Closet Relativists Come Clean (Yes Me and You)
What are the “big sins” of our day? No one is giving out “Scarlet Letters” these days, but society is still branding just the same. If I were to empty a tray of spent motor oil in the street gutter, I would experience outrage and likely more than verbal abuse. If I were identified “trying to convert someone” to Christianity, what would I experience? “Trying to convert someone” is not only unpopular, it is stigmatized. It is one of our society’s “big sins.” Attempting to convert someone is automatically (and unthinkingly) labeled as being bigoted, arrogant, and hateful. This is because our society’s default (unthinking) position is relativism. And when I “attempt to convert someone,” and I tend to buy into the label that evangelism involves being “arrogant, bigoted, and hateful”, and I feel ashamed and even curtail my evangelistic efforts, I am a closet relativist.
What is relativism? Here are some good insights from Boston area L’Abri Director Dick Keyes from a talk at Covenant Seminary of St. Louis back in 2003. “Relativism claims that we have a lot of people from different perspectives saying what they think ultimate truth is, but that these people are simply expressing their own beliefs. They are attempting to name what is not namable. Relativism claims that it does not make sense to talk about some religions being true and other religions being false; doing so brings the wrong categories to the discussion. To the relativist no religions are true or false. Certainly none are true in any way that would exclude any others being true. They are all true in that they do more or less the same job; they express the deepest human longings and are means for achieving social cohesion . . .”
So what is inauthentic (or “wrong”–that relatively forbidden word nowadays) about relativism? Number One: It claims the “Immaculate Perception.” Mr. Keyes points out that “relativism is an over-religion or a meta-religion that forces all religions into its mold. It sounds humble . . . but it produces a single vision of ultimate truth that excludes all other contenders. The relativist claims an immaculate perception of religious truth, but at the same time denies that anyone can have such a perspective. . . . . Relativism seems to have high moral ground. It seems to celebrate the plurality of religious beliefs and be tolerant, nonjudgmental, generous, and enlightened. It seems to celebrate the diversity of religious perspectives, but in fact the message of relativism is that it is the one exclusive and correct way to understand the full picture of religious diversity in the world. In fact, relativism is extremely absolutist! It assumes for itself the very status that it scorns when anybody else holds it.”
Number Two: Relativism is SLEEPWALKING! Mr. Keyes observes that “relativism … is very comforting. It tells us that it is impossible to be wrong in any way that matters. It is perfectly safe to be entirely wrong about God, or to totally ignore God and questions of God’s existence and relevance. Different views are differences only in preference – vanilla, chocolate, coffee, whatever. This way of looking at things encourages people to sleepwalk through the biggest choices of their lives.
It is relativism that is the opiate of the masses – especially in the modern university setting, where it deadens and discourages what could be enormously stimulating intellectual and spiritual discussion. Discussions of serious differences, however, too often are seen as dangerous and liable to offend somebody. Discussion of difference is put under the carpet as quickly as possible. But if we respect the plurality of religions, we are saying the choice between them is possible and necessary. God? No God? Which god? These are important questions that everybody ought to grapple with. We need an atmosphere that facilitates asking these questions and does not bury them in shame and fear of political incorrectness. . . . If everyone would admit to being an absolutist – and everyone with any conviction about God has to exclude somebody else’s view of God – there could be much more fruitful discussion.” Thanks Mr. Keyes for helpful insights. Relativism is a closet, with limited space and not much light. Come out. LH