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The Myth of Relativism: Christianity in a Postmodern World

 

Editor Introduction: Postmodernism, The Church, and The Future

Professor Carter unpacks what relativism is to give us a better understanding of what postmodernism really is.

 

Postmodernism, The Church, and The Future
A Pneuma Review discussion about how the church should respond to postmodernism

We are told frequently today that the great problem of the postmodern world is relativism. This problem is said to take two related forms: moral relativism and epistemological relativism. The first says that there are no moral absolutes, no fixed and eternal right and wrong. Something may be right at one point in history but wrong at another point in history. Something may be right for me and wrong for you or vice versa. We have to look at each situation, try to predict the likely outcomes and then make some sort of rational cost-benefit analysis before deciding what course of action is best to take in a given situation. The second, epistemological relativism, is closely related as the actual foundation of moral relativism. Epistemological relativism says that we as human beings simply cannot know ultimate or absolute truth. We are limited by our finite human reason and our inability to comprehend all the relevant facts simultaneously with the result that our knowledge of any given aspect of reality is always partial and limited. Therefore, we cannot have any absolute knowledge. Our very perception of the world inevitably shapes what we perceive and is never simply and totally equivalent to the way the world actually is.

We are furthermore often told that these two forms of relativism are the essence of postmodernism. Postmodernists, we are told, are those people who reject absolute truth and who deny absolute moral values. Once upon a time, Western society as a whole embraced absolute truth and absolute values, but now postmodernism has taken hold and begun to exercise a perverse influence. This is said to be the reason for so much of the moral decline that any observant person can see all around us. Western culture is in decline because of postmodernism, the essence of which is moral and epistemological relativism.

Christians, we are told on the other hand, are people who believe in absolute truth and absolute values. Christians join with other people of good will from all faiths and no faith who affirm that there are certain absolutes to which we all can hold, including a generalized belief in some sort of deity (Theism) and a natural law implanted in nature and conscience by the deity that we can all discover and obey by the light of reason and by the strength of our will as we seek to bow before the Deity and the Natural Law.

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Category: Ministry, Winter 2008

About the Author: Craig A. Carter, Ph.D. (University of St. Michael's College, Toronto), M.Div. (Acadia University), is Professor of Theology at Tyndale University College in Toronto, Ontario. He is the author of The Politics of the Cross: The Theology and Social Ethics of John Howard Yoder (Brazos Press, 2001) and Rethinking Christ and Culture: A Post-Christendom Perspective (Brazos Press, 2007). www.tyndale.ca/faculty/craig-carter

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