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The Myth of Relativism: Christianity in a Postmodern World


But there is another reason for doubting that the leaders of our society—the media, politicians, business leaders, intellectuals, artists, scientists and so forth—are really relativists. All you need to do is to ask whether or not there is anything for which a person would be willing to kill or die for. This is a rather simple test, but it is infallible. Now, there may well be people around who are unwilling to fight to defend anything and they may be unwilling to die for anything, but such people are few and far between. If there is nothing for which you are willing to kill, then it may be because you are a pacifist and believe that following Jesus in the way of the cross involves repudiating all forms of lethal violence against the enemy. However, if this is your position, you must be willing to die for your faith because that is what taking up one’s cross and may very well mean. It certainly did mean that for the apostles and for many martyrs throughout Christian history.

When it comes to the leaders of contemporary Western society, I do not think that we observe people who are unwilling to kill or die for their ideals. When we look at the Pentagon, the White House, the Congress, the British House of Commons or the Canadian Parliament, what we see is people who are very much ready to resort to killing and, if need be, dying for liberty, democracy and other Western values. They appear very much to hold to these values absolutely. They are backed up by the population at large, as well as by the media, the entertainment industry and business leaders. Individuals may do everything in their power to avoid being personally placed in danger, but no one thinks that World War II was not necessary to stop Hitler. Or, to put it another way, does anyone seriously doubt the willingness of the Western world to fight back against any perceived threat from Islam to take over Western countries and impose Islamic law? In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, it has become increasingly clear that Westerners do see their civilizational values as absolute enough to fight and kill for—and even to die for. Some say that postmodernism died on 9/11, but I do not think that true relativism ever really lived. I think some illusions died that day and the dream of converting the whole world to a post-Christian, Enlightenment, worldview of humanism rooted in liberal individualism and capitalism did take a serious hit that day. It was made dramatically clear to all concerned that not everyone in this world today is prepared to lie down and let Western values triumph. So perhaps what died was not postmodernism or relativism, but a naïve faith in the inevitable triumph of reason, democracy, liberty and capitalism throughout the world, now that the Soviet threat has been vanquished.

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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).

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