Monday, February 26, 2018
The Loss of Order: Relativism
The late Allan Bloom (who in his illustrious career taught both at the University of Chicago and Yale...a subtle shout-out to two of my children who also attended these institutions while retaining their orthodoxy I might add), wrote books, one of them being The Closing of the American Mind, New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1987. His introduction explains the great challenge of the times [when Prof Bloom refers to "they" = baby boomers, generation x'rs, and millennials of course]: "The relativity of truth is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate, the condition of a free society, or so they see it. They have all been equipped with this framework early on, and it is the modern replacement for the inalienable natural rights that used to be the traditional American grounds for a free society...The danger they have been taught to fear from absolutism is not error but intolerance. Relativism is necessary to openness and this is the virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years [Bloom wrote this in 1987] has dedicated itself to inculcating. Openness -- and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and various ways of life and kinds of human beings -- is the great insight of our times. The true believer is the real danger. The study of history and of culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past...The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all (25-26)." First of all, let it be clear that Prof Bloom was not commending nor was he condoning the "virtue" of openness. Rather, he was explaining the current state and was launching into describing its devastating effect. It is fascinating, however, to consider that openness is popularly construed as inculcating true toleration and true toleration is essential for at least basic sympathy and compassion (as understood in connection to openness). Conversely, to cut off such openness and toleration, implies that one is unloving. What is loving therefore is accepting, tolerant, and approving of anything anyone else considers to be good. This notion comes up against real challenges. Openness as the supreme relativistic virtue shuts down traditional notions of right and wrong. Even the line of demarcation between good and evil is necessarily fuzzy. Who is to say what is good and evil anymore? In fact, to assert oneself that something is evil is to risk committing evil in such a system. What Prof Bloom wrote of in diagnosing this insidious malady is, however, nothing new. Consider Judges 21:25: "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." As a matter of fact, since the Fall recorded in Genesis 3 and as Bonhoeffer describes in his Ethics, our employment of the knowledge of good and evil -- though the categories persist -- are no longer in line with God's employment. In the end, we echo Satan's tempting reconsideration of what God said and says and we ask, "Did God actually say...?" When we do what is right in our own eyes then the question of authority has been answered: we are the authority. If that's the case, however, then there are 7.6 billion versions of individual authorities and sources of truth running around planet earth. God's truth in this view is no longer a given; and it is certainly not objectively true nor authoritative. Lewis in Mere Christianity speaks of a universal law, a law of human nature, an oughtness, however, which persists. We know we should do right -- and there really is a right above and beyond us -- but we don't do it. In the face of this, we have two basic options: a) try our best to repress the objective right, deny it, and pretend that it isn't there & then replace it with openness; or b) repent of our sin and reclaim the truth of the Word of God, the objective and eternal truth of God's Word. Some of it is well known, for example, that it is a sin (a violation of objective and absolute TRUTH) and deadly wrong to murder another human being. This truth might still seem obvious to some, but let it be said clearly: this is an example of an absolute truth in a culture of openness that is becoming increasingly fuzzy, especially in light of the millions of future fathers, and mothers, sisters, and brothers, engineers, doctors, teachers, and pastors who were murdered before they were born. For the soul who mourns this sin, they must know that Jesus came to cover their sin with His blood; that they are utterly forgiven and loved by God in Christ. With the LORD's grace, we are now called to speak for what is right, for what is true, so that we might turn from the post-modern god of relativism that is killing our culture in the name of openness. This is yet another duality of the faith of the LORD Jesus Christ: right and wrong; truth and falsity...yes, these are real categories and to ignore them -- or to try to replace them -- is to sign-up to enter considerable peril. It is my prayer that my book Faith That Sees Through The Culture being released by Concordia Publishing House on June 13th, 2018 might help serious Christians to hold to faith that retains the conviction of objective truth. Soli Deo Gloria!