Online Text Sermon - Relativism
|Preacher||Rev. Gavin Beers, Ayr|
|Sermon Title||Relativism (Arbroath Young People's Weekend)|
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"Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all" (John 18, 36-38).
Last night in our introduction we mapped out for you how our society has come to hold the beliefs that it does today and we traced the history of modern thought - rationalism and scientific investigation - and how after that collapse we have come to a post-modern era, which is really a reaction against the rationalism of the modern era.
The moderns believed that there was absolute truth. It was out there in nature. Man who was the measure would be able to discover and define that truth by scientific research and his own intellect. The problem that we face today - and it's a huge problem - is that in our post-modern culture the majority of people don't actually believe in absolute truth. They believe in a philosophy that we call relativism. Someone has very cleverly critiqued relativism in these terms: he has called it the cultural equivalent of multiple personality disorder. I think that's a wonderful critique and explanation of what relativism is. The reason for this will become apparent, God willing, as we examine this this evening.
What we are going to do is to look at this relativism under three main headings.
FIRST of all we will consider relative truth. SECONDLY, we will have a look at relative values. And THIRDLY, responding to these things, we are going to consider absolute nonsense.
1. RELATIVE TRUTH
First of all - relative truth. What I mean here by relative truth is that there is no objective truth: truth outside of us. There is no absolute standard of truth outside yourself. Truth is altogether subjective; that means it has to do with you as an individual. It is what is true for you; it is what is true for me. You can have your truth and I can have my truth and that's all ok because, in the relativistic outlook, that's the only way we can come to truth. So when we are thinking about relativism, we are thinking about a belief that says that there are no absolutes apart from this one: there are no absolutes. We are going to come to that statement later, we are going to examine it and we are going to give a response to it.
Well then, what does a relativist do when he thinks about truth? He certainly doesn't search for it, because there is no truth out there to be found. Instead what he does is he creates truth himself in his own little world of reality. If God exists then He is not the sovereign God of heaven and earth but he is god to me. We have all met 'god to me' haven't we? It's like, god to me is like...gracious and god to me is like....full of love and god to me is, well, he is a little bit like this. 'God to me' as R C Sproul says, often looks a lot like me! 'God to me' has a problem - he's not as old as me, because I created him; and 'god to me' has another problem - he just keeps changing. That's ok because you see the individual is creating his own little world of reality. To help us better understand this we are going to back into the eighteen hundreds just to see what was going on there. You remember that was the age of the enlightenment, that's the age of advanced science reason and all of that. Some people in nineteenth century culture were getting fed up with this whole science and reason leading us to the understanding of the truth and so they throw it out. They rebel against it. The first thing we have here is the romantic revolt.
The rationalists are teaching that reason is going to get us to the knowledge of the truth: if God is real He is shut outside the universe and He is irrelevant to us, He cannot be known. The romantics actually turned this all on its head. Instead of looking to the primacy of reason and intellect, they stressed the primacy of emotions and feelings. Rather than lock God outside His universe, they brought God into the universe and they actually made the universe God. It was a kind of pantheism like we were talking about earlier. You know - 'God is in you', 'God is in that chair', 'God is in this' and 'God is in that'. It was a kind of more eastern approach to things. So what happened in this romantic revolt is the important thing became feelings. Feelings were now the new rule of life, the goal of life was self-fulfilment. Decisions didn't have to be rational anymore, emotions were the new lawgiver.
This whole outlook was popularised in literature that day by poets and playwrights. Shelley was one, and also Byron who you have likely heard of. They were teaching people in their works and their literature that this was really how to go about life. If you want to see the result of this kind of thinking you just look at the life of Byron and you'll discover that Byron lived in an incestuous relationship, I think with his sister. And that was fine, that was ok, because that made Byron feel good, so that was really all he had to concern himself with.
Some of you may have studied the works of Jane Austin, and some of you like me have maybe not studied them too much but we have seen the films Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice. But you need to understand what Austin was doing there. Austin was reacting against the romantics. So what do you have in Sense and Sensibility? You have got a very measured sister and you've got a sister who is just running wild with her feelings and her emotions, and she falls madly in love with Willoughby. What are they reading together? They are reading Byron! Then it all falls flat with Willoughby doesn't it. Then she goes down into the depth of despair - 'Nobody can understand my pain! I'm the only one who can feel like this!' - and so on. But then by the end of the book she is more measured and she marries a real man in Colonel Brandon. What Jane Austin was doing there, she was actually acting against this whole romantic revolt that she was living through in her day and generation.
