by Dr. Steve Kumar
Relativism is not a new belief. It is as ancient as the human race. It is not the wisdom of the mind but the error of the soul. Although relativism may appear to be sensible on the surface, it could only be maintained at the expense of reason. Relativism is an illusionary belief. Its view is internally incoherent and logically inconsistent. Alexander Solzhenitsvn was insightful when he said, “It is a terrible thing to be in a society where there is no law; it is equally terrible to live in a society where there are only lawyers.” Relativism is not only the enemy of truth but the enemy of the good.
The first flaw of relativism is that it begs the question. The relativist does not prove that relativism is true but merely assumes that it is true. This is arbitrary and invalid. One must demonstrate the soundness of one’s views before one invites others to embrace it. Relativism is presupposed to be true, presumed as a proven premise and used as an established truth in the process. What is the basis or the ground for relativism? To believe relativism is true one must accept the absolute laws of logic and rationality to qualify as a true belief but such laws are questioned under relativism, therefore relativism can never be regarded as true. Why should anyone accept relativism? As a theory relativism is not intellectually respectable or rational. It provides no logical criteria. In the light of relativism, no person (e.g. Hitler, Stalin, Judas) ever does anything wrong and therefore they could never be condemned. Consider the relativist’s dilemma: A mystical pantheist told a British officer in India, “My conscience tells me to burn a widow with the corpse of her husband.” The officer replied, “My conscience tells me to hang you if you do.” As evangelical philosopher Stuart C. Hackett notes, “If values are wholly relative to an individual valuer, there is no way of explaining how two persons can differ concerning an ethical question, or any other question, for that matter.” An unproved assumption is not worthy of belief. Seven hundred years before Christ the prophet Isaiah understood the error of relativism and pronounced judgment on those who regard evil as good and good as evil (Isaiah 5:20).
The second flaw of relativism is that it refutes itself. Truth by nature is non-contradictory. No theory is true if it falsifies itself. The analytical British philosopher Antony Flew rightly suggests, “To tolerate contradiction is to be indifferent to truth.” The trouble with relativism is that if it is true. it is false. Statements like, “There are no absolute truths!” “Everything is relative!” “Nothing is true!” are self refuting. These statements are grammatically sound but logically false. Take the statement, “A married bachelor drew a square circle on the blackboard that doesn’t exist.” They are deceptive statements. They break the very law they promote. The person who says, “Trust no one!” is in fact inviting you to trust him. Relativism is a false system because it promotes what it denies. Take the example of the existential professor who told his class, “There are no absolutes.” One of his students raised a thoughtful question, “Professor are you absolutely sure?” The professor was absolutely confused by the question.
Recently, a psychology student in Sydney who attended my lecture on relativism said, “Truth is subjective. We all perceive truth in our own way.” I asked her, “Is that really true?” She said, “Yes!” I informed her that if truth is truly perceivable then truth is not subjective. Furthermore if truth is totally subjective, how could she know what I know and how could she tell me what she knows? The fact that she disagrees passionately and is prepared to argue rationally indicates that the concept of relativism is not only meaningless but self-refuting. If a statement or position is self-contradictory then it is necessarily false. In the light of relativism it would be impossible to condemn cannibalism rape, racism, cruelty and other actions. The logician Richard Purtill from Western Washington State University correctly notes, “The relativistic view is incompatible with any moral objection.”
The third flaw of relativism is its own dogmatism. While relativists may argue that one must not be dogmatic or be an absolutist, yet relativists are equally dogmatic about relativism. They believe that relativism is absolutely true. Christian philosopher Gordon H. Clark rightly observes, “Objections to dogmatism are always dogmatic, and relativism is always asserted absolutely.” Relativists do not succeed in giving up absolutes–they merely redefine truth subjectively and arbitrarily. When the relativist says, “There are no rules” or “There are no absolutes,” what transpires is not the rejection of dogma but the affirmation of another. What we often fail to see is the unspoken assumption, “(It’s a rule) there are no rules,” or “There are no absolutes (except this one).” Nobody is right (except myself). In the battle for truth relativism is presumed to be the truth without justifying its dogmatic claim. No relativist can escape the charges of dogmatism.
Since relativism begs the question and fails to provide a logical ground for belief and since its assumptions are contradictory and incoherent. wisdom calls us to reject it. Relativism leaves us in the ocean of subjectivity and leads us to the death of truth.
THE REALITY OF TRUTH
Truth is the light of God which reveals the true meaning of reality. The apostle John affirmed this point when he wrote about the logos of God, “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world,” (John 1:9).
Truth is fundamental. Without an objective standard of truth no individual can make a sensible choice in our world of ideas. It is the key that opens the door to the meaning of life. It is the fabric which holds our existence together and dives direction and purpose. Without it our existence is an endless repetition of triviality. Our struggle for existence would be as meaningful as blind man in the dark room who was looking for a black cat that wasn’t there.
An event from New York illustrates the point. During one cold night a drunkard was seen walking around a lamppost. A man stopped and asked what he was doing. The drunkard replied, “I am looking for the key to my house.” The man joined in the search but they found nothing. “Are you sure you lost it here?” the man enquired. “No! I lost it a block away,” “Then why are you searching here?” demanded the man. “Because there is enough light here.”
If God exists he holds the key to truth. The brilliant Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is regarded by many scholars as the finest Twentieth Century mind. While working on his masterpiece, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, he came to an amazing conclusion: “Man doesn’t have sufficient perspective from within the world to build an external structure of truth and value.” From a human perspective truth is an impossible ideal but from a divine standpoint it is a reality. Without an objective absolute revelation from God humanity simply drowns in a meaningless sea of subjection. In a time when our culture is uncertain about the truth. When people believe that nothing is knowable, that no one can be sure of anything, we have something unique to communicate. Jesus Christ is the best reflection of God’s. In Him there is no fear of deception. We must first know the truth if we are to bring any reformation to our Society. As Tom Snydder concludes, “we must accurately perceive truth so that we can proceed righteously in truth.” In the light of our predicament Jesus Christ offers the remarkable solution, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).