True for You, but Not for Me: The Case Against Relativism-Part 2

In my last blog on relativism, I covered three different types of relativism and explained what they were. You can check that one out here

Now that I’ve covered the types of relativism, you might recognize a few relativistic arguments that you’ve heard in conversations with friends, families, or even just chatting in line at a store. Relativism is a pretty common way of thought, but there are a few reasons why relativism doesn’t really work out.

First of all, relativism is chock-full of self-defeating statements. Self-defeating statements are ones that set standards or make  claims, and don’t live up to their own standards and claims. If I said to you, “I can’t speak one word of English”, that would be a self-defeating claim. Clearly, I can speak a word of English because I just said 7 English words in that sentence. The claim proves itself to be wrong. One common relativist claim you might hear is “There is no such thing as truth!” But isn’t that a truth claim? So you could respond by saying, “Is that statement absolutely true?”, and the flaw in the argument would be clear. A similar statement you might hear is “Nobody can know what truth is!” Then, you could ask, “How do you know that is true?” A third really common statement that is self-defeating statement usually says something like “You shouldn’t be so intolerant of others!” or “It’s really wrong of you to be judgmental.” The first one you could respond to by saying, “Are you being intolerant of my view?” The second is similar because you could say “Are you being judgmental of my view?” Sometimes, we easily overlook self-defeating statements, and just take them. However, upon closer examination, these statements are everywhere in relativism, and they logically cannot stand.

The second flaw in relativism ties in with the first flaw. A relativist cannot say why anything is wrong. If there are no truths and absolutes, and everything is just preference and opinion, then we wouldn’t be able to tell anyone that they’re wrong. Why have a justice system? Criminals are just doing what they think is best. And there would be no difference between good things and bad things because it’s all up to the individual. You would have to say that there’s no difference between charity work and murder because they are both good according to the people doing the action.Clearly, though, we can see problems with unethical behavior and we are pleased with ethical behavior. We can make a distinction between good and bad, but relativism can’t say that anything is right or wrong.

If a relativist has a problem with self-defeating statements, and can’t say why anything is wrong, then, when relativists make judgments about other people’s actions, they have to contradict their own views. Without fail, like all people do, relativists have to make moral judgments. If you say I’m wrong for calling someone something rude, you’re making a moral judgement. If you say a person shouldn’t steal something from you, you’re making a moral judgement. Relativists simply cannot avoid contradicting their own beliefs in their speech and actions.

The last flaw in relativism is that it isn’t neutral. It pushes things like shunning the idea of overarching truths, and argues that there are no absolutes. The underlying assumption in relativism is that people who believe that truths can be absolute are wrong.

Relativism is common, but it just can’t stand on its own. Logically, it beats itself up. Without even realizing it, we are exposed to relativist ideas all the time, and in the next and final part of this series, we’ll look at some good examples of relativistic thought.

More nifty reading recommendations! If you want to learn more about the flaws in relativism, here are some good sources that I used today, and some that I didn’t that are just really good. 

“Self-Refuting Statements You Must Know” by Sean McDowell

VIDEO: “Relativism: Can Anyone be Right About Anything?” by Scott Klusendorf

Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl

Stand to Reason



Pushing Away Grace

“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.”

Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor

Accepting grace is hard.  I love American literature, and when I came across that quote by O’Connor, it really stuck. A lot of people I know have really struggled with the idea of thinking of God as a loving father, and I’ve always had difficulty grasping why, but I think I’m starting to understand.

In a world that is filled with so much hate, condemnation, and persecution, our minds have trouble grasping the idea of “free” grace. We’re used to the idea of “grace”, but with strings attached. Sometimes grace just seems to translate into “I’ll forgive you, but I won’t let you forget it”. The thing about God is that He shows us grace because He loves us, not because he has some selfish motivation for forgiving us. Because God loves us, He wants us to be better. He meets us where we are, no matter what, but He doesn’t want to leave us there. It’s like He sees us standing in the middle of a road with cars coming at us, and He says, “Come on, let’s get out of the way to where it’s safe.”