We need to recognise that in our day and generation romantic views like this are still very much alive: they are in the films that you watch, they are in the music that you listen to: 'Do what you feel' - 'Go with the flow'. What I will say to you is that to a Christian this outlook should be sickening. I'm not saying that Christians don't have feelings; of course they have feelings. Maybe the romantics were recapturing something there. But what I am saying to you is that if you are going to think like a Christian you cannot be swept along with this whole Romantic Movement. You need to be thinking like a Christian; you need to be responding to the books that you read and the films that you watch, and the music that you listen to, you need to be responding like a Christian. So we had the romantic revolt and then we had the existential exit. Please when I say that, don't begin to get into a panic and think what on earth is this term 'existential exit' all about. We don't need to look at it in any great detail but it will suffice us to say that it was provoked by the materialism that we were looking at this morning - Darwin comes in and teaches the theory of evolution, there is nothing more than matter, and anyone who began to think seriously about this had problems because they began to see that if all that mattered was matter then it was going to be very, very hard to live with the implications of this world-view. They knew, those eighteenth-nineteenth century thinkers, they knew that this materialism destroyed meaning.
We are thinking here of people like Nietzsche towards the end of the eighteen hundreds. We come into the nineteen hundreds and we are thinking of people like John Paul Sartre and others. What they did was they said, we can't have meaning in our world any more because there is no God, we only have material. So they studied to find a basis for meaning and they located it right within you. They said the only way that we can get meaning is if we create it for ourselves: everything outside us is random and meaningless, but by our own thoughts and actions we can create ourselves and we can give meaning to life. But your meaning has no validity for anyone else apart from you. The important thing is that you create your own meaning. These two things, the romanticism and existentialism, they actually provided the basis for our modern day relativism. You may never have heard of these people I have mentioned - Nietzsche and John Paul Sartre - but you've heard of these views haven't you? Create your own truth, and truth is what you believe, and my truth is what I believe because it is popularised everywhere in our society today. Every persons truth, every persons meaning, is equally valid. It doesn't matter what the content of that truth or that meaning is.
I went to visit a member of our church just last week and her daughter was there. Her daughter is one of the most antagonistic people I have ever met to the gospel. I was trying to witness to her and she summed this all up, which proved to me we see how these men have affected our society, she said, "Well, whatever floats your boat!" That's it. That's what we're talking about here. "Well, whatever floats your boat!" - if it does it for you that's fine; something else does it for me. That is really what happened with these men. You see if communism gives your life meaning like it did for Sartre, well then that's fine for him. If Christianity gives your life meaning, well then that's fine for you. Religion then must become an altogether private affair and there can be as many religions and as many gods as there are men in the world, and all of these religions and all of these gods must be equal.
So I say to you that this relativism is a very serious problem today, both within the church and outside the church. It is something that has really accelerated since the 1960's in our education, political and judicial systems, and our media is permeated with it. Allan Bloom who is not a Christian writer he is a secular writer, he wrote a book called The Closing of the American Mind. This is what he said in that book and it is startling. He said, "98% of students entering into university in the USA do not believe there is an absolute standard of truth and of morality." And then he said, "for the next four years while they are in university they have this view confirmed in everything they are taught." These are people the same age as you: people who are in university. Bloom is saying from a secular standpoint, just evaluating it, they don't believe that there is absolute truth; they don't believe there are absolute values of right and wrong, and the teachers are confirming it at every turn. I submit to you that that is very similar to what we have in our country today. This is something that is ingrained in our society. A whole generation of teachers, politicians, lecturers, lawyers, judges and journalists, have been indoctrinated into this way of thinking, that there is no objective meaning or truth in the world. For this reason I am going to suggest to you that relativism is the primary problem of our age and it is at the core of most of the things that we witness in out society.
I said to you that it is not only a problem in the world but it is also a problem in the Church. I will also say to you that you and I are affected by this relativism in some way or another and to a larger or lesser extent. So what we are going to do here is a little test, a diagnostic test. It is called How do I Know I am a Relativist? or How Do I Know that Relativism Has Affected Me?
First of all - How do I know if I am a relativist? If you think everybody is entitled to their own opinion. If you put forward you case in this way: "Well, you know, it's just my opinion. Of course, I'm not judging anyone's behaviour. Well if you think it's right then that's ok, but personally I'm against." If that's the way you talk, if that's the way you interact with people in debate, then you have been very heavily influenced by relativism. "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion!" My friend, everybody is free - your conscience is free and my conscience is free - in other words I cannot force you to believe anything I am saying to you this evening. You are free. You are free to make your own mind up in that sense. You are free even to hold a false view; that does not make your view valid. But that is what we mean when we say that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. What we mean that is every view and every opinion is equally valid, and if we think like that we are relativists.
Secondly - You believe and you do things because you like them or you like to, not because it is true or right. We have this in the church. "Well I go to this church because I really like it. I go to this church because I really like that preacher. I go to this church because I really like the atmosphere there". Do we go to that church because that church actually holds to the truth?...that that church actually functions in a biblical way? Or do we make our decisions in these areas because of what we feel? This is very important because if you do make your decision like that, you have actually been gripped by a spirit that picks and chooses what part of the Bible to believe, and there is no knowing how far down that road you will go in the rejection of truth. So do you do things and believe things because you like them or do you do things and believe things because they are true and because they are right?
