Summary: A study followed by a logical and biblical critique of relativism, the foundation of postmodernism.
Relativism: The Foundation of Postmodernism
October 26, 2014
TEXT: John 18:37-38 – “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. 38 Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?…”
You may not know it, but you and I now live in a “POSTmodern” world.
The world has gone through three great eras in how it deals with truth and reality.
• The PRE-modern world understood reality in terms of the supernatural—that is, that everything owed its existence and meaning to a spiritual realm beyond the senses.
• The MODERN world was a result of the Enlightenment, a time when rationalism became the supreme tool to understand the world and it’s meaning. This brought us modern science and all its conveniences and inventions. But it also brought us a nightmare of repercussions—deplorable working conditions and child exploitation during the Industrial Revolution, slavery to advance capitalism in the 1700-1800s, and Communism, Naziism, a great depression, two world wars and nuclear weapons in the 20th Century and today we have environmental fears of global warming and AIDS.
• So today we live in what is called the POSTmodern world. – As people recognized the failings of the modern era, their outlook on life changed, producing a reaction that questions most of the underpinnings of the modern era.
Now that’s a distillation of months of study from several books to about six sentences. Years ago I planned to do a thorough critique of postmodernism as a sermon series, but as I studied it, one thing began to emerge that forms the foundation of everything that embodies postmodernism. Everything else about postmodernism is just the outworking of this one idea. That’s what I would like to talk about today.
That almost universal assumption has become practically universal in our society today and based on that assumption, people interpret reality in ways never thought of before.
That widely accepted assumption is simple this: That TRUTH IS RELATIVE.
Let’s talk about RELATIVISM today:
I. FIRST, LET’S CONSIDER THE PREVALENCE OF RELATIVISM.
The guy who first alerted America about how relativism has completely taken hold of the academic world and changed the intellectual landscape was Alan Bloom in his 1987 book, The Closing of the American Mind. Bloom is not in any way a Bible-thumper, but a first-rate academic, having taught at Yale, Cornell, the University of Paris and the University of Chicago. In this book, he says this:
There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative. If this belief is put to the test, one can count on the students’ reaction: they will be uncomprehending. That anyone should regard the proposition as not self-evident astonishes them, as though he were calling into question two plus two equals four. These are things you don’t think about. The students’ backgrounds are as various as America can provide. Some are religious, some are atheist, some are to the left, some are to the right, some intended to be scientists, some humanists or professionals or businessmen; some are poor, some are rich. They are unified only in their relativism and in their allegiance to equality. And the two are related in a moral intention. The relativity of truth is not a theoretical insight, but a moral postulate [a starting assumption], the condition of a free society, or so they see it. They have all been equipped with this framework early on, and it is the modern replacement for the inalienable natural rights that used to be the traditional American grounds for a free society.
“The danger they have been taught to fear from absolutism is not error, but intolerance. Relativism is necessary to openness; and this is the virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years has dedicated itself to inculcating. Openness—and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and various ways of life and kinds of human beings—is the great insight of our times. The true believer is the real danger. (Bloom, p. 25-26, emphasis mine.)
Now don’t miss what he said. He was asserting that relativism is practically universally believed by students, not GRADUATING from college, but ENTERING college. I think nobody denies that college professors love to dismantle students’ faith and convictions, but what Bloom exposed in his book is not just that they’re getting this in college, but they’re getting this far younger than that!
In 1994, Barna Research Group polled American adults and found that 72% of Americans believe in some degree in relativism—that’s almost three out of four! And here’s the saddest part—which is one of the reasons I am dealing with this subject here at Grace Baptist Church—Barna found that 62 % of those who called themselves born-again Christians had the same view that truth is relative. Christian teenagers’ results were even worse: over 90% believed in relativism. And that was 20 years ago, and we know it has not gotten better, but worse.