That’s where a lot of us start having trouble. Change hurts. Learning hurts. I remember when I learned to ride a bike without training wheels. Things were going (mostly) well. My dad decided that we should ride our bikes to the Baskin Robbins near my house, so we did. We got our cones and ate, and we rode back. Everything was great. It was a fun trip. Until I went down a hill too fast, went through a thorny bush, hit a pear tree, and fell off my bike. Ouch! I also ripped my favorite pair of pants at the knee, so I took scissors to them, and was the only kid I knew who wore pink corduroy shorts at my co-op. Boy, those things were ugly. Learning how to ride a bike was a painful experience in more than one way. The thing is, though, I learned. Despite some rough patches, I loved riding my bike, and I used to wake up every morning to go riding up and down my street for hours.

Sometimes things are like that with God. It’s not that He doesn’t love us. He just sees the big picture. Just like my father saw past the time I rode full-force into our mini-van and the time I toppled over before I even left the driveway to a time when I would fully be able to ride my bike and would enjoy it, God sees past the pain and the hurt. He wrote this book. He already knows the ending. Our experiences mold us and teach us, and even though lessons can be hard, God is a loving father who wants us to ride some bikes. Grace is tough sometimes, but accepting grace and the change that comes with it is SO worth it.

“Don’t Be a Doubting Thomas!”

“Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” 

                                                                                 –Paul Tillich, philosopher and theologian

I distinctly remember when one of my dear friends, who I’ll call “Sara”, sat with me, chatting over coffee about religion. She told me that there were some things she was uncertain about in her belief system, but that she shouldn’t question them. I could tell her doubts were eating at her, but Sara felt that questioning her beliefs would be like questioning God, and she didn’t feel like that was something she could do.

I’ve been there, too. Even though I was raised in a household that has encouraged me to ask big questions, and I’ve been involved in a ministry that has challenged my thinking process, I’ve definitely met a few people who don’t like the idea of me being uncertain. I’ve been told that doubts are “from the devil” and that my doubts show where my faith and trust in God are lacking. Are those things true? Is it bad to doubt things about your beliefs sometimes?

In Isaiah 1:18, the Lord says, “Come now, and let us reason together”; in Matthew 22:37, Jesus says to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” There’s not a lot of guess work at what God wants us to do. He created us with brains and He told us straight up to use them. He wants us to reason and to know him with our minds, as well as our hearts.

Let’s think about this idea. It makes sense, right? Even in everyday life, we believe things because we have reasons to believe them to be true. When you get in your car to drive, how do you know your breaks will work? Okay, sure. I bet you don’t call a mechanic and have him check your brakes to see how they’re doing to be sure they’re going to work every single time you drive. But don’t you still have reasons for believing your brakes will work? They worked last time you drove, and the time before that, and there doesn’t appear to be any reason for them not to work. We have reasonable faith in our brakes. We have reasonable faith in a lot of things in our lives.

But let me get back on track. We’re supposed to be talking about doubts, and faith and doubts are contradictory things, and–PLOT TWIST. Faith and doubts can actually complement each other. If God wants us to reason, to explore different arguments and ideas for why we believe what we believe, then we HAVE to be exposed to ideas contrary to our own. We have to be exposed to things that make us question ourselves and what we believe. In order to grow, we need ideas contrary to our own to teach us.

The whole “it-makes-sense-if-you-don’t-think-it-through” mindset is ridiculous. Can you imagine if lawyers did that?  If they doubted their clients who were pleading innocent and they had overwhelming reasons to believe that their clients committed crimes but also didn’t look for any evidence to prove their clients were innocent before a judge and jury? Yeah, I have a feeling the jury would doubt the clients’ innocence as well. Look, I understand the fear that people have in regards to doubts. Doubts can cripple your faith if you don’t know how to seek out answers and resolve doubts. However, if you let your doubts motivate you to look for evidence for why you believe what you believe, then your case for faith becomes even stronger. Doubts, in and of themselves, are not evil at all. It’s how you deal with your doubts that counts. It’s up to you.

