So…..What's the Point?

Musings from a Fellow Struggler

Archive for the tag “relativism”

Three “isms” Leading to Destruction

Relativism, pluralism and universalism: these three terms are frequently found in secular and religious writings these days and, unfortunately, not always with the greatest clarity or precision of meaning.  The following paragraphs will hopefully clarify these terms and hint at just how opposed they are to orthodox Christianity.

Relativism (epistemological) is the view that absolute (or universal) truth doesn’t exist; i.e., there is no truth that applies to all people at all times under all circumstances.  What do exist, so-called progressives say, are truths (actually, they are merely ‘opinions’) conditioned by culture, individual tastes, moral expediency (where actions guide morals instead of the other way around) and the struggle for control of society. Truth, they say, is found only among individuals or the group to which they happen to belong and nearly always in agreement with whatever agenda they are pursuing, which might range from saving the whales to world domination.

Now, looking at this more closely we can see at least two things. First, the claim “absolute truth doesn’t exist” must be absolutely true since it allows for no exceptions. This appears to mean that it is absolutely true that absolute truth doesn’t exist.  Clearly this is a contradiction and indicates just how muddleheaded such thinking really is.

Secondly, it is assumed that knowing any kind of truth is wholly dependent on human reason. The notion of Divine revelation is rejected and is generally assigned the same status as absolute truth, it simply doesn’t exist.  We are left to our own devices, they say, and must figure it out on our own. We can appeal to no higher authority than ourselves and what we are capable of understanding. It is the apex of Protagoras’ axiom that ‘man is the measure of all things’.

The upshot to all this is that no one can say to another that their thinking is wrong, their moral life is wrong, or any such thing because since absolutes don’t exist, there is no measure against which people’s lives can be measured, except by each other. There simply is no way to determine what is ‘right’ or ‘just’ other than what the group or society decides it must be.  The final consequence is moral anarchy which is the root of the “lawlessness” and ‘perplexity’ that already pervades our world.

With respect to religion (Christianity included), relativism suggests that no religion is better than another because no single religion has access to absolute truth and therefore cannot lay claim to being the ‘one true religion’. Christianity, they say, is merely one religion among many with no special claims on anyone except those who choose to be part of it. In fact, all religions have just part of the truth and only by being ‘tolerant’ and ‘inclusive’ towards other religious views can we hope to create a civilized world where religious conflict will cease.  This is the essence of pluralism in general and religious pluralism in particular.  Each culture/religion has its own kind of ‘truth’ and no other culture/religion has the right to suggest it is superior to any other world view.

The operative words of pluralism are tolerance and inclusiveness. We are to overlook differences and embrace whatever common causes we can find.  But overlooking the differences is really the most problematic part of this philosophy.  For example, how does a Christian overlook the truth that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through Him.  Either you have to ‘overlook’ this claim and assert that other avenues of salvation are open to humanity or you squarely place yourself against any view that makes Jesus only one way among many to God.  There is simply no middle ground here.

Universalism is a natural outcome of the first two views.  It claims that salvation is in no way restrictive and that, in the end, God’s love and grace will triumph over evil and all shall be saved, even Satan and his minions.  It is based on the view that God’s love and grace are inconsistent with eternal damnation and, therefore, hell and the final judgment are mere scare tactics meant to keep the faithful in line.  Even other religions can be a way to God if the person is sincere in searching for salvation.  That is, God’s plan is not restricted to Christian teachings.  Of course, ideas like repentance, commitment to following Jesus Christ, evangelism, and personal holiness are mere appendages to the wider view that all will be saved no matter what they happen to believe or what they have done.

Together, then, these ‘isms’ and their spin-offs lead to destruction, a destruction easily witnessed in our society and societies around the world.  In the absence of absolute truth there remains no center around which a person, a group, or a country can find a stable and meaningful existence.  All that can be gleaned from such views as relativism, pluralism and universalism is lawlessness and destruction, topics which will be addressed in future articles.

© W.G. Ryzek PhD

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Truth… What Truth?

Jesus said He was the way the truth and the life.

Jesus said we shall know the truth and the truth will set us free.

Jesus said that the Comforter will guide us into all truth.

There is a raging debate going on these days whether there is any such thing as objective truth and, if there is, how could we know it given our epistemological, cultural and finite subjectivity.  Ironically, the claim that there is no such thing as objective truth, or truth for all people at all times under all circumstances seems to be an objective truth.  Sure sounds like one to me.

In the face of such an absurd contradiction, I’m not sure the issue is really about truth itself but the kind of response that truth requires of us. For example,  if x is true, then going against x, denying x or ignoring x seems to be irrational and foolish. So, I think most of us can agree that holding your head under water without breathing leads to death by drowning and that this is a true statement. The appropriate response is to avoid holding your head under water for long periods. But, people don’t like being told what to do even when it is in their best interest. There is an inherent rebellion in each of us and by saying there is no such thing as absolute truth and then we can pick and choose what is ‘true’ as its suits us. Your truth is different from mine, neither is ultimately right or wrong so lets just go merrily along our way.

But, you see this just isn’t going to work. When little bands of ‘truthers’ ( we have our truth, you have yours) rub against each other, conflict is inevitable. They either have to ignore each other or try to overcome the obvious fallacious thinking that ‘they’ (the other groups) have. But, the premise that there is no such thing as objective truth disallows any kind of debate but, interestingly, debates do occur right along as though there was such a thing after all. It is what I call a ontic contradiction; that is, the very structure of human existence via the Creator requires absolute truth so saying it doesn’t exist or cannot be known is to lapse into absurdity. So, even though some would say there is no truth, they live, act, and think as if there is truth after all. And the contradiction becomes even more apparent when the claim there is no absolute truth is treated as if it were, well… true.

I think at the center of all this weirdness is ‘lawlessness’, a resistance to the demands of God upon human beings. It is all very clever; take away truth and moral and epistemological relativism become the norm. However, we know this truth: that for all people at all times under all circumstances there is no such thing as moral relativism but there is such a thing as absolute truth. Simply put, moral and/or epistemological relativism exists only in the absence of absolute truth; it cannot stand on its own. Hence, to justify all sorts of what we know are sinful activities, the world (kosmos) just denies the absolute truth that they are indeed sinful and all is well. And Paul said a time would come when lawlessness would be the norm, not the exception. This is why I think the lines presented at the beginning of this blog are so important. Christians believe in absolute truth; they have to if they believe Jesus is Lord and Saviour. Christians also know that the litmus test for whether truth is truth is freedom, freedom from all sorts of bondage’s. Christians also know that in matters of perplexity, of which there are many these days, the promise is that the truth will be revealed to us, that we will be guided into it and not left floundering about.

Now, it is important I emphasize the ‘we’ part of this. The ‘we’ to whom I am referring is the Body of Christ, the Church, not ‘a’ body of Christ, not ‘a’ particular church and especially not a particular person. And the ‘we’ part is also important because, whether we like it or not, this prevailing lawlessness affects us, all of us, no matter what geo-temporal fellowship we might belong to.  In fact, the more we defend truth against all that is false, the more likely we will feel unpleasant consequences. But we will hear the argument from many voices that our faith, our truth is just for us and that other faiths and other truths are equally valid, that Christianity is just one of many religious expressions pointing to some kind of ultimacy. And this alone is perhaps why understanding the litmus test of truth is so important, that ultimately it sets people free when no other freedom is possible. The absolute truth is that Christianity alone is capable of undoing the greatest bondage of all, namely sin and death.  We know this because “whom the Son sets free is free indeed” and ‘we’ Christians walk in that freedom because we know the truth and it has set us free.  But more on all this later. Stay tuned.

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