Relativism by JZaRVc


 “Relativism’s rise has caught many Christians unaware, even though by 1991 the Barna
Research Group found 66 percent of American adults didn’t believe absolute truth
exists… Even more disturbing about Barna’s findings was that half of ‘born again’
Christians—53 percent of them and most adults associated with evangelical churches
also about 53 percent maintained this relativistic view. And when polled again in 1994, a
staggering 72 percent of American adults—almost three out of four affirmed some kind
of relativism” (True for You, But not for Me, Paul Copan, p. 11).

Varieties of Relativism

   Objective Relativism: Is the idea that beliefs of a person or group may be true for
    them, but may not be true for others. “One persons’ ‘truth’, which really amounts
    to opinion, can conflict with another’s ‘truth’ and still be valid” (Copan p. 19).
   Religious Relativism: Is the concept that a religion can be true for one person or
    culture but not for another. No religion is universally or exclusively true.
    “Religious beliefs are simply an accident of birth” (Copan p. 19). The argument goes
    that if one were born in India one would become a Hindu, and if what one believes
    is the product of environment and geography, no single religious believe can be
    objectively true. The problem with this argument is that there are a vast number of
    people who abandon the “religious faith” of their parents; in fact, in our lifetime we
    have seen many young people in America reject “the faith” of their parents. In the
    Old Testament the children of Israel often rejected the true God and opted for
    something else instead (2 Kings 17). In the New Testament there are many
    warnings about Christians abandoning their faith (2 Timothy 4:3). In addition, the
    people making this argument never seem to apply it to themselves. If I am only a
    Christian because of my environment, are they only a relativist because of their
    environment? If religion is culturally conditioned, then so are skepticism, unbelief,
    and every other “ism”. “How does the pluralist know he is correct? Even though
    he claims that others don’t know Ultimate Reality as it really is, he implies that he
    does” (Copan p. 85).
   Moral Relativism: Is the idea there are no moral absolutes. Something is wrong only
    if you think or feel it is wrong. Of course, in the real world people do not
    consistently follow this point of view. Governments routinely put people in prison
    for doing something that the government or society says is wrong—regardless of
    whether the criminal “feels” or “thinks” it is wrong. I find relativists contradicting
    their beliefs when on the one hand they claim that something is wrong only if you
    think it is wrong and then on the other hand condemning people for being
    “ignorant” when they say or do something that the relativist “thinks” is wrong or
    intolerant. How can anyone who does not believe in absolute truth, and who
    believes that “what is true for me is not true for you”, and that “truth is what you
    feel and think” ever condemn anyone for being ignorant?
   Cultural Relativism: Is the concept that what is immoral in our culture is not
    necessarily considered wrong in another culture, therefore no one can judge the
    values of another culture. Yet in the real world, people ignore “relativism” and
    condemn such things as genocide in Africa or female infanticide or the violation of
    human rights in China and other countries. This is also seen in the argument, “You
    are just using Western Logic”. Copan observes that people who attempt to ridicule
    Christianity are forced to resort to “Western Logic”, that is, they attempt to find
    contradictions in the Biblical text, which is nothing more than accepting the
    premise that two truths never contradict one another. “Admit it or not, skeptics
    believe that if one proposition contradicts another, both can’t be true—or they
    wouldn’t point out contradictions and flaws in reasoning. That approach in itself
    presupposes a belief in an objective truth worth searching for” (p. 30). Thus,
    anyone who attempts to argue that the Bible contradicts itself somewhere is
    admitting that logic is valid and that truth, of an absolute nature does exist.
   Historical Relativism: This is the view that truth differs over periods of time. But if
    this view were “true” then there would be no basis for our current generation to
    condemn slavery in the past in this country or the crimes committed by the Nazis.
    Once again, relativism fails to be consistent. One cannot believe in relativism and
    at the same time condemn the Crusades or other events in the past.
   Scientific Relativism: Is the opinion that “Scientific progress is nothing but one
    theory being replaced by another… In scientific relativism, there is no such thing as
    objective truth, even in the ‘hard sciences’” (Copan p. 20).
   Aesthetic Relativism: This is the idea that, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, yet
    it is more sinister than that. This often justifies “art” that is degrading or
    destructive. “Postmodern artists consider the emotional reaction of their audience
    to be part of their work of art…Artistic standards such as technical excellence,
    creativity, and the capturing of universal and enduring human experience are
    shunned by postmodern artists” (Copan p. 21).
How We Got Here