Thirdly - Do you find yourself wanting to give credence to other religions? What about that Muslim who has never heard the gospel? What about the Pagan in the jungle or the Hindu or the Roman Catholic who is confused about the way of salvation? You get this feeling because you know you have been pushed into a corner by society. You can't possibly argue with these views, you can't possibly condemn them and therefore you don't want to challenge them. "I just can't see how God won't accept them!" If you think like that you are thinking relatively and you are rejecting truth; you are creating your own truth and your own meaning.
Fourthly - Listen to yourself speak. You might hear yourself speak like this - "I just don't feel that is right! I just don't feel we should do that! I don't think you understand just how strongly I feel about that!" Do you talk like that? Why do you talk like that? Are your feelings the rule? Are your feelings the standard of what is right?" You see a romanticist will talk like that and a relativist will talk like that, but you and I also talk like that because we have been shaped by the culture. Do we do things because they make us feel good or do we do things because they are true and they are right?
Fifthly - How do you react when you watch modern films and songs where this kind of world view is predominant? I think of films that I have seen and perhaps some of you have seen, I think of the film Titanic. I think some of you or most of you have seen that film. I would say to you that that film is something that a Christian should be very alarmed about for a number of reasons. One is the open immorality in it - that is nothing that a Christian should enjoy watching. Sometimes if we look at that film we would say, "Oh well, there it is." We know that there is an immoral scene - very clear and explicit, but from the beginning to the end that film is anti-Christian. Why? What is that film trying to teach you? It is trying to teach you, do what you feel, go with the flow. There is Kate Winslet on top of the Titanic - it's all about feelings, about what's happened: she is in a horrible relationship. Even although she is betrothed to a man she meets another man; she is in a quandary and she gives vent to that feeling. Why?...because that is the rule of life!
So friends of you are watching these things, if you are listening to songs that are teaching you these things in their lyrics and you are not seeing the issues you have been shaped by our post-modern culture, you are being affected in a very strong way by relativism. You actually behave in your Christianity like a schizophrenic, where you are Christian here then you think like the world there; you are not seeing the issues and you are not applying truth to the whole of your life. We glorify God in all things and we enjoy Him for ever.
Sixthly - How do I know if I am a relativist? "That's just your opinion!" Maybe some of you are saying that just now - "That's just your opinion!" I wouldn't be surprised if you are because you have been taught to say that from your earliest days in school. I remember going through my English course in secondary school. We used to be given poems to critique and things like that. We weren't told who the author was, why they wrote it, the circumstances in which they wrote it. We were just told basically to write down what the poem meant. You see, there wasn't any right or wrong because there was no objective truth in the poem. Language can present truth to you and therefore you give that poem its own meaning. Think about that when we come to the Scripture. What happens? - every man has his own interpretation. We open up the Bible and say, What did we think about that text?" Somebody says, "I think this." Somebody else says, "I think something different." They are contradicting one another but everybody's view is right; nobody is wrong. Because you see it is like a living text; there is no objective truth in the text: that's just your opinion. But friends, the Word of God is Truth; it is objective truth; it is one meaning, it is one sense, and that word teaches us the truth. When we come to things and react in this way: "I don't like it, it's challenging my little world right now"; "That's just your opinion", we are behaving like relativists.
I hope that you are beginning to see how these things affect you. Maybe you have been wondering how they are relevant to you, why we are looking at these views in the world, why we are looking at these philosophies? Friends these are abundantly relevant to you and me - not just you, to me as well.
2. RELATIVE VALUES
Now we come to our second point - Relative Values.
Here we remember that ideas have consequences. We want to inquire as to what kind of impact relativism is going to have on the way that we live. There are four things here and the first one is Relativism and the Death of Morality.
Relativism and the Death of Morality
Firstly - Relativism and the Death of Morality.
Relativists will try to establish a moral code. They might have what we call a 'society says' law. But if they really want to be consistent with what they believe they can have no system of morality. They can't look for a system of morality outside of them. In this position and in this belief, it demands that every man has the right to do as defines as is right for himself. So in this world view nothing is wrong, everything is right - although 'right' is probably not the best word to use for it: everything is permissible, nothing is impermissible. Does the Bible speak about this? It does because we read in the Old Testament that there were days in Israel when God was largely forgotten. There were days of declension at the times of the Judges and this how men were living: "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21, 25). If I was to give you an interpretation or a summary of that verse it teaches you that in that period of Israel's history these people were relativists. "Every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21, 25). This text of Scripture actually defines for us the moral code of relativism: right and wrong is what you choose it to be; morality centres around this choice.
I want to give you two examples of that. The first one is abortion. Answer me this question if you will please. To a relativist is abortion right or wrong? It's their choice. That's exactly right. To a relativist abortion is not right and abortion is not wrong. What do we call the movement that supports abortion? Pro-choice! They don't call themselves pro-abortion. Take two girls in this room - and I don't mean to say that you are involved in abortion any way. But one of you girls is contemplating an abortion and you come to the conclusion that it is wrong; it's not for you. The pro-choice movement said that is great, for you it is not right to have an abortion. Then there is another one of you and you are contemplating the whole subject of abortion. You think you will go ahead with the abortion. We have two conflicting view: one of you is saying abortion is right and one of you is saying abortion is wrong, but the morality is in the choice because you define what is right and wrong. The abortion itself is not right and wrong; the morality is that you get to express your own view and your own choice. As long as you have that right to express your choice, the foetus can get cut to pieces -that's ok! That's relativism. Your truth is true for you and my truth is true for me.
