What Is Relativism?
If men could be saved apart from the gospel, our mandate to evangelize to world would not be urgent. Reaching the lost is an all-consuming priority only because there is no salvation except through the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12). Christianity is uncompromising in its claim that belief in Jesus is the only way to heaven (John 14:6).
This claim is offensive to anyone brainwashed by modern relativism. On many issues I do not agree with the pope, but I agree with him that relativism is the chief threat to the survival of organized religion.
What is relativism? Relativism says that truth may be one thing for me, another for you. Such a simplistic philosophy would never have gained a serious hearing in the past. Only by working hard these last fifty years to dummy down education has the devil been able to convince people to accept relativism as a world view. Why can we reject it? For five reasons.
1) Relativism is Illogical.
Perhaps you have heard the classic rebuttal of relativism. If all truth is relative, then the truth of this assertion is relative also. To say that all truth is relative cannot be absolutely true. Although this rebuttal strikes to the heart of relativism, some people pass it off as mere word play.
So, let me take another approach leading to the same result. Truth for me includes such assertions as, "Jesus rose from the dead." Is it possible that for me this could be true, but for you it could be false? Can the statement, "Jesus rose from the dead," be true if the statement, "Jesus did not rise from the dead," is true also? In other words, can a statement and its contradiction both be true? If the key terms retain the same meaning, both statements cannot be true without violating the so-called law of noncontradiction, a law fundamental to rational thought.
As formally stated in the field of logic, the law of noncontradiction stipulates, according to Aristotle, that "the same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject in the same respect." Either I am here or I am not here. I cannot be both. Either a man is a Christian, or he is not a Christian. A statement and its negation cannot both be true if the same words have the same meaning. One of the methods of proof learned by geometry students—the method of indirect proof—assumes the law of noncontradiction.
Does anyone seriously question this law? Yes, they do. In academic circles today, among leaders of postmodernism, there are people who challenge it. We may justly suspect that they are playing semantic games to capture attention and promote their careers, yet they have been very influential. They have helped in convincing the young that relativism is tenable.
But to deny the law of noncontradiction is self-refuting. Think about it. To assert that the law of noncontradiction is false cannot force us to abandon the contradictory statement that it is true.
2) Relativism is Hypocritical.
Those professors who champion relativism do not live as though it were true. They apply it selectively to truth claims that they want to reject, but they view as absolute any truth claim they want to accept. For example, they are passionately certain that they are right in supporting racial equality, environmental protection, women's liberation, and the whole litany of liberal causes. They see relative truth only in the realm of traditional religion and morality.
In fact, relativism is just a smokescreen for atheism. The only difference is that a relativist pretends to respect religion. Yet he does not respect its truth claims. Rather, he tolerates it as merely a convenient fiction that helps people cope with life. He says, "If your religion works for you and makes you happier, fine. You should be free to practice it so long as you recognize that other religions are valid too." But since the various world religions disagree radically on every important question, they can be equally valid only if none holds any significant truth. By putting all religions on the same level, the relativist is in effect belittling them all.
But, as we have said, he is not a consistent relativist. He sees nothing relative in his conviction that all these religions he is willing to tolerate are, in the end, false. Thus, he is actually an atheist, or at least an agnostic, on the question of whether God exists. And he is a pragmatist on moral questions.
3) Relativism Distorts What Religions Teach.
Relativist propaganda in the media and in the schools has affected the thinking of many religious people. The number is growing who are willing to agree with such assertions as, "There are many roads to God." Billy Graham has in recent years won favorable coverage in the media because he grants the possibility of salvation outside Christianity. But this sort of relativism under the guise of tolerance whitewashes the glaring defects in other religions. Christianity and the religions derived from the Judeo-Christian tradition (including Islam, which is essentially a Christian cult) are the only ones that recognize a supreme Being. There is no God, as we understand the term "God," in Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shintoism, or animism. Many primitive peoples understand that God exists, but they consider Him remote from their lives and give Him little place in their religion.
Another relativist sentiment that is increasingly acceptable to people of faith is, "You can get to heaven by practicing any religion." But heaven is a concept based on the Bible. In religions with no connection to the Bible, the concept is missing.
If God and heaven exist, how can Hinduism or any other religion blind to both be regarded as an option as valid as Christianity? A popular answer today is that it does not matter what a person believes—to please God, it is enough to be religious and moral. In other words, salvation is by human merit. Thus, the road of relativism leads quickly to denying the core teaching of the Bible that salvation is by faith alone in a specific person, Jesus Christ.
4) Relativism Destroys Religion.
As the pope well understands, no religion that surrenders its claim to possess absolute truth can long survive. That's the lesson of history. When liberalism swept through mainstream Protestantism over a century ago, a typical preacher schooled in the new way of thinking told his people that Jesus is not really God and the Bible is not really God's Word, but they should come to church anyway to learn how they might work to improve society. Many church members realized that one way they could greatly improve their little corner of society was to sleep in on Sunday morning. People left liberal churches by the droves. Only the emergence of neo-orthodoxy in the 40s and charismatic renewal in the 70s saved these churches from extinction.
The extinction of organized religion would not grieve the modern intellectual. When I taught social psychology in the 60s, my colleagues thought that the greatest threat to democratic society was fascism. They did extensive research with the F-scale (fascism scale) in an effort to find what predisposes people to accept a fascist ideology. This question obsessed the liberal establishment because it was still reeling from the nightmare of World War II. But since then there has been a profound shift in social psychology and throughout the worlds of education, entertainment, and liberal politics. Now the great threat to human progress is commonly assumed to be religion.
