You may have noticed a trend when it comes to much of the Left-ward movement of our culture, especially during this year’s Pride Month. The politics and morality of the new sexual and political orthodoxies are, shall we say, inflexible. I believe that what is happening in our culture might have started with ideas we labeled as “relativism” but have become forms of unflinching fundamentalism. The political atmosphere being created right now is nothing short of soft tyranny.
Businesses, Federal agencies, sports teams, and more made employment contingent upon receiving an experimental vaccine. President Biden linked school lunch funding to the adoption of LGBTQ+ curriculum. His administration has also made it illegal for Federal organizations to help girls be girls (anti “conversion therapy” mandates). If parents or churches oppose Drag Queen events for kids and schools, they are labeled as immoral and dangerous. If parents oppose grooming curriculum in schools, the DOJ officially labels them as domestic terrorists and threatens them with the FBI.
Queer theory has relativized biology: “male” and “female” are up for grabs. Critical Race Theory has reduced everyone’s identity to their pre-approved categories of skin color, utterly relativizing all moral judgements. And the list goes on.
How did we get from relativism and talk about tolerance to fundamentalism and cancel culture? There is, I believe, a clear and definable path. And it is loaded with irony.
When I was reading postmodern authors 20 – 25 years ago, there was a lot of talk about how believing in objective truth was nothing short of a power play. Believing that there are moral and religious truths was tantamount to cultural colonialism. Authors both outside of and inside the Christian faith wrote these things. Christian authors who were enamored with the candy coating of postmodernism wrote that the act of sending missionaries to other cultures needed to be re-thought, and that our focus needed to be compassion instead of evangelism (many of them, oddly, did not consider the both/and possibility). They also cozied up to secularism and political progressivism as if they would become good Savior-substitutes, and it did not take long for them to drop orthodox Christian theology for the promises of Socialist and Marxist politics. In their books, Christ often became a good, obedient Darwinist and Socialist.
Truth, it was said, was automatically an act of power. You, after all, believe you have special access to truth and other cultures do not. Who are you, O great Westerner, to tell anyone else they are wrong? The popularized form that was repeated ad nauseum on daytime TV was, “Who are you to judge me?” Believing in truth was the problem and made you an inevitable power player. The solution, however, was right at hand if only you were ready to open your mind: be tolerant and relativize truth.
One promise of relativistic postmodernism, which has become the promise of our current cultural moment, is that if we change what we believe we can finally achieve utopia. We can fix what has gone wrong. If we can get rid of truth, we will have a moral free-for-all, and everyone can be happy.
What has happened instead is a heavy-handed moral lockdown, complete with social and governmental enforcement mechanisms. Relativism is an inevitable tyranny. Why?
Relativism is an inevitable tyranny.Tweet
Imagine two people, shortly before sunrise, debating whether the sun rises in the east or the west. One is adamant it rises in the east, the other is just as adamant about the west. It does not matter how much experience or science the eastward-believer conjures, the westward-believer is convinced he is right because it is his belief the sun rises in the west. But then the sun rises. The two interlocutors are standing on a beach in North Carolina, and the sun rises over the ocean. They both have irrefutable evidence the sun rises in the east.
At this point, all the eastward-believer needs to do is point to the sun. His position is now a matter of appealing to something outside both individuals. He does not need to force his point or raise his voice. All he does is point and hope the other changes their mind. The westward-believer, however, has already made the decision that truth is relative to what they believe, so they continue to believe the sun rises in the west. Now, in order for him to continue to make his point, he has to overcome the evidence of reality, and force his point of view on the other.
If I believe in objective truth, I can point to something beyond both of us to make my case. If you believe truth is relative (it is a matter of “lived experience”, etc.), you need to force your position on me in order for me to believe it. I can believe in the power of persuasion; you only have power.
Every version of relativism is false. The only play the relativist has is coercion.
But doesn’t the relativist believe we can solve social conflict and internal psychological tension if everyone can have their own version of truth? Right now, this is the promise, especially when it comes to sexual and gender identity. Well, how is that working out for everyone? It is not. Gender-relativists are not happy with those of us who are not gender relativists, and they believe their point of view should be forced on everyone else. All they have is power, exactly because they have denied the clear evidence of reality and do not believe in the truth.
The saying is as true today as it was when it was uttered 2000 years ago, “the truth will set you free” (Jesus, John 8:31). Unhooking yourself from reality and truth may sound like freedom, but in fact you have put yourself in shackles made by others. Truth may not always be what we want it to be, but it does not change because of how we feel about it. If we learn to drive on the correct side of the road, the journey will be much better than if we persist in our personal falsehoods.
Relativism has reached a point as inevitable as a fastball headed down the center of the plate – intellectual and moral tyranny.
Every version of relativism is false. The only play the relativist has is coercion.Tweet
Would you like to read up on these kinds of issues? Here are a couple of suggestions:
Douglas Groothuis, Truth Decay
Nancy Pearcy, Total Truth