This is a term that has garnered a lot of use lately. The term relativism is a world view that has a premise, at its foundation, that there is no absolute truth. It assumes that a truth, knowledge or morality exists in relation to culture or historical context.
“Relativism, roughly put, is the view that truth and falsity, right and wrong, standards of reasoning, and procedures of justification are products of differing conventions and frameworks of assessment and that their authority is confined to the context giving rise to them.” This quote comes from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Put another way, if it feels good, it must be OK. Unfortunately, that belief can lead one into some pretty dark places.
One of the attributes of the millennials – our next generation – is their view of relativism. I have described it as an Asian outlook on life. Asians don’t often look at decisions from a value base, but look at them from a relative basis. A decision is determined by some secondary issue such as who might be adversely affected or impacted negatively. In the Asian culture, it is called “save face”. The decision is not based on any moral truth, which is secondary.
Given a choice between telling the truth or helping another “save face” or embarrassment, the Asian values will often fudge on truth in order not to embarrass another co-worker or someone superior to them.
As a result, their decisions often don’t reflect truth as a basic core value. If a decision will cause harm to someone – in their culture, they call this loss of face – then they will act accordingly, even if the result is dishonest.
I saw this first hand when I represented Japanese clients. Decisions were made which made no sense to me. My Japanese clients had made investments in U.S. real estate that had turned sour, but instead of admitting it was a mistake, they would pour more money into it and keep them on life support so that no one would have to admit it was a mistake.
The reason for the decision was not obvious to me initially. Then I realized that the original decision to make the investment was made by some manager higher in the company, and any admission that it was a bad decision would cause him to lose face. Ergo, they ignored exiting the investment, and instead kept it going to postpone what should have been an obvious solution.
The next generation, many of whom have not grown up with any Christian involvement or in a Christian environment, often make decisions or choices in the Asian way. Since they don’t have any moral absolutes, choices about sexuality, religion or what is right and wrong is something they must figure out by themselves.
I have tried to come up with an example of how difficult this is. One analogy that I came up with was a sports analogy: what it would look like if you played a sport without any rules. In this analogy, rules are the same as truths. Take soccer, for example. There would be nothing stopping you from eliminating any out-of-bounds.
Body contact with an opposing player might be justified if it helped you to gain an advantage without penalty. Tackling the goal keeper so you could score a goal would be acceptable because you believe that winning is the most important thing so anything you do to win is acceptable.
Or, if you were unhappy with the size of the opponent’s goal, you would enlarge their goal to make it easier for you to score. Or, if you don’t think you can win with the normal 11 players, you could have 13 players if that gives you an advantage. I think you get the idea. It could or would be chaotic.
But that’s the slippery slope that the next generation is walking on. They really need guidance in this area. I am dismayed at the lack of the influence of the father on the next generation. He is either absent physically, or in many cases mentally. In the latter case, they are “too busy” to be involved in their child’s life, preferring to let the schools or others do their job.
As I reflect over the past 50 years, I can see the effect of relativism which has replaced Christian morality and truth over time. Look at our social conventions. Marriage in the biblical context was intended to be forever.
Now, the relative view is that if your marriage is not working, it’s OK to abandon it and get a divorce. No matter that the divorce may adversely impact your children.
The important thing is that your personal life is better so if you are unhappy, divorce becomes a solution to your problem. Lest you think this is just for non-believers, the Christian divorce rate is almost identical to divorces for secular people.
Someone close to me several years ago was heading down the road to a divorce. She rationalized it (again a matter of relativism). She said she knew that divorce was limited biblically, but she said, “those rules are for other people, not me.”
Floyd Green, a close friend of mine used to say: “If it comes to changing your lifestyle, or changing your biblical values, most people opt for the latter because “those rules didn’t take into account my personal situation.” Again, it’s all relative.
Sexuality went down this road, starting in the 1960’s. It became OK to have sex outside of marriage because it didn’t seem to harm anyone and was fun. Which led to abortion. If you should happen to get pregnant, the solution was to get an abortion to eliminate that “inconvenience.”
No matter that it was a baby’s life that got sacrificed. Your ability to make a “choice” for your body trumped the baby’s life. If you think about it, the slogan “Pro Choice” says it all.
As parents and mentors, our role is not done unless we have equipped and educated the next generation about the importance of the biblical view in their life. Our challenge is that the culture has now taken hold so thoroughly that it is an uphill climb.
We must articulate that God’s way of life is the best course for our mentees. The church can help, too. Our church is now doing a series entitled “Love, Sex and Marriage.” I suspect that a series like this some 50 years ago would have been considered unnecessary. Not anymore.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: The next generation has grown up in cultures that has sold them lies based on relativism. You need to probe their worldviews on a number of topics to be sure they have firm grounding. Many of their values may have been influenced by a culture steeped in relativism.
FURTHER STUDY: Relativism: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/relativism/
WORSHIP: Listen to Chris Tomlin sing “We Fall Down”
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