Seduced by Relativism

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 A friend of mine grew up in Communist Poland. As a boy, aware that he could expect only lies from his country's radio waves, he used to spend many hours secretly listening to foreign short wave radio broadcasts to learn the truth.

 He says that listening in this way, while living in the pressure cooker of a communist tyranny, had the effect of sharpening his powers of discernment, of increasing his sensitivity to all matters of good and evil. 

 The truth, he learned early on, was something that had to be searched for. Comforting lies, in contrast, were readily available. 

 Nevertheless, in spite of the moral clarity he had acquired as a child, he found that years later, after moving first to Great Britain and then to Canada, that he began to lose his moral ground.  

 Intellectually inclined, he recalls that he began to lose his bearings in response to the charm and seductive power of the impressive writings of certain leftist leaning, British and Canadian publications. 

 Entranced by what he called 'certain well written articles,' he failed for a time to discern the spirit of relativism (the notion that no absolute values exist) that seeped through the pages. 

 He states that the effect of being absorbed in this way was that his powers of discernment began to blur and slacken.

 He was, at the time, as he eventually came to see, being seduced by relativism.

 He received the diagnosis of his condition from an ever watchful father who warned that his son’s soul was being smothered out of existence.

 My friend’s father was in effect warning him against the spirit or attitude of 'relativism,' which is that pernicious mindset or orientation that asserts that when it comes to making moral judgments that, there are no Divine imperatives or absolutes.

There are in contrast always and only, relative choices, reflecting the notion that, 'one thing is as good as another,’ or that, 'everything is beautiful in its own way.’ 

 Which is, of course, a great lie, for the fact is that some things are anything but beautiful.

 Some things are by nature false and ugly and need to be discerned and exposed as such.

 For example, it is a starry-eyed foolishness to regard a totalitarian government as in any sense beautiful.

 Totalitarianism is rather a horror.

 Which a clear-eyed person understands. Such a one sees through what is dressed up to look good.  

 Thus a tyranny is always ugly, which my friend knew from firsthand experience of communist Poland.

 As was similarly discerned by the Lutheran Pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who, in the early days of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, knew the man to be a looming tyrant. 

 Undeceived, Bonhoeffer saw that Hitler was a depraved human being who was the embodiment of absolute evil.

 Such a man, Bonhoeffer clearly understood, would never respond either to reason or appeasement.

 Thus while many were mesmerized by Hitler’s oratory, Bonhoeffer stood firm in opposition.

 Now, the 'spirit of relativism’ is what might also be called 'the spirit of the age.' It is a 'subjectivist' spirit and is especially dominant and prevalent in today's landscape. 

 It is highly likely for instance, in the coffee shop where I am writing that, most everyone around me is a 'relativist.’ 

 Which is to say that it is accurate to assume that most everyone around me would tend to speak not of absolute, objective values that require an adequate response from us, but rather that, all judgments concerning values are matters only of personal taste or preference.  

 For in the world of relativism, there is no right, wrong, good or bad.

 There is only what one happens to prefer.

 It is 'whatever works for you,' or some such drivel.

 The world of relativism is about 'different strokes for different folks' and, 'to each his own.’  There are no higher considerations than whatever it is that makes you feel good.

 Further, the relativistic spirit involves a kind of leveling out of all differences and distinctions. Nothing is better than anything else.  

 Now, in every generation this relativizing spirit presents itself as the compelling way to live and to be. 

 The relativist spirit abhors any voice crying from the wilderness that calls for a return to objective standards and traditional values. 

 The relativistic, subjectivistic, spirit regards itself as too 'sophisticated,' 'educated’ and ‘rational,' to honor and bow to the ancient wisdom of time- tested standards and ideals.

 It regards the wisdom of this present age to be a progression over all that has gone before.

 It is thus a spirit of defiance, of rebellion, that lacks humility before reality - before ultimate truths.

 It thinks it knows better. It regards itself as enlightened beyond any age before it.

 It is thus an arrogance that tends to disparage the inheritated wisdom of scriptures, traditions, sages and seers.

 Its clarion call, or prime directive, - this spirit of the age - is to practice its supreme virtue, which is tolerance.

 Since one can never say in the spirit of relativism that, any one thing is better than any other, the relativist lives in a foggy, moral haze.

 The relativist says that 'anything is okay as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone,' failing to take into account that in every action we take, whether small or big, we are serving either to elevate, or to take down.