The second thing is - Euthanasia.And I want to be clear here: euthanasia is very clearly assisted suicide. The same question: To a relativist is euthanasia right or wrong? The same again: it's not the thing itself, it's the choice. It doesn't have to do with an absolute standard of right and wrong. It doesn't have to do with the dignity of life, the sovereignty of God or the fact that we are to preserve life. It is all about what the individual wants. If he wants to be killed then let him be killed. It's pro-choice. Morality is what is right for me but friends, this is too bad if the subject comes to something like rape isn't it? Because you see, I might think it's ok to rape - and that's true for me, and that's my value. Or I might think that it's ok to murder, and that's my truth, and that's my value. So when we take this to its logical end point we discover that it actually becomes unworkable.
Then we take one step further. If there is no absolute standard of right or wrong then we do away with the concept of guilt don't' we? That's one of the reasons why relativism is so popular today. You see guilt implies responsibility. It implies that we are being held accountable to a standard of right and wrong. But if every man is creating his own truth, and his own meaning, and his own values, who is he going to be responsible to? The only person that he can be responsible to or held accountable by is himself. So just like materialism, relativism is used to try and get rid of this whole problem of guilt that you and I very often feel in our life.
But for all of this for those who hold to this position, they still try to hold on to morality, even though they have no basis for it. They also try to hold on to accountability, that they will call people to account for their actions. But the way that they slip that in is by majority vote. So you see there is no absolute standard of right and wrong but they slip in a sort of semi-absolute standard, and that is 'society says'. But because society doesn't always say the same thing, well then the morality is a little bit like a desert. The dunes in the desert are always moving around as the wind blows them. That's the kind of morality that we end up with. You imagine going to a man and saying to him - even on this 'society says' basis - "What you are doing is wrong!" You ask, "Why is it wrong?" "Well, society says. The majority says." And he says, "Well, to me, what I believe is right. I recognise that my view now is in the minority BUT society changes." Do we have examples of this? What about homosexuality? You back fifty years and to be a homosexual or to be involved in a homosexual act was a crime in this country. Is it a crime today? No. Why? Because society says different and morality has changed. So that person back then - even according to the relativists view - that person back then was being tyrannised by the majority view. The same thing stands today. Those who are governed by 'society says' majority view are being tyrannised by the majority if they hold to this position of relativism.
Just as a little aside, I want to show you something also of the way people approach this whole subject of homosexuality which tells you it's not really about a belief system, it's just trying to work a way which is right in its own eyes. Remember we were talking about genetics this morning and how we have a gene for alcoholism and we are looking for a gene for homosexuality and that would give us a basis for saying that that is just the way that person is. But then someone comes along and he is homophobic, now he's morally evil. We are not looking for a gene for homophobia. It's not ok to say that that's just the way he is. He's homosexual - that's the way he is; he's homophobic - that's the way he is. No you see, to be homophobic is a moral evil - I think it's a crime in certain contexts today to be homophobic.
See the way people reason! It all comes from these belief systems that people are holding on to. But the question is why? If nothing is absolutely true or right, if nothing is absolutely wrong, how can anything be condemned? When you face people with this truth they will try to wriggle out from the consequences of it, but in the last analysis if relativism lives, morality dies.
Relativism and the Death of Meaning
So secondly here we have - Relativism and the Death of Meaning.
I am looking at a book on this table and that is the title of the book - The Death of Meaning. What the author does in that book is really to trace the history of God and show us how we have come as a culture to live in a society where meaning has died. If a man gets on this train that we are going to call relativism and he fails to get off that train at some stop before it reaches its final destination, then that man is going to reach destination meaninglessness. That is where the train of relativism is headed. You see if there is nothing true beyond you, if there is nothing right or wrong beyond what you define it to be, then how on earth are you going to live your life? What is the purpose of doing anything or not doing a particular thing if there is no reason outside yourself? Some people think this is a great think: it's all down to my choice; I am a relativist. They look at this belief as something that is a great liberty that frees us from imposed standards and the law of the Bible. It frees us from state control in these things. But in reality it actually locks people in their own dark little prison. Because you know what happens? They begin to find out that they are not very good at creating their own meaning and defining their own truth. The Bible has a term for that, friends. Do you know what it is? Lost! Lost in our little dark prison trying to define truth for ourselves in rebellion against God, and we are lost.
