Journey to Truth (Relatively Speaking)

“We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”Pope Benedict XVI, who was pope from 2005-2013 (quote source here).
Relativism is the idea that views are relative to differences in perception and consideration. There is no universal, objective truth according to relativism; rather each point of view has its own truth. The major categories of relativism vary in their degree of scope and controversy.    Moral relativism encompasses the differences in moral judgments among people and cultures; Truth relativism is the doctrine that there are no absolute truths, i.e., that truth is always relative to some particular frame of reference, such as a language or a culture (cultural relativism). Descriptive relativism seeks to describe the differences among cultures and people without evaluation, while normative relativism evaluates the morality or truthfulness of views within a given framework.” (Quote source here.)

“Truth is most often used to mean being in accord with fact or reality, or fidelity to an original or standard. Truth is also sometimes defined in modern contexts as an idea of “truth to self”, or authenticity. Truth is usually held to be opposite to falsehood, which, correspondingly, can also suggest a logical, factual, or ethical meaning. The concept of truth is discussed and debated in several contexts, including philosophy, art, theology, and science. Most human activities depend upon the concept, where its nature as a concept is assumed rather than being a subject of discussion; these include most of the sciences, law, journalism, and everyday life. Some philosophers view the concept of truth as basic, and unable to be explained in any terms that are more easily understood than the concept of truth itself. To some, truth is viewed as the correspondence of language or thought to an independent reality, in what is sometimes called the correspondence theory of truth.” (Quote source here.)

In a blog post published in June 2012 titled, What are Relativism and Postmodernism?” by Michael Moyles, a career military officer who blogs at The Clear-Thinking Christian, he states:

…Nearly all postmodernists deny the existence of absolute truth. All truth, then, is subjective—it is “in the eye of the beholder”. There is no such thing as an actual right and wrong, things being intrinsically good or evil, there are only opinions and personal preferences….

[The] rejection of absolute truth and relegation of all truth claims to the subjective is the basic definition of relativism…. [And] relativism and postmodernism are closely related—so much so that relativism is likely one of the most significant defining beliefs of postmodernists. The two are related, but not equal…so almost all postmodernists are relativists, but not all relativists are postmodernists.

Hand-in-hand with a rejection of absolute or objective truth is the rejection of religious exclusivity. Most postmodernists will also embrace religious pluralism. To be fair, we can look at pluralism in two different ways—first, pluralism on one definition is a fact. There are many different religions, and they believe many different things. This is pluralism in a largely descriptive sense, and should not be opposed by clear-thinking Christians. However, in a more prescriptive manner, most postmodernists affirm that not only do many different religions exist, but they are all equally valid. No religion is better than any other, no one religion or denomination is “true” and others “false”, they are all equally true (or, for the large contingent of postmodernists who reject theism, equally false).

These two concepts—relativism and pluralism—are as close as we will get to core, defining beliefs of postmodernism. Of course, clear-thinking Christians should see that both views are objectively false, and pluralism is demonstrably false. Biblically, there are actual rights and wrongs, and things aren’t wrong just because they violate some social norm. The “wrongness” of murder and rape aren’t something extrinsic (defined by society or culture), nor are they subjective (defined by individual preferences); murder and rape and other actions are intrinsically, objectively wrong. Wherever murder goes, the wrongness goes with it…. Beware of the slippery slope you’re on if you think society defines what is right and wrong; it’s a dangerous one. If the Nazis had won, then their values would have been the societal norm, and from their perspective, elimination of “The Jewish Problem” would have been the most advantageous from an evolutionary perspective. (Quote source here.)

In today’s society we are awash in a sea of postmodernism and relativism. In an October 2018 article titled, How Postmodernism Breeds Conflict,” by Nicolas Phillips, a law student and writer based in New York, he opens with the statement, “When we knock down truth, we get a free-for-all where bullies reign supreme.” The article is lengthy but here are a few quotes from it (the entire article is available at this link):

When Alan Bloom published “The Closing of the American Mind” in 1987, he described an American academy awash in postmodern relativism. Universities, rather than pushing students to find the truth, were inculcating the moral virtue of “openness,” such that the only belief that united anyone was that truth is relative. “What right,” Bloom described students perpetually asking, “do I or anyone else have to say one opinion is better than the others?” Postmodern academics themselves were aware of the phenomenon. In a 2004 essay in the journal “Critical Inquiry,” social theorist Bruno Latour noted, “Entire PhD programs are still running to make sure that good American kids are learning the hard way that facts are made up”….

