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The Myth of Relativism: Christianity in a Postmodern World


If individual liberty is the highest good, why is individual liberty sacrificed so readily? When 9/11 occurred, it should have been regarded as a tragic and terrible criminal act committed by terrorists. Instead, Bush immediately used the language of “war” even though there was no state to declare war on. Why? 9/11 became not merely an excuse for invading Iraq, it also became the occasion to launch a new version of the “cold war,” that is, a open-ended, on-going rationale for a perpetual state of crisis. Who benefits from this situation? The military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us against needed a reason to resist budget cuts to the US military and 9/11 provided the perfect rationale. The state is strengthened by the threat to individual liberties posed by militant Islam. They speak a different language, they practice a different religion, they are far away—they are perfect candidates for caricature and propaganda.

So the ironic situation in late modernity—the period some call postmodernity—is that we have an ever-increasingly powerful state justified by its necessity to protect and extend the absolute value of individual liberties in the name of relativism. Are you confused? That is by design. You are not supposed to be able to think clearly. As long as you think that liberty includes the right to be a practicing Christian, you assume that you have a stake in defending liberty, democracy and the West. But you are not supposed to twig to the fact that modern liberalism is the successor religion to Christianity in the post-Christian West and that the modern version of liberalism is actually incompatible with Christianity. If you begin to think dangerous thoughts—such as the idea that Jesus Christ is Lord of all of life—you will become as much a threat to Western liberalism as Islam is. In the name of defending liberty, which is really just moral license, Christians are drawn into the clash of civilizations and end up fighting for a pagan god.

What is an adequate Christian response to these confusing times? I do not profess to have all the answers, but I do think that the first thing we have to do is to see through what I am calling “the myth of relativism” and see that Western modernity is a culture with its own unique values and beliefs. We need to understand that this culture is no longer Christian, if it ever really was in the first place. We need to see that the future of Christianity is not bound up with the globalization of Western individualism, democracy and capitalism; in fact, we need to see that Western liberalism is a rival faith to Christianity and the all-powerful state is a rival god competing for worship with the true God.

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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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