Relativism and the death of meaning. What is the point of life in a relativistic world? In short, there is none. Some people seem to understand this and that's how they live their lives. You speak to them and say, "What is the point!" I spoke to you this morning, I said that's what I was in one point in my life. This is a great problem of our youth. You know how they speak, "I'm bored. There's nothing for me to do." Then all of the anti-social behaviour is blamed on this - "there's just nothing for our young people to do." That's not the problem! The problem is meaning has died and with it, motivation has died. It's all linked to world views like this that kill meaning, that leave a great void in the life of men's soul. They don't want to work - what's the point? They get money for doing nothing anyway. But then others - perhaps the majority - they try to escape this reality. There is no real meaning so what do you do: "well let's just keep busy; let's clutter my life with enough so I will not have to think about it too much; there is no meaning to my life." That's just a form of escapism. You ask somebody like that... "What's the meaning of life?" - "Too busy can't talk about it now".
But then there is a more obvious form of escapism, things like alcoholism and the drug culture. What people are doing there is trying to escape from the meaning of reality. You read Aldous Huxley's works: The Doors of Perception (1956). Then you have Jim Morrison's group The Doors. It's all about LSD. It's all about escape through this door to get out of reality; break on through to the other side. That's what Morrison is singing about: escapism - trying to get out of this meaningless world. Often these two things go hand-in-hand but what is the point with the rise of escapism, the drug culture and so on.
Around our church we have terrible problems with this. Not too far away from the church we try to evangelise. We knock on doors and people come to the door and quite literally there is just this blank stare. The reason for that is that their soul is comatised currently because of heroine and cocaine and alcoholism. As you walk round that community you will see something else. You will see gates hanging off, hinges not fixed, you will find rubbish dumped in the garden, dirty nappies lying all over the place. That grieves me, not because I am a snob, but because the culture friends is falling apart. The culture is broken. People do not have anything to live for. They are up in the flats as I am walking around, and I see them in the flats breaking on through to the other side, trying to escape this world of meaninglessness. Then there are those who attempt and succeed in what they perceive to be the ultimate escape - suicide. They are not very good at creating meaning; they are not very good at finding out the purpose of life. Their lives are filled with emptiness, anguish and despair. There is no point to this life, so why live?
I see young people walking round with Nervana t-shirts today, and Nervana hoodies, and I wonder why they are doing that because Nervana was a group from my day - 15 years ago. When I see that it sends a chill down my spine because you see, I remember the lyrics of those songs. I remember the lifestyle of Kurt Cobain, of Courtney Love. I remember his drug abuse. I remember that this guy was never happy in reality. He had severe alcohol problems and at the end of it all he gave us lyrics of meaninglessness. He writes a song - "Rape me, rape me". What was his end? What did he do? He killed himself! He's a cult hero. People think that this meaningless nonsense of Kurt Cobain is cool - "Oh Cobain - he was so deep!" There is nothing deep or sophisticated about meaninglessness. [The preacher was quite overcome here]. It's a very, very painful reality - it's deadly. This philosophy is destroying our culture and you as a Christian need to be concerned about it, enough to know what it teaches and to do something about it.
Relativism brings war not peace
Thirdly, relativism brings war not peace.
Here we have the proponents of relativism and they put it across as though it were so humble and so peaceful. But you see if there is no ultimate truth, all you are left with is power. It would be all ok if were little island who lived in isolation from each other and we didn't have any interaction whatsoever. Then you might be able to have your truth and I might be able to have my truth and they would never come into contact. But that's not reality, is it? Therefore because our lives intersect - our view of truth, our outlook on morality - the result of a relativistic outlook is conflict. Who wins that conflict? The most powerful! R. C. Sproul in his book gives us a good illustration of this. He says to think of Germany and Poland - they have a dispute over territory. They want to have a relativistic settlement so Poland says to Germany, "We believe that that land is ours." The German relativist says, "That's really good. We're pleased that that is your truth, and your value; but, you know, we believe that that land is ours as well."
So there is your settlement; that is the peace of relativism: each has their own truth. That, says Sproul, is ok until both begin to live according to their own truth. When both occupy the land, both impose the law and both start exacting taxes off the people. What happens? It results in conflict. Who wins? The most powerful!
Let's reduce it to a personal level. Have you ever challenged a relativist about his view or about something that he has done? Have you ever noticed the response? It's as though you have personally attacked them. You see you have upset them terribly. You have hurt their feelings because you have actually invaded their own little world of reality and condemned it just by enquiring as to why on earth they would believe that or live according to that truth. But there is no rational discussion about it because there is no profit in that so you've got the same situation - you have conflict. "How dare you shove your opinions down my throat! You have no right to do that!" "My friend, let's discuss it". "No! There's nothing to discuss. You have your opinion and I have mine." We have conflict again don't we? That might result in the end of a friendship, it may produce alienation. All you have done is challenge someone's belief and you would think you had shot them. Relativism brings war not peace.