Today’s students, the products of generations of postmodern relativism at every level of American education, are not the amoral hedonists that conservatives feared (a new study published in “Child Development” showed that teens are having sex, dating and drinking less than they used to). But neither are students the peaceful coexistors that progressives hoped for: One in five students now say that it’s acceptable to use violence to disrupt a controversial speaker. Indeed, campuses today are typified by the opposite of relativism: a new moral positivism. Young people are now comfortable asserting proscriptive norms and calling out rule-breakers, creating a taboo-laden culture that few anticipated.

We know from the much-discussed events last year at Evergreen State College—where students angered at perceived racial sleights succeeded in taking over the campus and holding its administration hostage—that this culture can sometimes take on an authoritarian character. Students’ moral positivism increasingly tips over into attempts to restrict the freedoms of disfavored groups. But how did places like Evergreen, perhaps the most welcoming territory in the world for postmodern relativism, end up playing host to its authoritarian opposite? (Quote source here.)

At this point Phillips discusses a conversation with a student at Evergreen regarding a situation in a classroom where a professor was verbally and loudly humiliated by students that helps to explain what happened. For the sake of space, you can read it at this link. The insight Phillips received from Hadley, the Evergreen student Phillips interviewed, was this:

When external sources of truth are knocked down, only one is left: the self. And the self, despite the hopes of well-intentioned postmoderns, is remarkably unwilling to acknowledge evidence of its own errors and bias. The self’s confidence in its rightness is too deeply rooted in our evolutionary psychology to really be threatened by the teachings of an abstract theory.

But for the same reason, a person will gleefully question the rightness of others. Postmodernists perhaps hoped that by deconstructing truth, people would aim the critique inward, humbly asking “Why is my truth any better than yours?” Instead, they phrase the same idea differently, defiantly asking “Why is your truth any better than mine?” It’s a recipe for perpetual conflict.

Postmodern tools of critique wind up being used to more effectively prosecute others and dismantle hierarchies that stand in the way of one’s own personal truth, which itself is never questioned—whether it’s Marxism or intersectionality or 4chan troll-anarchy. The underlying aim is always the pursuit of the ancient pleasure of exercising power over others. That’s what happened when the Evergreen students in Hadley’s class humiliated their professor. (Quote source here.)

At the end of the article Phillips states:

Knocking down external truths doesn’t breed peace. It turns society into a field of conflict between personal truths that compete against one another with less and less restraint. It creates social conditions that reward extremism, which becomes a useful adaptation in a Hobbesian moral landscape. Peace, it turns out, comes from hegemonic values—on agreement between us about what is true.

Postmodernism was supposed to liberate us from myths masquerading as facts. The problem is that a society can achieve nothing—including liberty, including social justice—without collective trust. And trust depends on fellow citizens feeling bound together by shared truths, values, and, yes, myths. Without them, society atomizes and degenerates into a war of all against all, an agglomeration of “selves” seeking to project power—the only truth that postmodernism knows. If we’d prefer to have a society instead of scorched earth, we must agree to be bound by truths and values and myths that lie outside ourselves. These truths and values and myths will be imperfect, they will be contingent, and they will be ripe for critique. But if we decide they don’t exist at all, soon enough, neither will we. (Quote source here.)

“But if we decide they don’t exist at all, soon enough, neither will we.” There is a whole lot of conflict on a variety of levels in our society today. Often it boils down to who can out-shout or intimidate the other, but as for actual understanding, empathy, trust? Apparently, it’s going the way of the dinosaur. And maybe, so are we….

For as one thinks . . .

Within his heart . . .

So is he . . . . 

YouTube Video: “What is Truth?” (1970) by Johnny Cash:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here


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