True for You, but Not for Me: The Case Against Relativism- Part 1.

Something that I’ve enjoyed doing for a long time is learning. I’m totally bought into that whole thing about how you’re never to old to learn something knew and how it’s fun to be a life-long learner. One way that I have found is best for me to learn about other people and what they believe is to talk to them. I know, such a novel concept, right? But in all seriousness, conversation is an underutilized learning tool.

Since my beliefs are a big part of my life, and have life-changing implications and consequences, I spend a lot of time talking to people about what they believe, too. Morality and truth come up a lot because those are two things that permeate every culture and affect our decisions every day. It seems like a no-brainer to me to ask people how they define truth and how they know what truth is. How do they set their standards? Are those standards absolute? Do they apply to every person in every situation? Do they have to appeal to anything higher than themselves?

Most common answers I get: 

“Just because something is true for me doesn’t mean it’s true for you.”

“Truth is dependent on your culture and upbringing.” 

“There are definitely things that are absolutely true in every circumstance, but I have no right to impose those truths on others.” 

In some other blogs, I want to discuss these claims, what truth is, subjective and objective truth, and a bunch of other stuff because this is an important, but big discussion. Let’s start by defining relativism. Merriam-Webster defines relativism as “the belief that different things are true, right, etc. for different people at different times.” Another definition from Merriam-Webster is “a view that ethical truths depend on the individuals and groups holding them.” In other words, relativism is the idea that rights and wrongs are up for us to determine as individuals or by societies and cultures. There aren’t any overarching truths that are true in every scenario and because we determine, based on our upbringing, tastes, and perspectives, which vary, what is true. Those first two answers that I gave before that I commonly get give a good look at a relativist mindset. In the book entitled Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl, Koukl writes about three kinds of relativism: Society Does Relativism, Society Says Relativism, and I Say Relativism.

The claim of Society Does Relativism, also known as cultural or descriptive relativism, is that since people can’t agree on what is true, that means there is no truth to be found. Culture to culture, people seem to follow different standards or morality, so who has the right to claim that his culture has the right standard?

The second type of relativism, Society Says Relativism, says that every society/culture chooses what is right and wrong. This claim differs from Society Does Relativism because instead of saying that the lack of agreement means there is no truth, this claim says that there are multiple truths that vary from society to society. Morality, in the Society Says Relativism worldview, is determined by what is popular. If 49% of a culture believes one thing, and 51% of the culture believes an opposing thing is true, majority rules. Sorry, 49%.

Then we get to the last kind of Relativism, I Say Relativism. In this scenario,the individual gets to decide what is right and wrong. Since the individual has his own truth, you can’t impose your truth on him– your truth is probably just different (but true for you, even if your truth contradicts another person’s). If you’ve ever heard something like, “You don’t know me and my life! This is right for me!” or “You can’t tell me what to do, forcing your morals on me!”, then you’ve been exposed to I Say Relativism before.

I’m going to write about these more in depth in the future, and we’ll look at the flaws of relativism. First, though, I wanted to take a post to define terms, so we’re all on the same page.

Time for some nifty reading recommendations! If you think this topic is interesting, you want to read some stuff from some awesome apologists, or you just want some answers now and can’t wait till my next blog post, chapter 3 of Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air  (or just the entire book because it’s really good) and are great starting places. 

Charging Bears

“I don’t feel led by the Holy Spirit.”

“I would preach the Gospel to a lost world, but I just don’t think that’s my calling.”

Jesus told us in the Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”; so why do so many of us have such a hard time getting off our tails and engaging the culture?

When I ask most people why they don’t feel led, the answer has something to do with their stomachs being in knots, or them not knowing the words to say. The reason for not talking to people about Christ is fear-based.

What do we have to fear, though? My mentor used to always say that if people who don’t know Jesus as their Lord and Savior aren’t going to heaven, how can we make the situation worse?

