Idolatry and the Chosen Delusion of Autonomous Human Sovereignty and Freedom
Certain things characterize “relativism” and inconsistent, situational “relativists”, a position taken when adopting certain logically contradictory, pseudo-relativistic statements, positions, and stands:
While there are many things, that by their very definition are relative (big, small, delicious, stinky, great, etc.) TRUTH IS NOT ONE OF THOSE as seen in science (how do things actually work and why?), the legal realm (people who are actually guilty or innocent), everyday life (why are you lying to me?), etc. What is truth but those things that perfectly conform to reality? So a truthful statement is simply one that perfectly conforms and points with precise accuracy to its underlying reality, whatever that may be.
A pretending relativist (something we can all be subject to) is one who, in an intellectually shallow, dishonest, or self-deceitful manner:
– Conveniently, unreflectively adopt a pseudo-relativistic stance (a self-refuting denial of certain absolutes) mainly when core moral, ethical, or other existential issues are at stake.
– Quickly abandon any pretense of relativism when directly & strongly impacted by things that affect us in a perceived hurtful or undesired way.
– Make absolute (and therefore illogical, inconsistent, & self-refuting), dogmatic ‘relativistic’ statements on certain central, identity threatening moral, ethical, or theological matters.
– Indulge in various attempts to deny central, existential truths or truth claims by making self-refuting, absolute ‘relativistic’ statements.
– Militantly attempt to protect a comfortable (but delusional) sense of personal autonomy by rejecting some or all authentic moral authority, demands, or claims upon us.
– Use ‘relativism’ to adopt an attitude of moral superiority over certain other opposing ‘absolutists’ (which ‘relativists’ also, however unreflectively & unacknowledgedly, happen to be).
– Use ‘relativistic’ stances to deny or attempt to distort core existential realities & absolutes (God, moral or ethical standards)
– Attempt to impose wholly subjective, supposedly neutral, ‘relativistic’ stances as universally true and objective (i.e., absolute) for all
– Use absolute ‘relative’ statements in a judgmental, dogmatic, reactionary, and / or intolerant manner toward those who disagree with our absolute ‘relative’ positions or statements.
– Make intellectually absurd, philosophically self-refuting absolutist statements such as “That’s true for you, but not for me”, “There is no absolute truth”, etc.
– Do not rigorously reject the falsity of ours or others statements or attitudes as part of our intellectual, philosophical, spiritual hygiene.
These self-refuting, self-deceiving stances generally stem from profound, militant denials vis-a-vis existential realities and / or reactionary attitudes stemming from various causes.
They can infect us all in varying degrees, Christian or not, although generally found more severely in the unregenerate as those are based in a strong, dangerous rejection of ultimate reality.
Also, the only truly pure and consistent (i.e., inconvenient) relativists are those who are seriously addled, (possibly criminally) insane, in prison, or free-ranging threats, generally a (thankfully) rare breed.
For a fuller unpacking of these ideas see the excerpts from an article by Dr. Copan below.
Excerpts below are from an article by Dr. Paul Copan. For the full article, click on the link above (my comments below generally in parentheses):
PROBLEMS WITH RELATIVISM
1. Relativism Is Self-Refuting: Relativists Believe Their View Is True (Absolute) for Everyone
What do we mean by relativism and truth?
(And) two loaded and misunderstood terms — tolerance and judging.
a. Defining Relativism and Truth: Relativism is the view that a belief or philosophy of life can be true for one person but not for another.
When it comes to morality, one person’s or culture’s moral beliefs may be “right” for them but not necessarily for another.
Truth is relative — that is, dependent on my own feelings, preferences, time of history, or culture.
The opposite of relative is absolute or objective. Truth does not depend on what people believe or what period of history in which they are living.
Even if everyone believed the earth is flat, it would still be round.
What then is truth?
Truth is a match-up with reality. (when statements, beliefs, ideas exactly correspond to the way things actually were, are, or will be).
If a belief, story, idea, or statement does not match up with reality, with the way things really are, then it’s false.
“The moon is made of cheese” is false because it does not match up with reality
Only reality confers truth or falsity. A true statement is faithful to reality.
