O'Brien, Conor Cruise. On the Eve of the Millennium: The Future of Democracy Through an Age of Unreason (New York: The Free Press, 1995); God Land: Reflections on Religion and Nationalism (Cambridge, MA: Princeton, 1988). An Irish statesman and journalist, O'Brien is a contributing editor to The Atlantic Monthly and is former editor-in-chief of the London Observer. He begins On the Eve of the Millennium by citing W.B. Yeats' ominous poem, The Second Coming; and an extended passage from a famous French historian, Jules Michelet, describing: "The Year 1000." Michelet's description provides a context for evaluating society today, on the eve of the next millennium. There are some remarkable parallels: "This world saw nothing in itself but chaos; it longed for order and hoped to find it in death" (p. 7).
A contemporary engine of chaos, according to O'Brien, is the "political correctness and multiculturalism" movement, which he labels "PCM" (p. 157). He states his fear that PCM: "may be a symptom of a wider degeneration within the Western mind…indicative of deep malaise within the democratic system…[which has a] tendency to produce…leaders who are specialists in winning popularity contests" (p. 161). O'Brien unapologetically "end[s] on a somber note"—warning that Fascism is to be expected if democracy continues "out of control"—"both because this is warranted and because I believe alarmism to be far less dangerous to us, in the late twentieth century, than the witless complacency which set in at the end of the Cold War" (p. 163).
In Looking into the Abyss G. Himmelfarb notes that O'Brien "finds a surfeit of nationalism and religion in the contemporary world," an "enduring power of religious nationalism (or nationalist religion)," and he expresses "his distrust of most forms of it" (p. 113). Although both O'Brien and Himmelfarb are alarmed by national concepts like "holy nation" and "deified nation," they express a greater concern for: "a nationalism entirely in the service of technology," and conclude with a "preference… for a nationalism that incorporates the least zealous form of religion, a 'chosen people' whose national pride is mitigated by humility before God" (p. 114; cf. On the Eve, pp. 39, 81ff.).
Oden, Thomas C. Two Worlds: Notes on the Death of Modernity in America and Russia (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity Press, 1992); After Modernity… What?: Agenda for Theology. (Grand Rapids, MI.: Academie Books, 1990); Agenda for Theology: Recovering Christian Roots (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979). A professor of theology and ethics at the Theological and Graduate Schools of Drew University, with a history as a mainline (Methodist) liberal, in recent years Oden has come to a renewal of faith and a high view of Scripture. He recognizes a titanic shift in current culture, and contends that the modern exaltation of ‘reason’ and denial of the ‘supernatural,’ which began with the fall of the Bastille in 1789, crumbled with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. He is optimistic about the opportunity in a postmodern world for a revival of Christian orthodoxy and urges a rediscovery of the classic Christian traditions, doctrines, and spirituality. Warning against magnifying the fallenness of the world, or speaking of it as "non-Christian," as if God had abandoned it, Oden calls Christians to be ready to follow Jesus in suffering for the truth.
Oden champions a "postmodern orthodoxy," or "paleo-orthodoxy," which recognizes the false promises of "modernity" ("its own interpersonal bankruptcy, social neuroses, and moral vacuity") and embraces "classical Christianity" ("recovering Christian roots"). In Agenda Oden says that the first step is to: "Quit using new and change as magic words" (p. 149). He calls for a revival of the lost "sister disciplines" of "polemics" (seeking "to identify the proper boundaries of Christian belief") and "irenics" (seeking "the conditions for peace within the boundaries"). Culturally, Oden believes that "there is much stormy weather ahead…the season of modernity is a winter season and that it is time for conserving the essentials" (p. 166). In Two Worlds Oden contends that the church, of all institutions—as a global, multicultural, and multigenerational reality—should be most prepared to face the challenges of postmodernism (p. 54).
