The Age of Relativism is Ending (In a Battle of Gods)

By Tom Gilson Published on July 27, 2017

The age of relativism is ending. Even Christians may soon look back upon it with nostalgia.

I wrote recently about the end of the post-Christian era. It was never destined to last, I said then, because no major era in history is long known by what came before. Indeed, a new religion of self-deification has grown up now to take its place.

Something very similar could be said about relativism, which was also about deifying the self. Its age could never have lasted long, either. The two periods are dying together, though relativism is ending for very different and more important reasons.

Understanding Relativism by Its Gods

Relativism was (and in its dying gasps it still is) essentially the view that every person has the right and power to determine his own truth — especially religious truth — as well as his own moral code. This is a very god-like power to claim, and it has certainly paved the way for today’s new religion of self-deification.

It was never the case that multiple competing “truths” could all be true. The whole idea was silly from the start.

But relativism makes for very small gods. Each relativist rules his own self-contained, isolated universe, and by general agreement we stay clear of each other’s. Thus relativists love to say things like, “That may not be true for me, but if it’s true for you, hey, that’s cool” — which amounts to, “You’re free to run your universe. I won’t interfere.”

Or, more defensively, “Who are you to impose your morality on me?” — which is tantamount to, “You can be your own god, but you’d better let me be mine.”

We call that mutual hands-off doctrine “tolerance,” and consider it a virtue, but in reality it’s a prickly, alienating, isolating manner of relating to one another. As such it’s a pretty poor excuse for a virtue.

Self-Contradictory, Therefore Unstable From the Start

It’s also inherently unstable, for two reasons.

First, it was never the case that multiple competing “truths” could all be true. The whole idea was silly from the start.

Take religion, for example. Religious claims are by nature about reality beyond human opinion. A relativist might say “Christianity may be true for you, but it’s not true for me.” The fact is, if there is one God, and if Jesus Christ is His Son, then that truth is true for all reality. Likewise, if it’s not true of reality, then it’s not true for anyone. As for morality, let’s be honest: we never thought it was all that relative in the first place. There have always been absolutes. Even the code, “You must not impose your morality on me,” was a morality we imposed on each other.

Relativism has always been hopelessly self-contradictory. It’s amazing it’s stuck around as long as it has.

Doomed to Die in the Battle of the Gods

Where there are many gods they will inevitably do battle, until a victor emerges to rule over the rest.

But there is a second reason the era of relativism was doomed to die a quick death.

All the ancient mythologies agree (and they are right in this): Where there are many gods they will inevitably do battle, until a victor emerges to rule over the rest. Cronos overthrew his father Uranus to become chief of the Titan gods. Cronos then gave birth to Zeus, who led all Cronos’s children, the Olympians, in rebellion, until the Titans were bound in Tartarus.

This parallels exactly what we’re seeing unfold in our culture today. The gods of relativism could never have remained equal for long — and they haven’t.

The Victory of the LGBT Gods

See for yourself. Try saying, “Gay marriage may be real marriage for you, but it isn’t real for me.” Or try this, when your biologically male co-worker asks you to use only female pronouns with him” “Who do you think you are? You have no right to impose your values on me!” Yes, actually, he does have that right. Or at least he has the power. He has it because the battle has been fought, and his side won.

Now, I was never much of a relativist, having received grace to know early in life that there is one God who rules in both goodness and truth, and whose reality is indeed reality for all. Still I can appreciate how freeing relativism must have seemed. Being gods meant being able to rule our universes as we chose. What could be better?

It turns out, however, that being a god is no great advantage for the lesser deities among us. Prometheus, the Titan god who jumped ship to side with the Olympians, later defied Zeus by bringing fire to humans. Zeus chained him to a rock for it, where an eagle came and ate constantly at his liver until Hercules finally freed him.

Use the wrong pronouns at your school or fitness club and you may not come out much better.

Why the Day May Come When We Miss the Age of Relativism

The gods on the LGBT throne have defeated all the other small gods. They did it under the banner of “equality,” but it’s really about naked, arbitrary and very unequal power. (Just ask the Greeks trying to take Troy whether Zeus could be arbitrary.)

Which is why I say the day may come when we look back nostalgically on the days just ending. Relativism was always wrong, irrational, even silly. It’s led to all kinds of immoral excess and spiritual death. But at least it didn’t push its way around like an unrestrained, immoral, arbitrary, rock-chaining, death-dealing Olympian god.

Still, we who follow Jesus Christ know there is a true and very good God in heaven,  who will remain as victor over all other would-be gods. Let us grieve for them, not for ourselves. It’s hard to be the loser. Apart from the true God’s grace, it will be even harder on the ones who think they’ve won. 

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