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