(See my page on some important characteristics of truth)
(See also this site, done with humor and subtle logic: An Exercise in Logic & Truth)
b. Why Relativists Are Absolutists: Despite the relativist’s claims, the average relativist believes the following to be true (absolute, objective) for everyone — not just for him / her:
You should not say that someone else is wrong (except of course if one does not agree with that statement then they are wrong)
All views are equally acceptable (except of course the view that not all views are equally acceptable)
You should not impose morality on others. (The absolute value of non-imposition of ‘morality’ would make all laws invalid since every law is based on the moral / ethical qualities of justice, equity, security of person and possessions, etc. The belief is that all laws must be relative, morally neutral, culturally and/or time conditioned, etc. So on what basis is any action universally and in all times criminal, evil, or truly anti-social?)
You ought to be “tolerant” and should not “judge.” (absolute statements about nebulous, poorly defined concepts)
You ought to be open-minded. (Excluding of course being ‘open-minded’ toward those who don’t think that nebulous, conveniently undefined, wholly subjective, and essentially meaningless concept has any genuine value)
Consider some typical relativistic slogans and assertions, which turn out to be an exercise in self-refutation:
Truth is just a matter of perspective: Is this true or is it just another trivial perspective?
There are no facts, only interpretations: Is that just a fact or is that just your interpretation?
You can do whatever you want, just as long as you do not hurt anyone: Why is it wrong to hurt someone? Isn’t this an absolute moral standard that we should not violate? Why is that?
You can do whatever you want, just as long as it is between two consenting adults: Why the absolute rule about consenting adults?
c. Relativism, Tolerance, and Judging:
Have you ever been in a conversation where someone charged you with being “intolerant”? (but why is one intolerant of perceived ‘intolerance’?)
Or perhaps someone condescendingly asks: “Who are you to judge someone else?” (but who are you to make that judgment?)
Suggestion: Don’t immediately address the accusation, but ask for a definition. Find out what the relativist means by tolerance or judge
As it turns out, relativists use terms they cannot live up to themselves. They make themselves the exception to their own rules.
The classical understanding of tolerance is putting up with what one takes to be erroneous or false.
We do not tolerate chocolate or ice cream. We enjoy them.
Today, however, tolerance has come to mean “accepting all views as true or equally legitimate.”
So, to disagree with another is arrogant. (except, of course, when the ‘relativist’ disagrees with your right to have the view that that is intellectual hogwash)
But think about it: How can you accept both Buddhism (which rejects God) and the Christian faith (which affirms God’s existence)? It’s a contradiction, plain and simple. (only one of those things at best could possibly be true)
What about the term judging?
Relativists like to cite Matthew 7:1: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (as usual ignoring immediate and wider contexts in Scripture)
They say that means saying that someone else is wrong. But is this what Jesus meant? Not at all.
First, it makes no sense: if someone accuses you of “judging,” isn’t that person judging you for judging someone else?
Second, Jesus himself strongly disagrees with (and sometimes permanently condemns) His religious opponents (see the “woes” of Matthew 23).
Third, Jesus said: “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (John 7:24).
Matthew 7’s context indicates a problem people need to address — a speck in someone’s eye.
But believers should not go with a sense of moral superiority (“judging” or “being judgmental” as if other’s moral failings, as bad as they might be, are worse than their own)
They should examine themselves first (taking the log out of their own eye) before confronting sin in another, but rather with a spirit of humility (cf. Galatians 6:1).
2. Relativism Is Selective: People Are Usually Relativists About God / Religion and Ethics.
a. Relativists are not relativists about trivial facts that do not challenge their personal autonomy:
People are not relativistic about stop signs, about the roundness of the earth, about who won the Super Bowl, or about the stock market.
People are not relativists about labels on prescription bottles (“that’s true for the pharmacist but not for me”).
They do not claim that “Paris may be in France for some people but not for others.”
People are primarily (and strangely most conveniently) relativists about God and morality. (and ethical or religious systems)
Clearly, the existence of God — the Cosmic Authority — is a game-changer. He has a claim on our lives….
b. Relativists Become Moral Absolutists When It Comes to Their Rights and Their Property.