Relativism, Multi-culturalism and Political Correctness
Fourthly - Relativism, Multi-culturalism and Political Correctness
We can't deny that we do live in a multi-cultural society. You just have to look around and see we have many different ethnic backgrounds that compose our nation of Great Britain. But multi-culturalism is something different. Multi-culturalism is the belief and view based on this whole idea of relativism that each of these ethnic groups and sub-cultures must exist in their own little sections of society, and their truth and their morality is right for them - it gives meaning to them and nobody has the right to disagree with that or to challenge it in any way. What does this result in? It results in a fragmented society in which there is nothing absolute, there is no standard to bind everyone together and unite them. The result of such a society, and we are beginning to see it today, is that over time these little sub-cultures become increasingly polarised and tribal. We can even reduce it down to the level of the individual: Where have our communities gone? They have all retreated into the individual who has his own reality, his own truth and his own meaning. Our societies have been destroyed, our communities have been destroyed, and it is the result of this philosophy.
Tomorrow we are going to give the answer of the Gospel as the absolute truth that unites the true multi-culturalism. So don't think this is irrelevant what we are laying down here about this whole idea.
But then with this multi-culturalism comes political correctness because if all the sub-cultures have meaning and truth for themselves and they are all valid, well then, if you speak out against them that is the greatest evil that you could possibly do. So an MP stands up in the House of Commons and he says, "I have investigated this. I have proof that the Koran teaches violent domination of nations. It teaches that the infidel who will not submit is to be killed." Nobody wants to look at the evidence. "It can't be that because they have their truth and that's right and don't challenge it." Instead that MP is castigated. He will likely be asked for a public apology at best for him. At worst, he will just be removed from his position. The same goes for a teacher - I don't know if any of you are teachers - but if you are in the teaching profession and you want to stand up and say homosexuality is wrong, you are going to be in the soup because we live in a politically correct age.
What I want you to see about this is that relativism puts itself across as faithful, humble, that which is tolerant. It allows ever man his own truth as long as he doesn't believe in absolute truth, because then you are a fundamentalist; and a fundamentalist is morally inferior to those who don't even believe there are any standards of morality. I submit to you that we are living in a crazy world. We are living in a society in which the lunatics are running the show and they think the Christians are crazy. I'm telling you we are living in a crazy society. We need to recognise that. We stand back with our mouths dropping open when we read our newspapers and we listen to our news. We cannot believe that these experts are so dumb. My children could look at some of these policies, and at the age they are, would be able to tell you that they are utterly absurd but yet a man who has studied all of his life is able to give us these policies. We are living in a crazy society and these views are affecting us.
3. ABSOLUTE NONSENSE
That brings us in the third place to our critique which we are going to call very subtly - Absolute Nonsense.
Relative Truth; Relative Values; Absolute Nonsense. There are such things as absolute truth and absolute values. Because of that we can say that relativism is absolute nonsense but you, as Christian apologists, are going to show people that in a little bit more of a subtle manner than we have just stated it there, but kindly and graciously that is what you are aiming to show. You are aiming to show that this belief system is absolute nonsense. You need to show people that this view really doesn't have a leg to stand on. The book on this table in front of me is called Relativism by Koukl and Beckwith, and it has a subtitle which I think is great: Relativism: feet firmly planted in mid air. Think about that: feet firmly planted in mid air? Your foundation for life is no foundation, like a castle that has been built in the sky.
How are you going to refute relativism?
Relativism is absolute nonsense because it self-destructs logically
First of all you are going to show that relativism is absolute nonsense because it self-destructs logically.
That is what happens with all these world-views: at some point they contradict themselves and you as a Christian apologist need to be there to point out the folly and the contradiction. A relativist will come to you and he will say, "There's no such thing as absolute truth!" You will say, "O really? Would that be absolutely true then?" That's not difficult is it? That shows you how absurd this view is. That is all you have to do. "There is no such thing as absolute truth?" - you say, "Would that be absolutely true then?" You see he has to bow to the concept of absolute truth to make this very statement that there is no such thing as absolute truth. So if your friend, or your teacher, or your lecturer ever says this to you - "There is no such thing as absolute truth" - you are going to ask him, "Are you sure?" And when you ask him that question, he is now caught in the horns of a dilemma. If he says, "Yes, I am sure", then he has just admitted that there is such a thing as absolute truth. He has refuted his own argument. If he says, "I am not sure", then he is not sure that there is not such a thing as absolute truth and he has refuted his own argument. The more he argues for the truth of his view - let him do it - the more he destroys his own view. That is the absurdity of this position that has 98% of our young people in its grip. It's as easy as that to show them that they believe a lie. It's not as easy as that to convert them, don't believe that, but it is as easy as that to show them that they believe a contradiction and a lie.
Relativism self-destructs morally
Secondly - relativism self-destructs morally.
In that book by Beckwith and Koukl they have a chapter - Relativism's Seven Fatal Flaws - and I highly recommend that chapter to you. Some of the things I am going to say to you are taken from that and some of them are not but, as you are looking at how relativism self-destructs morally, you can think in the first place that if there is no objective of truth then there are no lies. You see, a lie is not telling the truth, isn't it? So if there is no truth apart from what you make up for yourself, then the only person that you can lie to is yourself. If you see a relativist get into a witness box at a trial or take on jury duty, you begin to get nervous. He's going to say, "I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" - but the guy doesn't even believe in truth. If there is no truth there are no lies.
