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You better believe it

Relativism is history, and a confused absolutism is taking its place

You better believe it

Members of antifa attend an Aug. 19 rally in Boston, Mass. (Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/AP)

That may be true for you . . . 
Hey, whatever floats your boat . . . 
My reality isn’t necessarily yours . . .

I’m not sure when it started—maybe the 1960s (when so much started), or the '70s, when chickens began wandering home to roost. But somewhere in there the notion of Truth went spongy. Post-modernism was in. The debate was no longer over what was right, but whether there was such a thing. It was neither charitable nor reasonable to claim the mantle of truth for one’s ideas or choices. What fits me won’t fit you, so why pretend we should all live by the same rules? I recall my brother-in-law claiming that, since times had changed, he didn’t feel compelled to marry the mother of his two boys, especially since he didn’t like her that much. Some people are the marrying kind, and some aren’t.

(Fine, I thought. But did someone explain this to the boys?)

Times do change. And the days of allowing everyone to do their own thing and adopt their own truth have passed into memory. Christians railing about relativism sound almost quaint. Where have you been, Grandpa? My truth/your truth enjoyed a brief sunlit stay in popular culture for, perhaps, 30 years, from the mid-1970s to the mid-aughts.  During that period it was OK to be gay but also sort of OK to be skeptical about the naturalness and normality of the lifestyle. Most couples still aimed toward traditional marriage, even if more and more of them didn’t achieve it. “Tolerance” was a virtue: You could believe what you wanted as long as you didn’t crush anyone else’s beliefs. There were serious flare-ups, some plaintive cries of Can’t we all get along?, and some disturbing equivalences (like the definition of “is”), but looking back, it seems we mostly got along.

When did it change?

Possibly on 9/11, when a hard fist broke through our little realities with one Big Reality that would shatter illusions forever—which turned out to be not very long. A strange thing happened. Reality broke through; but as the ruins were repaired a vocal minority found themselves on the other side of a glass wall where everything appears backward and arguable opinions look absolutely true. Such as:

• Christian extremism is as lethal as Muslim extremism.

• The United States is the greatest terror threat in the world today (both from the far left and the far right).

• Same-sex marriage is as legitimate as opposite-sex marriage, and to deny that is rank bigotry.

• Caitlyn Jenner is a woman.

All these opinions had their roots in earlier decades; none of them came out of the blue. What shifted is the conviction among former relativists that whoever disagrees with the latest doctrine is not mistaken or misled, but evil, hateful, and wrong. This state of affairs became clear to me during the 2004 presidential campaign. Howard Dean was on the debate platform with several Democratic rivals hoping to unseat George W. Bush. Things were getting contentious, as they always do during this stage of a campaign, when Dean called his rowdy fellow Dems to order, reminding them that “George Bush is the enemy,” not each other. The biggest applause line of the night, and probably not unprecedented, but no one corrected him. When did the opponent become the enemy?

Dean crossed a line that politicians have stampeded over ever since: My opponent is the foe of all that’s good; the reactionary, the dinosaur, the obstacle to a better world, and the main reason we can’t have nice things. To them it’s mostly rhetoric, but to some public sectors (such as college students and aggrieved minorities), it’s for real.

Relativism is dead. It always dies, because Truth Will Out, or Power Will Out. Refusing God’s standard takes us back to a Manichean divide between good and evil, with the armor of intolerance hardening on those who cried the loudest for tolerance.

Their truth is no longer their truth, but the truth. Absolute value reappears, but on the other side of the looking glass.


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  • Dick Friedrich
    Posted: Mon, 09/18/2017 04:57 pm

    Love the title. We always knew relativism didn't imply tolerance but truth is tolerant because it assumes a higher authority and that we don't apprehend it perfectly. Nevertheless, in humility (implying there is a higher power than we mortals) we may approach truth and look to love (also implying a higher power since it is not simply what I feel) fill in the gaps. 

    Since we don't agree that there is an authority to which we all must submit we're left to become our own authority. By God's grace reality will reassert itself in the form of such things as hitting our thumb with a hammer (wish it was always only so innocuous) and there will be an opportunity for each of us to call out to our Maker for clarification. 

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Mon, 09/18/2017 09:09 pm

    Why do Antifa types prefer to hide behind masks if they truly believe that they stand for the Truth?

  • Tessa
    Posted: Tue, 09/19/2017 10:19 am

    Why did you choose to write Caitlyn Jenner is a woman rather than Bruce Jenner is a woman? 

  • Janet B
    Posted: Tue, 09/19/2017 11:58 am

    I think the point is that even though Bruce chooses to dress like a woman and be called Caitlyn, Caitlyn is still not a woman.

  • D Wallace
    Posted: Tue, 09/19/2017 04:14 pm

    The lies of the evil one are always shifting.  When one lie loses credibility or power to influence sufficient numbers of people, a new lie is insinuated into the mix, adopted, and begins to take its place.  And lies seemingly rotate throughout history with various permutations / faces / disguises, etc.

    I believe that susceptibility to lies is a material part of our ubiquitously comprehensive, pervasively fallen nature, all of us (except One) being law-breakers of the divine, unchanging demand for perfection of the fundamental religious / ethical summary given by Jesus of Nazareth in His two main laws / commands, love of God above all and love of neighbor (and as those two laws summarize the unchanging religious / moral law given us in the fuller summary of the 10 Commandments).

    Only Christ, believed in as He is as presented in Scripture, as taught in the church and church orthodoxy throughout history, and as clothed in His gospel, has the sole remedy for our truly guilty, helpless condition.  Without genuine, God-given faith in His Son, there is no actual hope in life or death for any individual.

    So, the battle of truth vs. the perverse twisting of reality must continue to the very end when the One Who alone has power to do so finally brings all such rebellion and deception to a screeching halt and permanently set all things right.

    Great title by the way...



  • Midwest preacher
    Posted: Mon, 09/25/2017 04:49 am

    Really liked the idea that if we don't choose Love the alternative is power.  Sticks and masks are the uniform of those who hate not only the Truth but the Love behind it.  

  • puddleglum
    Posted: Wed, 10/04/2017 03:15 pm

    This is the first time I've heard someone declare relativism to be dead. So, I took Cheaney's statement to heart: "Where have you been, Grandpa?" Didn't know I was so out of touch :) I'm not sure I agree that relativism is dead, but such a confident autopsy report sure has made me do a double take. 

    I'm curious if anyone else had a similar reaction to this article. Does anyone else think that it is perhaps too early to say that relativism is dead?