Why? The official reason, first elevated to creedal status by John Dewey, is that religion breeds discrimination, persecution, and war. There will be no peace, liberals say, until every religion accepts truth in other religions. How should Christian fundamentalists respond? We should concede as an evident fact that religious differences do prevent people from living in harmony. Yet, the persistent conflict between religions in general testifies to the superiority of Biblical Christianity, which is the only major religion that has never used the sword to gain more adherents.
In my recent conversation with a native American, he complained that a Christian missionary—a Jesuit—had engineered the bloody extermination of some Indian tribes on the West coast. He expected me to accept responsibility for this tragedy. But I said, "Friend, the Jesuits have also killed many of my kind of Christian." The devil has created many counterfeits of true Christianity to draw people away from the truth. The Roman Catholicism of that Jesuit is such a counterfeit.
True Christianity, based on the Bible, is unique among world religions in teaching, "Love your enemies." These words are original to Jesus. No one before His time spoke them, and no one since His time has spoken them except under His influence. If you love your enemies, you will find it impossible to persecute or kill them. True Christianity also teaches that the way to propagate the Christian faith is not by violence or coercion, but by preaching. The gospel is essentially a proclamation of God's love for man. It calls for a free decision either to accept or refuse God's love. The decision must be free because it a decision to answer love with love, and love can only be given willingly.
Bible believers have therefore always taken the lead in promoting religious liberty and tolerance. If men must be free to follow God by their own choosing, they must also be free to reject Him. The Baptist Roger Williams set up the first colony in America that guaranteed religious freedom. The First Amendment to the Constitution—the one preventing the establishment of any particular religious denomination—as well as the whole Bill of Rights was the brainchild of a Baptist, George Mason. I am not suggesting that Baptists are the only true Christians. Yet, in their view of the church's place in society, I believe they have come to the best understanding of New Testament teaching.
Another reason modern intellectuals hate religion is that they see it as the great obstacle to alternative lifestyles. They want a society entirely without restraints on sexual behavior—where the only duty is to self and the only philosophy is hedonism. In viewing religion as a braking force on our slide into licentiousness, they are of course right. Biblical religion especially will never condone promiscuity, and so the crusaders for promiscuity hate Biblical religion. The divide between the two sides will never be bridged. The culture war between people of faith and secularists will never come to a truce. The reason is that wicked men cannot find rest in their conscience so long as true religion reminds them of their guilt (John 3:19ff).
5) Relativism Keeps Men from Seeking the Truth.
As we have seen, relativism is a false philosophy. Truth is not whatever a man chooses to believe. The only true world view is the one that correctly describes our universe. Reality is one; therefore, truth is one. On questions where world religions disagree, no more than one answer can be correct. How can we determine which is correct? By logic and evidence. It is necessary to do some serious thinking. Relativism has unfortunately convinced people today that the road to truth is not thought but feeling. The message of the media is that we cannot go wrong if we just follow our hearts. People so indoctrinated soon believe what they want to believe, and they never bother to consider the logic and evidence that shows the truth in Christianity.
Christianity is the Only Tenable World View.
The evidences for Christianity have been my lifelong study. Many of these taken alone establish that Christianity is true.
- There is no reasonable doubt that the universe is the work of a divine creator. Everything in the vast universe around us could not have sprung out of nothing. The beautiful structures we see everywhere in nature could not have been the product of mere chance.
- The testimony of conscience leaves no reasonable doubt that we were made by a righteous God.
- From our experience in the world, we learn that obeying conscience gives happiness. Thus, there is no reasonable doubt that our Creator wants us to be happy, and if He wishes us to be happy, there is no reasonable doubt that He is a God of love.
- There is no reasonable doubt that Jesus Christ fulfilled the long list of Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. These specify the time of His coming, His name, lineage, and birthplace, as well as many details of His life, ministry, and death, including His death on a cross.
- There is no reasonable doubt that Jesus was unique in both wisdom and character. None other before or since has equaled His compassion for the most unlovely of men. None other, except under His influence, has taught, "Love your enemies."
- There is no reasonable doubt that Jesus performed miracles. In historical records left by His enemies, they call Him a sorcerer.
- There is no reasonable doubt that Jesus rose from the dead. Many of His followers were so convinced of His resurrection that they accepted a martyr's death rather than deny it.
- There is no reasonable doubt that the church which Jesus founded has fulfilled His prediction that it would grow to be the largest plant in the garden—that is, until it became the dominant world religion.
- There is no reasonable doubt that Jesus has saved me from my sins and transformed my life, just as He has saved and transformed the lives of countless others.
- There is no reasonable doubt that Jesus walks with me every day, guides every step, provides every need, and answers every prayer according to His will. I know it as a fact. I could no more doubt it than I could doubt sunshine or rain.
Therefore, I do not apologize for being dogmatic in my faith. I do not apologize for reaching out in love to others and sharing my faith with them. I could not do otherwise if I love them, for I know that without my faith they can neither find true happiness in this world nor secure life forever.
Should I respect people of other religions? Who wants respect? I don't. God made us to want not respect, but love. But should I respect people of other religions? Yes, but even more, I should love them. Should I respect their religion? Certainly I should respect the many aspects of their culture that are not intrinsically bound to their religion. But why should I respect any religion that is leading people astray from the intimate relationship with God that He created them to enjoy. A false religion has no value. Even Christianity has no value if it is not true (1 Cor. 15: 12-19). That is why dialogue and debate about religion are healthy, if they are conducted in a spirit of love. A preacher of the gospel, a teacher of the Bible, a believer witnessing to his neighbor—these are no threat to society. On the contrary, by helping others think more clearly about the ultimate questions of life, they are performing a great service to society, even if Christianity is not true. But it is true. Therefore, by pointing the way to eternal life, they are performing a service to society of inestimable value.
© 2007, 2012 Stanley Edgar Rickard (Ed Rickard, the author). All rights reserved.