We should first remember that relativism is not new to the world; we even find it very
popular in Israel during the time of the Judges (21:25). “The sophist Protagoras (born
approximately 500 B.C.) maintained that the human community is the standard of truth.
Plato cited him as saying that ‘man is the measure of all things’. Consequently, any given
thing ‘is to me such as it appears to me, and is to you such as it appears to you’---a
surprising modern sound!” (Copan p. 19). It does come as a shock to older Christians
who remember a time when more people believed in certain absolutes. Copan writes,
“The rapid spread of relativism shouldn’t surprise us. While relativism grows out of the
heady freethinking of some of our culture’s brightest minds, it feeds on the collapse of
everyday norms. It results from the breakdown of the family brought on by divorce,
illegitimacy, and the neglect of children happening in all strata of our society. The
instability and insecurity our youngest generations have experienced have severely
affected their ability to love and to work—and, I believe—to appreciate the existence of
objective truth. One young woman, a punk rocker, depressingly expressed this reality
when she said, ‘I belong to the Blank Generation. I have no beliefs. I belong to no
community, tradition, or anything like that. I’m lost in this vast, vast world. I belong
nowhere. I have absolutely no identity” (p. 12).

The Implications (Rules) of Relativism

No matter how hard one tries one cannot get away from “rules”; even relativism has
definite prohibitions, including:

   Persuasion (seeking to convert someone) is prohibited

“On many university campuses, evangelism—the taboo word is ‘proselytizing’ is viewed
as ‘cramming your religion down someone’s throat’” (Copan p. 21). Yet, God, the Creator
declares evangelism to be what the world needs more than anything else (Matthew
28:19). In fact, seeking to share the gospel with someone shows a loving concern for
people (2 Timothy 2:23-26), and honors and respects them as thinking beings. “If we are
eager to get recommendations on good and inexpensive ethic food or to ask for leads on
shopping bargains, why not when it comes to discovering a life-changing message?”
(Copan p. 38). There are many points at which relativism breaks down or ends up
contradicting itself and here is one. If Christianity is “true for me” then why am I not
allowed to fully practice it? Evangelism is an inherent part of being a Christian (1 Peter
3:15)—yet I am being told to back off. The reality is that relativism wants to limit the
influence of Christianity to the “church building”. When relativism rules, Christians are
not allowed to fully practice what they believe.

    “To be exclusive is to be arrogant”

To say that genocide or rape is wrong are exclusive statements. Is one being “arrogant”
to saying that rape is wrong or that Hitler was evil? It is easy to forget that the person
practicing relativism is just as exclusive as the Christian. The relativist believes that the
Christian is wrong and that his or her point of view is false. Anytime one uses such words
as “right”, “wrong”, “just”, “unjust”, “should”, “ought”, “good”, “evil” or even terms
such as “judgmental” and “intolerant”, one has become “exclusive”.

    Tolerance is a cardinal virtue

What we need to understand about modern “tolerance” is that it has a definite standard.
We are not being told to be “tolerant”; rather we are being told what we must accept as
fact. Those who preach “tolerance” the most loudly are often very dogmatic about the
need for everyone else to line up with their definition and standard of tolerance. It never
seems to dawn on them that if relativism is reality, then no one needs to tolerate

    “Might makes right”

“The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche (1844-1900) wrote that the obliteration of
God—and therefore all objective standards for truth and morality would usher in an age
of nihilism, the rejection of all objective meaning and value. All that is left is the will of
power, by which only the fittest survive” (Copan p. 22). Since Relativism is not new to the
world we already know the how the story will play out. Biblically we have seen it play
out many times (Judges, 2 Kings 17; the downfall of various Nations and Romans 1).
Once God and truth are abandoned, it is all downhill. Thus, as the culture embraces this
point of view we should not be shocked by the increase in broken relationships,
selfishness, greed, crime and despair (Romans 1:29-32). I hear so many people longing
for the sixties and seventies when things were simple and before the world went wrong
and yet one needs only to listen to the songs of that time period to see how the
destructive problems of today are rooted in the careless thinking of the “good old days”.

                        Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ

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