Relativism: How to Ruin Bedtime and the Meaning of Life
Children learn about relativism from an early age. It begins when they look at their life compared to another’s–a sibling, a parent, a friend. I’ll use bedtime to illustrate.
Parents go to great lengths to create routines that work. Bedtime can be a particularly difficult problem to solve with young children. One late night and a small taste of freedom can ruin months of progress.
But once a child learns that there are others who stay up late, the peace of the night is forever shattered. They immediately start lobbying for bedtime equality.
“Johnny down the street gets to stay up until nine. Why can’t I?”
The child now looks at his bedtime relative to Johnny-down-the-street’s.
What was once a good bedtime, is now not as good as Johnny’s.
The child’s attitude has changed. He used to go to sleep in peace. Now he resists the evening ritual and lies awake in his bed, watering seeds of frustration and contempt towards his parents.
Relativism is true in some contexts. Some things are relative. Einstein showed how space and time are relative in our universe. You may act differently relative to your setting or situation. Even though some things are relative, it does not follow that all things are relative. Most importantly:
Truth is not relative.
Here are a few often used phrases which indicate a presupposition of relative truth:
- “I have to follow my truth.”
- “That may be true for you, but not for me.”
- “I think truth is what you make it.”
Sometimes people use the word truth when they should be using the word “belief” or “opinion.” Beliefs and opinions can be subjective and relative. But there are several problems with asserting that truth is relative. Here are a few:
- Relativism is self-contradictory. Anyone who says “truth is relative” is making an absolute claim about truth.
- Relativism is always selective. No one who claims everything is relative actually lives that way. People don’t become relativists when they drive down the highway, or when they pick up their paycheck. They usually only invoke relativism when it suits their desires. If relativism leads to discomfort, it’s quickly jettisoned.
- Relativism dissolves morality. If a person believes in relative truth, then atrocities can never be deemed right or wrong. They are simply in accordance with your preferences or they are not. The concepts of good and bad disappear along with the highest virtues we hold dear. Life becomes meaningless–an exercise where we cling to the illusion of purpose, biding time until our ultimate and final annihilation.
“has confused all the age-old distinctions between right and wrong, between proper and improper, between priceless and worthless, between human and inhuman.”¹
Relativism provides the basis for many worldviews. Relativist thinking provides an attractive way to settle conflicts. If there is no ultimate right and wrong, then no one can ever be right or wrong. Everyone just has to live together, accepting everyone else’s way of life.
Unfortunately, that means accepting mass murder, rape, and child abuse.
Philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig explains in his book Reasonable Faith that if relativism is true, then your life has only relative significance. Without ultimate significance, your life becomes ultimately meaningless.
If your life is ultimately meaningless, then all the things you do in life are also meaningless.²
Relativism is like a drug which promises a quick fix, but results in a devastating crash.
You should “just say no” to this drug. It already ruins bedtime. Don’t let it ruin your life.
That’s my truth, anyway.
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Photo credit: Kevin Lawver / CC BY SA 2.0
¹James Dobson, Bringing Up Boys (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2001), Kindle ed., loc 2846.
² William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 72-73.