Parenting in a Postmodern World

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Mimi Doe is in much demand as a parenting “guru” of sorts. On her web site she offers a definition of spirituality in general, and spiritual parenting in particular.[1] According to Doe,

Spirituality is the consciousness that relates us directly to God, or whatever we name as the source of our being. That consciousness can be activated when we are making a mud pie, singing a lullaby, observing a spider web, or deep in meditation.

and

Spiritual parenting occurs when we expand our awareness to include our children’s vivid inner lives. When we approach our kids as grand spiritual beings housed in little bodies we are parenting spiritually. Spiritual parenting is not limited to any one religion’s teachings but rather is an authentic, honest way of interacting with our children day to day.

These quotes embody classic expressions of a postmodern or post-Christian take on spirituality. You will search in vain across Doe’s site for any suggestion that parents can raise their children within an explicitly Biblical context. At best, devotion to the God of the Bible is only one path to spiritual fulfillment.

This relativism toward world religions, and truth in general, is the most common symptom of postmodern thinking. It would render Jesus’ criticism of the Samaritan religion (John 4:22-24) puzzling at best, intolerant at worst. A thoroughly postmodern Mimi is happy to worship in spirit and truth, as long as it is true for her.

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Gnostic Parents?

If we look a little closer, however, we see something more insidious lurking behind Doe’s ecumenical spirit. Her idea of activating one’s consciousness, and her allusion to bodies as mere vessels of our true being, are both suggestive of a New Age or even Gnostic point of view. Look at what she suggests for fathers who want to be “soulful” toward their children:

Listen to your heart when you are with your kids. Go with what feels right, not what your dad might have done or what you think fathers are supposed to do. You are the perfect match for your child. You can’t make a mistake when you follow your intuitive guidance.[2]

Knowledge about parenting, it seems, is not to be found in the Bible, nor in research by sociologists and psychologists, nor in the sage guidance of experienced Christian counselors, nor even in the successes or failures of a previous generation. Rather, it is to be found in the hidden divine gnosis, the inner light, of our own infallible intuition.

Perhaps Doe never intended to resurrect the ancient heresy of Gnosticism in the name of better parenting. Perhaps she wanted to convey nothing more than New Age sensibilities. In any case, the overriding message—and a very postmodern one at that—is that we shouldn’t trust outside authority. This is tied very closely to relativism. If truth depends entirely on me, then what could my father possibly teach me? Why should I listen to the Bible when I am my own perfect source of knowledge?

Of course, when you’re in the vicinity of relativism, the threat of a logical meltdown is never far away. If I am my own best authority, then who is Mimi Doe to tell me how to be a parent? If my intuition tells me that Doe’s advice on parenting is a load of codswallop then, by her own reckoning, I can’t be wrong.

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The Father Myth

The influence of postmodernism can appear in far more subtle shades. Take, for instance, David Blankenhorn’s Fatherless America. Published in 1995, Blankenhorn’s work is often portrayed as a defense of traditional family values against the encroachments of social liberalism and radical feminism. One line in particular is quoted often and approvingly by Christians and non-Christians alike: “Men, more than women, are culture-made.”[3] Blankenhorn intends to portray fatherhood as a mere social construct. On this view, God never designed men to be good fathers. Nor is fatherhood an objective Biblical principle transcending place and time. Instead, males are almost completely at the mercy of their evolutionary programming. Fatherhood is a thin, ever-changing veneer of respectability over the untamed, abusive, and adulterous animal that lies beneath. Biology disposes man to beat his children, cheat on his wife, and kick the dog. Motherhood is a different matter. Motherhood is real, it’s concrete, it’s rooted in biology.

Blankenhorn wants to make bad men into good fathers. He believes, and rightly so, that bad fathers are bad for society as a whole. The solution, he thinks, is to craft a workable story, a convincing personal narrative:

Because men do not volunteer for fatherhood as much as they are conscripted into it by the surrounding culture, only an authoritative cultural story of fatherhood can fuse biological and social paternity into a coherent male identity.[4]

The hero of Blankenhorn’s fairy tale is the Good Family Man. We need to tell his story frequently and with conviction so that men everywhere will come to believe that they, too, can be fulfilled and contented as fathers. If Dad is happy, everyone is happy.

Despite the reference to an “authoritative” story, Blankenhorn’s view of parenting fits the postmodern worldview on a number of levels. As always, relativism is present in one form or another. In this case, to insist that fatherhood is a social construct is to imply that there is no fixed truth on the matter. It is nothing more than a figment of our collective imagination, and thus it varies from culture to culture and time to time. Note what I am not saying here. I am not denying that different cultures have different views of fatherhood. I am not denying that my own role as a father is informed by the time and place in which I grew up and in which I now live. However, none of this changes the fact that there are right ways and a wrong ways to be a father.

Second, postmodernism puts a lot of weight on the stories we tell about ourselves. One of the hosts of the Mythbusters television series is famous for saying, “I reject your reality and substitute my own.” For the host, the saying is ironic; for postmoderns, the saying rings true (for them). Blankenhorn wants us to face the “reality” that men lack any genuine social, emotional or moral connection to their children. So if we want men to be better fathers, we need to spin a story in which the depressing “facts” of fatherhood are substituted with a more uplifting version of our making. In this fictional world, fathers will actually seem important to their children. And so words, not truth, form the basic building blocks of the postmodern worldview.

Finally, postmoderns tend to value something only if it works. This is a view known as pragmatism. For Blankenhorn, the myth of the Good Family Man will make the world a better place. It doesn’t matter whether this story has any foundation in the facts of biology or the immutable teaching of God. It doesn’t matter whether it is true, but only whether it works. The end justifies the means.

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Conclusion

Postmodernism surely is a hodgepodge of troubling ideas, but it doesn’t have to be all bad. Indeed, Christians can capitalize on its mistrust of institutions and its skepticism of grand, overarching narratives. Think about materialistic science. People with a postmodern mindset recoil in disgust at its condescending rejection of all things spiritual and its inherent lack of meaning.

To be fair, postmoderns are suspicious of Christianity as well. After all, we affirm that the Bible has authority in all things (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and we preach a grand narrative of God’s redemptive plan for all mankind (Ephesians 1:7-12). Nonetheless, Christianity is well-placed to compete effectively in the marketplace of ideas. At least we acknowledge the reality of spiritual things and offer a message of personal hope (1 Peter 1:3-5). This will prove more appealing to the postmodern than materialism.

Christian parents must face the challenges of postmodern parenting and strive to maintain a thoroughly Biblical worldview. We must constantly ask ourselves: Is this “expert” offering the right kind of advice? What views are being pushed in this movie or that TV show, and do our kids understand and see these problems for themselves? We can hardly avoid postmodernism, but we need to learn how to identify it, and we need to respond in the most constructive way possible.

Endnotes

[1] Mimi Doe, “Ask Mimi.” http://www.spiritualparenting.com/askmimi.htm. [Online] Accessed May 17, 2007.

[2] Mimi Doe, “Soulful Fathering,” Beliefnet. http://www.beliefnet.com/Love-Family/Parenting/2002/04/Soulful-Fathering.aspx. [Online] Accessed May 17, 2007.

[3] David Blankenhorn, Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem, New York: Basic Books, 1995, p. 17.

[4] David Blankenhorn (n.d.), “Comments from the Author,” Institute for American Values. [Online] Accessed June 17, 2006 from http://www.americanvalues.org/html/bk-fatherless_america.html.

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© 2007 – 2014, Trevor Major. All rights reserved.

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