When it comes to ethics, if people think that torturing babies for fun or raping is “right for some people but not others,” they have not reflected very deeply on the basis for morality.
Such people do not need an argument; they need help.
Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland has written about an illuminating encounter with a student at the University of Vermont.3
Moreland was speaking in a dorm, and a relativistic student who lived there told him, “Whatever is true for you is true for you and whatever is true for me is true for me. If something works for you because you believe it, that’s great. But no one should force his or her views on other people since everything is relative.”
As Moreland left, he unplugged the student’s stereo and started out the door with it.
The student protested: “Hey, what are you doing? … You can’t do that.”
Moreland replied, “You’re not going to force on me the belief that it is wrong to steal your stereo, are you?”
He then went on to point out to the student that, when it’s convenient, people say they don’t care about sexual morality or cheating on exams.
But they become moral absolutists in a hurry when someone steals their things or violates their rights. That is, they are selective moral relativists.
Interestingly, a few weeks later this student became a follower of Christ because he recognized the connection between God and human dignity and rights — that God made us in His image.
I like to tell churches that this could be a great new evangelistic method called, “Stealing Stereos for Jesus.”…
I said, “Not at all. My point is that it’s easy to be a relativist when evil is out there and not bothering me.
But when someone violates my rights — when someone violates me — then I recognize this is wrong.”
At Kennesaw State University near Atlanta, my lecture topic was: “When Racism and Bigotry Are Okay.”4
The school newspaper did not want to advertise my “intolerant” talk.
Thankfully, a Christian editor explained, “You can’t be a relativist and oppose racism and bigotry. If so, you are not really a relativist. (because you believe those things are absolutely wrong, but likely cannot explain why that is so or cite any genuine authority for that absolute belief)
Let’s draw some strands together.
First, relativism is a belief of convenience; it makes no intellectual or moral demands on us.
Why struggle with intellectual or moral challenges? Relativism is really just lazy (i.e. sloppy) thinking.
Second, truth is inescapable.
While in high school my daughter, Valerie, didn’t raise her hand when the teacher asked the class, “How many of you believe there’s no such thing as truth?”
When her teacher asked why Valerie didn’t raise her hand, she said, “If you say there’s no truth, you’re basically saying that it’s true that there is no truth. To deny the truth is to affirm it.”
Third, knowledge is inescapable.
People who say “you can’t know” apparently know that you can’t know.
Even skeptics — who question whether you can know — still seem to know their minds should follow logical laws and that their minds are not systematically deceiving them.
Fourth, even if we are limited and biased, this does not mean we cannot know truly.
Why think we have to know with 100 percent certainty? If people insist on this, how can they know — or show — that knowledge requires 100 percent certainty? They can’t.
Fifth, we find ourselves bumping up against reality all the time — traffic jams, cancer, AIDS in Africa.
We have no control over these realities. These things are not just true for some people but not for others.
If so, relativism becomes an easy way to get rid of the world’s leading problems: “AIDS or pollution may be a problem for some people but not for me.”
No, relativism is simply out of touch with reality. (comfortably delusional)
What’s more, it’s soul-destroying…
Relativists think their belief system brings freedom, but it’s actually a life of bondage, enslavements, and addictions. Relativism turns people into mere shadows of humanity.
Many unbelievers assume that God’s authority will undermine their well-being…
Pastor Tim Keller advises Christians not to simply “scold” relativists for premarital sex or mushy views of truth.
These are symptoms of something deeper:
“Instead of telling them they are sinning because they are sleeping with their girlfriends or boyfriends, I tell them that they are sinning because they are looking to their romances to give their lives meaning, to justify and save them, to give them what they should be looking for from God.
This idolatry leads to anxiety, obsessiveness, envy, and resentment. I have found that when you describe their lives in terms of idolatry, postmodern people do not give much resistance. Then Christ and His salvation can be presented not (at this point) so much as their only hope for forgiveness, but as their only hope for freedom.”6 …
See the full article here: “’It’s All Relative’ and Other Such Absolute Statements: Assessing Relativism”