Then you can say to the relativist that he has no basis whatsoever for accusing someone of doing something wrong, neither can he praise someone for doing something right. All he can say is, "I like what you did" or "I don't like what you did". But as there are no standards by which to judge our behaviour, he cannot blame a serial killer, neither can he praise a charity worker. He cannot call these things right or wrong.
This is kind of amusing also. If you do actually praise someone, you are forcing your values upon them. Can you imagine the scenario if you are talking to a relativist and as you are talking to him and old lady comes along? She's got a little trolley filled with her shopping. She falls over and the shopping spills out upon the ground . You say, "Excuse me; I want to go over and help this lady." You pick her up and put the shopping back in her trolley and you see that she is ok and you go back to continue your conversation with your relativist friend. He says, "That was really good what you did there". You turn round and say, "How dare you impose your values upon me!" That's where it takes us.
The relativist is happy to accept your praise when you tell him he did something good according to your standard, but he is not willing to accept a criticism when you tell him what he believes is wrong, and what he has done is wrong according to an absolute standard. See the inconsistency, you need to pick it out, you need to show people that they are inconsistent with the things they say they believe.
Thirdly, they cannot complain against injustice.
What is justice? Justice is an application of the law but then we ask, "Whose law?" Is it 'society says', is 'I say' - Who says? R. C Sproul Jr. was teaching on occasion in a university. As he was teaching on the subject of truth, one of the young men in his class called out and interrupted him and said, "There is no such thing as objective truth. There is no such thing as absolute truth." Sproul paused and he said, "You get an F for this semester young man and if you wish you can leave the class." There was a gasp. All the students were horrified. The young man got into a bit of a panic and he blurted out, "That's not fair! You can't give me an F because I said that to you." Sproul says, "I'm not giving you an F because you said that to me - because you said something foolish. I'm giving you an F because I want to." The young man said, "You can't do that. I'm going to complain to the department." Sproul said, "Well, on what basis are you going to make your complaint? You have just told me that there is no such thing as objective truth or absolute truth." The young man sat down on his seat, continued the class, he abandoned his view and he passed the course.
You see what he did? He caught him on the horns of his own inconsistency. He was complaining against injustice but he was arguing that there was no such standard by which justice could actually be ministered.
Fourthly - what you can do is press their moral pressure points.
I want you to think of that. If I was to come down and find one of your pressure points and put pressure on it, you are going to realise it, you are going to jump. If I was to take a hammer and hit you on the tendon below your knee, your leg is going to rise. What you have got to do is pick the moral pressure point of these relativists. If the pet love of that relativist is feminism or animal rights or whatever it is, what you are going to do is you are going to relativise his view. Men, if you do this you need to be very, very careful. You are talking to feminist, right? You are going to relativise her view. You say to her, "You know, I really have a problem with feminism. There's nothing really that annoys me more than feminism." Now you have just hit the pressure point and you had better watch - maybe that leg is going to come up and kick you. She'll very likely be terribly unhappy with what you have just said. You have said you have a problem with it, it really annoys you and you don't like it. You get this response which will tell you that she expects you to accept her view of feminism as an absolute standard by which all men should live. Then you will turn that back and you will say to her, "Are you trying to tell me that I can't have an opinion against feminism? Are you trying to tell me; are you trying to press your views upon me? You are not being consistent with your view that every man is entitled to his own opinion: every man has his own truth."
An example of this is from a minister's son in North America. He was in university and his teacher brought the class in and showed them a DVD about relativism. After the DVD was over she was waxing lyrical about the virtues of this philosophy and telling the class how that, when she came into contact with it, it was so liberating. Then she set the class an essay on this subject. The minister's son went home and he started to write this essay. He wrote one paragraph and he stopped. Then he wrote, "I really don't want to do it any more." He was going for this pressure point. So he hands in the essay and he's called in by the teacher who is not very happy with him. She begins to give him a dressing down about his attitude and what he has done. He said to her, "You know, I was really moved by that DVD we were watching, I found it so liberating that when I got to the end of that first paragraph I just didn't really want to do it any more. So I didn't do any more." The teacher fuming said to him, "Look you can't take these things to their logical conclusion." He said, "Exactly! You want it when it suits so you can do that which is right in your own eyes, but when you see the logical end point of these things you realise that the world would be in an even greater mess that it currently is in because that is where your view will ultimately take us." So you are looking for the pressure point and you are doing it with a spiritual hard-hat on if you like. You don't want to be ungracious or unkind but you are trying to hit those buttons in order to show the people that what they believe is actually folly.
Now we come to our final point and this is where everything is leading us to, and that is - relativism is destroyed biblically.
