Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Maddening Modesty of Postmodernism

I have recently been reading Te Deum:  The Church and Music by Paul Westermeyer (Augsburg Fortress, 1998).  It is an intriguing textbook-ish (I don’t count that as necessarily a bad thing) treatment of church music across the ages, with a focus on the western church.

Early in the book, in his consideration of the influence of Psalms in church music, Westermeyer says:

Underneath this whole discussion of the Psalms has been an implicit sense that for Christians they are related to Christ.

Notice the hint of retraction here:  the Psalms are related to Christ ‘for Christians.’  As if this were not enough, Westermeyer adds this footnote:

This does no disservice to the Jews who use the Psalms in their own (sometimes messianic) way.  It simply is the way Christians interpret things, especially the Psalms.

As politically correct as this may be, it leaves one wondering:  are the Psalms related to Jesus the Christ, or not?  Or are things only related if someone relates them?  (This would be the ultimate in relationship subjectivity.)

I must conclude the Westermeyer thinks the Psalms are related to Christ, but he thinks that relationship exists only because he invented it for himself.  So then, in fact, are the Psalms related to Christ?  Apparently Westermeyer does not think such a factual relationship is knowable, even if it should exist.

But the footnote continues:

We live together best if we acknowledge honestly our own position, fully aware that others may not share it and that we have no business trying to force it on others.

And there you have it:  that soul-griping, post-modern relativism that has overcome our ability to think, all in the name of ‘sensitivity.’

I appreciate the call to honesty, but Westermeyer and his kin should go further in their honesty.  Because, honestly, if matters like the connection of Christ to the Psalms (and a whole host of other matters) are simply things we invent for ourselves, why do they even matter?

If the Psalms are in fact related to Christ, how does my mention of it ‘force’ it on anyone?  Can’t the Jews – or anyone else – simply be wrong sometimes?  Why can’t we just say, “The Psalms are related to Christ.  Non-Christian Jews, of course, don’t recognize this.”?

This in no way ‘forces’ anything on anyone.  Except that it does, perhaps, force those like Westermeyer to think more about reality and our ability to know it.  Because if everything that someone might dispute is simply an invention of our minds, why ever write a book?  Why ever be a Christian?

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