Our God is a powerful, just, and loving God. I’ve often heard a quote that says something about how God won’t give us more than we can handle, but there’s more to it than that. By ourselves, as flawed  humans, we might not be capable of much; but when we have God, he doesn’t just leave us in that state. He equips us. He dwells within us. We might not be able to do much on our own, but we aren’t alone, and with God, all things are possible.

Okay, I get it. I’ve been there. I’m not pretending that there haven’t been times where I’ve heard a conversation go on where I could easily talk about Christ and I haven’t been hesitant. I’ve definitely missed some opportunities to share the Gospel, and I’ve regretted not speaking up. One of the things that was eye-opening for me and helped me to realize what we are called to do in the Great Commission is a story that one of my mentors shared with me.

In Eusebius’ History of the Church, Eusebius writes about a martyr named Agapias. Agapius was a Christian, and he boldly proclaimed his beliefs. During this time, a tyrant ruled the land and his name was Maximinus. It was customary for when an emperor was present or during big celebrations for spectators to be entertained by events, which included things like throwing people in an area with ravenous animals that would eat them. Agapius was arrested for his proclamation of his faith and was to be thrown to animals, but the tyrant promised that he would release Agapias if he recanted what he believed and denied his profession of faith; Agapius refused.

Since Agapius wouldn’t back down from what he knew to be true, he was thrown into the arena with a hungry bear. You might be thinking, “WOW, I sure can’t wait to share my faith now–NOT!” But stay with me for a second. Agapius was thrown into this arena, but he didn’t give up. He didn’t stop fighting. Eusebius writes that Agapius CHARGED the bear.  And not only did he charge the bear but he did so cheerfully. Even when the odds were against him, Agapius gave fighting for the truth his all. And you know what? Agapius didn’t get eaten. He had to be put back in jail for another day because the dude just wouldn’t die, until he was drowned in a sea with stones attached to his feet.

THAT is how we should be. We aren’t called by God to be comfortable. This whole life thing isn’t just about us. It’s about glorifying God. God sent his son to die for us, so we should live for Him, even when it’s hard, or scary, or looks hopeless. We should be like Agapius, shedding our fears, and charging bears.

A Call to Order: Unboxing Faith

Back in March, I was asked to help with an event for the youth at my church. The whole idea behind this thing was to show the youth that as Christians, we are the church. The church isn’t confined to a building; rather, we, as the church, are supposed to carry our beliefs into every aspect of our lives. As I was leading my small group, which consisted of about 25 girls in their junior year of high school, the girls presented their concerns about going back to school on Monday. A resounding chorus of voices saying “It’s easy to live for Jesus when you’re on a camp high” and “How can we take this back and talk to people who don’t care? Half the people here are praising Jesus but then tweeting about partying when they get home” filled the sanctuary’s lobby.

Not going to lie, I had the same concerns that the girls did. After all, it’s easy to do anything as long as it feels good.  As KB sings in one of my favorite Jesus jams called “Crowns and Thorns” (listen here! ), “Are you the safest when the world’s loving you or had enough of you? Who’s in more danger: the persecuted or the comfortable?” Christianity isn’t supposed to be confined to four walls on Sunday; and newsflash: Christianity isn’t just about us. Yeah, I know, that’s not popular, but that’s true. If Christianity was just about us, then we might as well all be swept away and taken up to heaven now. We’re put on this earth to glorify God, to engage the culture, to win the lost. We are a part of God’s grand metanarrative.

So why, then, do we shove our faith into little boxes? What’s up with our holy huddles, where we discuss our faith with people who believe the same things we do, but refuse to reach outside the church doors because we don’t “feel led”? If we’re going to sing “Oceans” by Hillsong (listen here!) in a church pew on Sunday and ask Jesus to take us “deeper than [our] feet could ever wander,” then shouldn’t we actually be willing to go deeper with our faith, letting our Christianity permeate our entire lives? We have a problem, and it’s time to start addressing it. It’s time to stop putting our faith inside a box.