice of God in me?”

    I suppose it hinges on whether you find the following phrase frightening or heartening: “As a result, people will be increasingly open to knowing God, but on their own terms.”

    • Anonymous says:

      I am in full agreement with this reply. My relationship with God and understanding is mine. Going to Church is great and my pastor is well studied but my interpretation is not better or worse than his, it is mine as is my heart which I dedicate to him in my humble understanding of his word.

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  29. Anonymous says:

    Really well explained,to actually disagree with certain issues, you almost feel like your the bad person.You are right, the 60s and 70s was where the rot started to set in.We are now paying the price as there does not seem to be any wrong.
    Cheers Alan

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  31. Anonymous says:

    informative. Thanks

  32. Devi says:

    Hi, I have searched for post modern theory definition. But i did not get it . This definition is very useful for my research

  33. Anonymous says:

    thanks alot coz i was really confused by definitions from other sources but this is very clear, help me with some examples

  34. A very interesting read. I needed to understand this meaning for a fashion theory essay and it opened my eyes.
    Thank you

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  36. N Harry Kistanto says:

    Think and study on teachings of Al-Qur’an in Islam!

    • Carol Schuler says:

      N Harry Kistanto: Not a chance. There is only one TRUTH. And that is the Word of God in Jesus Christ. God is love. Does your Al-Qur’an teach love? NO. Did your god die for you for all your sins? Do you confess your sins and repent of them? Read the true Word of God in the true Bible. Do you want true joy. peace. and love? You can only find it in Jesus Christ! May the Triune God, the one TRUE God, draw you to Him in Christ Jesus.

  37. suleiman says:

    Thanks a lot for helping me out

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  39. BASIT ALI says:


  40. Carol Schuler says:

    Thank you for this outstanding article! It is well written and explains so much.

  41. Leo says:

    I thank you sir for more comprehensive post because I have being wondering before I came across this post how some people will want to be on their own, and turning the absoluteness of the truth of God, individuals choice. More grace Sir.

  42. Judy imbega says:

    Very enlightening post,thank you.

  43. Anonymous says:


  44. Davidicus says:

    Let me suggest that the modern era did not “arbitrarily” demote religion or the morality it was based on. The line between faith (religion) and absolutely “knowing” anything is where you will find people of good will (science and not necessarily secular) acknowledging the over reach of religion (physical/mental abuses). It is simplistic to use the term “subjective realm” since the whole of religion as passed down from “pre-modern” is all about exclusivity through a clerical order and the “private” and very select power structure that wasn’t very “subjective” in its actions on the world. The masses learned how to read and eventually dismantled, not demoted religion. Falsification aka Karl Popper addressed the limitations of the concept of “truth” and the transitions inherent in mortal existence and formal structures that can be reliably trusted to be called, in earnest, a “theory” until more data points prove a more comprehensive view about our world that is understood as the frail “best we can do for now” reality of the post-modern world (moving from animism to magical thinking to altering our DNA with purpose). If one has faith these “eras” are merely talking points for academic clarity. It is the rejection of that all-knowing meta-view of certitude based on religion that post-modern analysis I believe got right but got lost in identity politics and contempt for authentic discourse where people of authentic good will are seen as naïve.

  45. dfnj says:

    I think there is more to why the philosophy of postmodernism exists than the author’s excessive simplifications which are rooted in the bias of the author’s way of thinking.

    Here is the problem with author’s absolute truth and authoritarian way of thinking. You cannot ignore the observers role in having bias with regards to truth. The language we use and how we use it creates a huge bias in how we see and experience the World.

    How can you argue with people who think their own opinions are facts no matter what even in the presence of clear facts to the contrary. And how can you debate with people who think “facts” in support of their “rationale” argument turn out not to be facts at all but just baseless assumptions not supported by any evidence that is anything more than opinion based. It’s only “rationale” if you accept the opinions it is built on as being true.

    What makes me anxious is when people believe absolute truth exists and God actively participates in the lives of men. Nature is relentless in performing the laws of physics regardless of how much we pray. If I drop something, it falls to the ground every time! But when people start claiming they are speaking for God, and that they are God’s authority on Earth, then I become very anxious.

    I’m sorry that postmodernism makes authoritarian absolutists uncomfortable. But it goes both ways. When people like you claim, “Yet the true and living God will not be defined by finite creatures. the Creator of the universe still determines the standard of truth, goodness and beauty.” I get very nervous. I wish there existed objective evidence for “the standard of truth” but as far as I can tell, people who define the standard are doing it ALL based on subjective judgments and opinions with no supporting objective facts.

  46. Nikos Stone says:

    Interesting comment and of course the irony is that post modernity makes so many broad claims in claiming there are no broad claims!
    Apothetic theology or saying what God is Not, rather than what is, has been an eastern Church tradition through the centuries.
    I just want to make one salient fact for today where this has led. To the alt – right, trump, and calling fake news what ever does not take your fancy. That is not to say there is no fake news. But in general this is a world that dictatoria regimesl welcome and manipulate. If no objective reality or truth, wonderful!
    Could be after a period when the poetic feeling of life and metaphor, have been denied in a concrete fundamentalist thinking world, people are yearning to be emotionally VALIDATED!

  47. Reblogged this on Wisdomforlife and commented:

    A helpful review for understanding cultural changes in our times.

  48. Postmodernism emerged as a form of criticism of modernism. And Post Postmodernism was also born as a reaction to postmodernism. I like your article. I’m Indonesia. Greetings from me..

  49. Billy says:

    It’s a bit like marketing then …..just with people that are a bit more edgy !
    Not all old stuff is crap nor all new ideas are good . When did cloudy beer become post modern ? It’s easy to make it look better , taste better and last longer. Don’t use marketing as an excuse to hide poor quality ..

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