Deconstructing Rand McNally

  When you're driving somewhere and get lost, the thing you reach for first is your handy map. After all, it's an accurate representation of the local roads, which means you can count on it to show you how to get from point A to point B. But today, postmodernism, which challenges all beliefs in objective truth, has even found its way into map-making. Some recent books argue seriously that all maps reflect not objective truth about the world, but merely political interests. Maps are now regarded as "instruments of power," says a recent New York Times article. In short, postmodernism is invading what once seemed to be the most objective, two-dimensional means of representing the world: the field of cartography. Of course, maps have always reflected the understanding of the times. Medieval maps showed a world that hardly extended beyond the Mediterranean, with the size of the Holy Land greatly exaggerated. Nineteenth-century British maps represented the spread of England's colonies as synonymous with the march of civilization. And, in the late 1980s, the National Geographic Society chose a new projection of the world that portrayed the Soviet Union as much smaller--and less threatening--than it appeared in maps made during the Cold War. But today these examples are being taken as the rule rather than the exception as postmodernists reject the very notion that we can represent the world objectively. In the words of geography professor David Woodward, we must "move beyond the idea of a map as a mirror of the world." Instead, maps should be "treated less as representational devices than as rhetorical devices," expressing the mapmakers' personal and political agenda. Geographers are echoing the words of postmodernist philosopher Richard Rorty, who argues that we can no longer treat the human mind as a "mirror of nature." The idea that the mind is like a mirror or a camera, passively recording impressions of the world, stems from the Enlightenment, when many Western thinkers openly rejected divine revelation as the basis of human knowledge. Instead, they proposed that human mind itself is capable of a "God's-eye" view of reality--an objective, neutral stance transcending individual circumstances. This was nothing less than the idolization of the human mind--and today that idol has crumbled. Postmodernism has exposed the flaw in the Enlightenment worldview by pointing out that each of us is limited and finite, conditioned by our social and historical context. It's now clear that, apart from God's Word, human beings simply have no transcendent, "God's-eye" view of the world. As a result, postmodernism ends up in skepticism and despairs of finding any genuine truth. Even something as straightforward and fact-based as map-making is now up for grabs. Yet the spread of skepticism opens up a rich opportunity for you and me to make a powerful apologetic argument for what historian Paul Johnson calls "the necessity of Christianity." We can now show that neither Enlightenment modernism nor today's postmodernism provides a sufficient basis for objective knowledge. The only way to ground an objective view of truth is if God has given us His transcendent perspective--if we have a genuine "God's-eye" view of reality. If we press the case for biblical truth, we just might get cartographers away from doing postmodernist philosophy... and back into the business of making real maps.


Chuck Colson


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