O'Donovan, Oliver. Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1986). Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford, and Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, Dr. O'Donovan, an evangelical Anglican, contends that the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ affirm and vindicate the created order, e.g.: "We say that man's rebellion has not succeeded in destroying the natural order to which he belongs; but that is something which we could not say with theological authority except on the basis of God's revelation in the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (p. 19). An appreciation of this truth prevents a false dualism between body and spirit, the secular and the sacred. O'Donovan presents a refreshingly evangelical perspective and foundation, both for ethics in general, and for the full participation of Christians in culture. He warns against "cultural accommodation" (pp. 89-91), on the one hand, but also points out the evangelical foundation for 'cultural involvement,' on the other: "Mankind's knowledge of his heavenly citizenship provided him with an 'ultimate reconciliation' of the ambiguities of 'sacrifice'… But in a world where all values are immanent [relative], too heavy a demand is made upon earthly politics to provide the meaningfulness and justification for an individual's life" (p. 72).
O'Donovan sees morality as "a cultural form through which we communicate knowledge of the created order which is itself a whole," such that morality "has its meaning in relation to all other aspects of human response to God's grace… It is this discovery [which] makes the real difference between morality and legalism" (p. 203). "The influence of Augustine upon O'Donovan is evident in his central, evangelical thesis: "Every way of life not lived by the Spirit of God is lived by 'the flesh', by man taking responsibility for himself whether in libertarian or legalistic ways, without the good news that God has taken responsibility for him" (p. 12).
Ong, Walter J. Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness (Amherst, MA: U. Massachusetts Press/ Cornell U. Press, 1981, 1989). Emeritus prof. of Humanities, English, and Humanities in Psychiatry, at St. Louis U., Ong has contributed unique insights on two important issues in the postmodern debate. First, in regard to "truth"—a concept which postmodern philosophers want to jettison as 'political' and 'oppressive'—Ong argued persuasively for the retention of the concept, but in a more dynamic context. "Truth is symphonic," he said. "A symphony involves many instruments or voices struggling against or with one another—in a contest, 'against' and 'with' come to the same thing. Like contest…the adversative structures of truth are not lethal or even hostile, but life-giving, though at some cost" (p. 33). Second, in regard to "feminism"—a movement which some critics of postmodernism consider a serious threat (e.g. R. Bork)—Ong argued that the only way to resolve this issue is by recognizing: "The Church is sexually defined." He explained: "To the psyche, the Church is always feminine, Holy Mother Church…In relation to God…we are all, men and women alike, basically feminine …All Christians, men as well as women, can accept this free gift of God only by molding their acceptance on the initial acceptance, which had to be that of a woman" (pp. 172, 177). This overwhelming femininity of the…Church from the human side suggests that a male clergy is basically not a characterizing feature of the Church so much as a countervailing feature" (p. 178).
Ortega y Gasset, Jose’. The Revolt of the Masses. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1932/1957). Writing over sixty years ago, Ortega (1883-1955), a Spanish philosopher and statesman, diagnosed an "overwhelming, violent, moral rebellion of the masses." He judged "modern man": guilty of "total ingratitude" and "self-satisfaction;" lacking in any "transcendental purpose" or "moral code;" "drifting;" "rootless," "demoralized;" and "barbaric": "Barbarism is the absence of norms and of any possible appeal based on them. The degree of culture is measured by a greater or lesser precision of standards and norms" (p. 61); "Civilization is, above all, the will to live in concord. Barbarism is a tendency towards disassociation" (p. 64); "This is the terrible spiritual situation in which the best youth of the world finds itself today. By dint of feeling themselves free, exempt from restrictions, they feel empty" (p. 123).
Ortega argued that the "public square" derived from the Greeks and Romans: "signified nothing less than the invention of a new kind of space, more novel than Einstein's space… a civil space...an agreement to live together" (pp. 137-38); "The state is always…an invitation offered by one group of men to other groups for the purpose of coming together for the purpose of carrying out some joint enterprise together" (p. 155). Like Toynbee, Ortega believed that a dedicated, creative minority could turn a lost culture around.