The Poison of Relativism

As you've most likely noticed, I've been focusing a lot lately on the dangerous and subtle lie of relativism that spreads its poison into every nook and cranny. Here's the lying logic of relativism: If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then my tastes and preferences are the standard of beauty. And if my tastes and preferences are the standard of beauty, then my tastes and preferences also define what is good and true. The reasoning goes something like this: "If I like it, then it must be good. Who has any right to tell me that something I like is not good? How could something that makes me happy not be good?" This is the default assumption of our society, and it has been for a long time. Unfortunately, many Christians have been swept up in the current without even realizing how far they're being carried away from shore.

In 1966, the unbelieving sociologist Philip Reiff wrote a book called The Triumph of the Therapeutic. He said that America had ceased to be a religious culture and had instead become a therapeutic culture. A therapeutic culture is one in which individuals are free to seek their own pleasures and to manage their anxieties by whatever means necessary. He observed that psychology and medicine replaced religion in a quest for personal happiness. One indicator of our therapeutic culture is that pain came to be treated by doctors as the "fifth vital sign", and powerful painkillers started to be given out much more freely. The opioid epidemic arose in this broader cultural context. I have witnessed first-hand how doctors will routinely prescribe anti-anxiety medications in the hospital even if the patient shows no signs of being anxious or agitated.

In 1985, the secular Jewish author Neil Postman wrote a book entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death. Postman observed that television and electronic media has turned everything into entertainment. People don't know how to think, how to talk, or how to interact with other people, because they seek mindless pleasure and escape from reality in front of a screen. A hedonistic lifestyle means taking every opportunity to escape from the difficulties of life in the real word by trying to live in a pain-free, virtual world of fantasy. Postman never lived to witness the effects of the "smartphone" and social media, but he clearly saw it coming.

In 2005, the sociologist Christian Smith (author of Soul Searching) coined the term "moralistic therapeutic deism" (MTD) to describe the prevailing religious belief of American teens. Moralist therapeutic deism is the general belief that "god" (a generic deity) exists and wants nothing more from us than to be nice and to be happy. Smith's longitudinal study of hundreds of teens over the course of their adolescence found that most of them—even those raised in faithful Christian churches—described their religious beliefs in terms of MTD. Note: The teens in his study are now in their early 30s. Click here for a 2008 presentation Smith gave summarizing his research findings.

Subjective beauty assumes that my tastes are infallible and that everything I desire is good. But a subjective understanding of beauty completely ignores the reality of counterfeit beauty in the world and the twisted desires of our fallen hearts that are enticed by those counterfeit beauties. The solution is to show the ugliness of sin and to display the beauty of Christ so that the desire for sin is undermined by the surpassing goodness of the Lord.

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Relativism & Beauty