 Thus there simply is no such thing as some kind of neutral stance of tolerance. This supposed 'neutrality' is but a slick avoidance of the necessity to choose well which side you're on

 As Bob Dylan once sang:

    "You may be the heavyweight champion of the world. 

       You might be a rock ’n’ roll addict prancing on the stage.

         You may be a state trooper.

           You may be the head of some big TV network.

            You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame.

              You may be a construction worker.

               You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride.

                You may be workin’ in a barbershop.

                    You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread.

                    You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed."

 "But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed.

   You’re gonna have to serve somebody. 

    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

     But you’re going to serve somebody.”

 In other words, you are either serving truth, or serving lies. It’s one way or the other. You’re going to have to choose. 

 Accordingly, therefore, we are not, for example, serving the truth by looking away from and tolerating that which cries out for judgment and rebuke.

 But, of course, the one living in the misty state of relativism thinks: ’I must not judge!' when, in fact, that is exactly what we are called to do.

 We are called to judge well. It is a Divine imperative to judge wisely. 

 We are to make judgments about what is, or is not, a good life and a moral life. 

 We are called to make clear and strong judgments concerning right, wrong, good and bad.

 By refusing to judge, the relativist, consequently, does not know who he is. 

 Addlepated, he has lost his way. He is living out what the New Testament calls the broad way, which always in the long run leads to destruction.

 He doesn’t want to be regarded as narrow, and so prides himself at being  open-minded, broad-minded and non-judgmental. In a word, he is an idiot.

 Now in contrast to the practice of idiocy, is the choice to live what the New Testament calls the narrow way, the particular way, that leads to life.

 Which is a call to live intelligently. It is a call to hate evil and to love the good. 

 The call is to choose well.

 My friend’s father challenged him to listen to other voices to bring him back to himself. In particular, it was recommended that he listen to a brilliant conservative voice on American radio.

 My friend took his father’s advise and thus began to listen to a voice of truth that brought him back to himself.

 Today, many years later, my friend is known as someone of high moral principles and great integrity.

 He had not fully realized during his early days in Britain and in Canada that it was not only in communist Poland that a seeker of truth would have to make an extra effort to listen to distant, truth-bearing voices. 

 It was C.S. Lewis, back in the 1940’s, who warned of what he called a 'poison of subjectivism’ that was taking over in British society. 

 In The Abolition of Man, Lewis made the case that the relativistic spirit was creeping into children’s classrooms through their textbooks.

 The substance of his warning was that objective values were being reduced to “subjective feelings.” 

 The stance of subjectivism, according to Lewis, is that “all sentences containing a predicate of values are statements about the emotional state of the speaker, and secondly, that all such statements are unimportant.” (C.S. Lewis, quoted by Jean Bethke Elshtain in C.S. Lewis as Philosopher, Truth, Goodness and Beauty, Baggett, Habermas and Walls, p. 87) 

 The general philosophy being espoused here is “that all values are subjective and trivial.

 Which is why if you happen to be at a Vancouver dinner party and dare even casually to suggest that abortion is morally wrong, that you can almost guarantee that you will suddenly hear an angry voice, or several of them, scream back at you: “Well, that’s just your opinion!”

 Followed by the statement, more often than not that: "You’re intolerant and judgmental!"

 You will, in other words, most assuredly be 'shouted down' by the people who run around saying that 'everything is beautiful in its own way.

 'Everything is beautiful,’ say these relativists, except that they will never accept as beautiful the moral absolutes of the world’s great religions.

 Rather, the ideals and standards of the world’s great religions are on their hit list. 

 How often have I seen the lovers of tolerance and diversity, - the everything is beautiful crowd - turn suddenly into a swarming, shouting mob. 

 They are against moral absolutes, but strikingly absolutist when it comes to their own judgments.

 Professor Jean Elshtain tells of when he interviewed a candidate for a political science job at his school. For this fellow, everything was a 'preference.’ 

 So Dr Elshtain issued him a challenge: “It is a curious thing, is it not?  When Martin Luther King delivered his great speech, he cried, ‘I have a dream!,’ not, ‘I have a preference!

 "How do you explain this?  Is there a difference?" 

 The man was flustered, but could not bring himself to acknowledge that there is a huge difference between a commanding dream and some mere preference.

 The interviewee could not tell the difference because he was a man without a chest. That is, his powers of discernment had atrophied. 

 He had fallen into the swamp of relativism. He was stuck in subjectivism.  

 C.S. Lewis warned that in the reduction of values to feelings “something precious and irreparable is being lost.” 

 Indeed.

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Kyrie, Modus 1 Silos