The only world that can have objective, absolute truth and morals is a world created and governed by God, and a world that He has commanded - giving us moral absolutes. At every turn in the Bible this philosophy of relativism is refuted and in turn the Bible gives us a foundation for truth and for morality. But not just a foundation, it gives us the very content of truth and morality. The first thing that the Bible does is teach us the truth about God. It tells us in the first place that God is, and then it goes on to tell us what this God is like. You see the Bible is God's self-revelation and He tells us in the scriptures what He is like. One of the things we find out is that He is the God who infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His truth. You know that if you know your catechism: He is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His truth. "He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment; a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he" (Deuteronomy 32, 4). There is absolute truth in the world friends because God is a God of absolute truth. He is a God who cannot lie, a God who cannot contradict Himself, and a God who hates absolutely everything which is false - including all of the false world-views of men, and including all of the false doctrine that comes into the church of God. He is a God of truth and your task is to take these men that you meet and these people that you witness to, to this awesome God of truth.
The Bible teaches us the truth about God. The Bible also teaches us the truth about the world - this world that we live in. The Bible tells us that God created the world, but we also understand that He created all of the laws that exist in the world. Because He created those laws, they are fixed and it is not left to every individual in the world to make up his own laws and his own truth. There are laws of logic in the world because God created the world.
Some of you think that I was philosophising the morning by bringing before you the law of non-contradiction. Friends, the only reason that we have that law of non-contradiction is because God is the God of logic. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God" (John 1, 1-2). You see that word 'Word'? In Greek it is Logos. In fact there are those who translate it, "In the beginning was the Logic, and the Logic was with God, and the Logic was God." Why? Because God is the God of perfect order and perfect logic and He has created this world and established in it the laws of logic!
Then there are laws in nature because God created the world. Everything is created, and designed, and purposed, and ordered. Newton sits under an apple tree and an apple hits him on the head. He says, "Look at that! There's another one doing the same thing. There's another one and it's doing the same thing. O look, we have a law; let's call it gravity." And what does he do? He puts it in the middle of a Christian world-view. He didn't need to reject God by studying the laws of nature. He looked at the laws of nature and said, "There must be a God! There must be a God who is a God of order, so these laws of nature likewise are objectively and absolutely true".
But then we also discover in scripture that there are moral laws and these moral laws are absolutely true because God has given these moral laws to man. They are not just true for some men. It's not like, "We have Christianity and that floats our boat and therefore these laws are true for us but everybody outside the church they have no relevance to". These laws are fixed; they are absolute and applicable to all men, in all times, in all generations and in all places under heaven because they are a reflection of the holy, righteous and perfect character of God which is unchangeable. The moral law of God is that which is given to you as a rule of life; it is that which is given ultimately and that which we will be judged by when we stand at the judgement seat of Christ - it is fixed! Murder isn't wrong because society says it's wrong or because I say it's wrong; it's wrong because God says it's wrong. Stealing is wrong for the same reason. They are absolutely fixed laws. God teaches us about His Word in the Bible.
Then God teaches us the truth about man in the Bible. He tells us that we are created in the image of God and that we must glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This is true of all men: the reason for our existence is our creation by God. The meaning in our life is rooted in the same place. The motivation that you must have in your life is founded in the same truth: you are created by God. "Therefore whatsoever thy hand finds to do, do it with thy might" (Ecclesiastes 9, 10). What do we say, even as Christians, and this should horrify you buy you say it: you've got work to do; you couldn't be bothered, you've got school to go to and you hate school. That's not a Christian world-view. That is not glorifying God and enjoying Him for ever. "Whatsoever thy hand finds to do, do it with thy might" (Ecclesiastes 9, 10). Why? Because you have meaning, true meaning in this world. You have motivation, true motivation in this world - that in all things you will glorify the God who has made you.
But then we learn that we have sinned against God and therefore the truth is that we need to be saved from our sin. With it we need to be saved from our propensity to invent truth and to believe lies. God by His grace must bring us to that position where we love His absolute truth and we love the God of truth with all of our heart, with all of our soul and with all of our mind, and with all of our strength. The Bible teaches us the truth about man.
But then, finally, the Bible also teaches us the truth about relativism. God is the God of truth and therefore relativism is a lie. Scripture teaches us that no lie is of the truth but is from the devil who is the father of lies and a liar from the beginning. Materialism is a lie of the devil; relativism is a lie of the devil and any 'ism' that sets itself in opposition against the most high God in heaven and earth, is a lie - a lie of the devil. The devil can have a man believe in the concept of absolute truth - like the Islamic man, he believes in absolute truth, but his truth is a lie and therefore with that lie he perishes. But what he is doing in our culture is he's having men reject the concept of truth and they perish in the same way because they believe a lie.
Friends, every man who dies believing a lie, not submitting to the truth, will not be saved. But Jesus Christ, as we are going to look at tomorrow night, Jesus Christ is the Way the Truth and the Life and all men who come unto the Father by Him, shall be saved. Whenever you have been listening to this lecture and you think it's long, maybe you think that there is a lot in it that you don't understand, but you can understand this: if you are not in Christ you are going to perish with a lie in your right hand; you are going to have no excuses before the judgement seat of Christ.
I ask you in closing this evening, have you got a concept of truth - yes! But are you trusting in Christ the Truth? May the Lord bless His Word to our hearts.
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