Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Paul Helm's Prescription for the Postmodern Christmas Blues

Paul Helm, Emeritus Professor at the University of London, notes:

...the unalloyed joy and worship at Christmas, prompted by reflection on the significance of this momentous event, is in danger of being spoilt by the occurrence of an affliction of the mind that we shall call postmodern dyspepsia. If this is not checked, it can threaten the feast. Instead of our hearts burning as we remember the Incarnation in the way that the Emmaus disciples’ hearts did as they realised that Jesus had been raised, postmodernism can give us heartburn of a different kind. Intellectual flatulence, loss of appetite, nausea, dizziness. Ulcers, even.

In its place he prescriptions some mental disciplines for us to cultivate:

So here is offered - as a pre-advent cordial, a prescription to ward off the nausea and heartburn of such post-modern insinuation - four mental disciplines which we can practice before the 25th in an effort to tone up our minds and spirits. In a sense, to reduce PM tension, and to enable us to celebrate Christmas with appropriate joy and thanksgiving.

This is a delightful, thoughtful essay. If you don't have any familiarity with philosophy, some of it might be tough sledding. But we should always be reading things that stretch us, that aren't accessible on a quick skim, and that slow us down and make us think. Professor Helm's sagacious counsel is in that category.

Here are his four prescriptions for the pomo blues:

  1. Cultivate the thought that "We've been here before: this is nothing new: this is déja vu all over again!"

  2. Remember that our fallibility comes in degrees. The mere recognition of fallibility does not entail scepticism.

  3. Ask, Am I not more justified in confessing the Incarnation than in adopting some epistemological theory that claims that I am not justified?
  4. By using appropriate methods, do what you can to cultivate objectivity and to diminish your prejudices.