Monday, July 16, 2012

PRIVATIZATION, PLURALISM and RELATIVISM

Two ingredients that go into resisting the proper agenda of the church and its mission to disciple the nations are Privatization and confusion over the issues of Pluralism and Relativism.

I begin by making a few preliminary points about “religious freedom.” First, we need to understand that the word “religious” is not limited to, what we often think of as, organized religion. Reference to organized religion conjures thoughts of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. We must, however, realize that any set of beliefs that serve to guide one’s line of reasoning, choices, activities and lifestyle are religious beliefs. Atheism and Humanism are religious belief systems. Next, we must be clear that there is a tremendous difference between Freedom OF Religion and Freedom FROM Religion. To confuse or misrepresent (purposely or not) the two affects the way we view the relationship between the church and the state.

Many Christians intellectually acknowledge that there is nothing excluded from the Lordship of Christ and yet practically live as though we accept the idea that we must keep Him and MY religion out of certain areas of society (civil government and “public” education being two important such spheres). There seems to be a general acceptance that there are “public” affairs which need to be religion-free and “private” affairs within which we are ALLOWED to practice our religion.

With this in mind, we can briefly consider the topic of Pluralism. In a pluralistic society, it is expected that there will be people with different beliefs; a different set of “religious” standards. We might say that, in this world and in this nation, pluralism is a fact – there are, living side by side, many people with many different systems of belief. In a pluralistic society, it should, however, be expected that people will attempt to represent the credibility of their belief system and the error of others (one does not hold to a belief system while believing it to be wrong). This being the case, all adherents of a particular belief system should be challenged to 1) understand and 2) represent the details of their belief system. I would like to emphasize this point for my Christian readers. In 1 Peter 3:15 we read, “…sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you…” Though effectively representing one’s case will have an impact upon the pluralistic landscape of a culture, we are not “fighting” against pluralism. It is best to encourage people to know and follow their convictions (the essence of a pluralistic culture) while attempting to change people on the level of their convictions. We begin to cross the line between Pluralism and Relativism when we assume, first, that it’s inappropriate to promote, defend or attempt to convince others of the belief system to which we hold and, next, that it’s inappropriate to establish and run a corporate entity (even to the level of civil government) upon a specific belief system (i.e. we must avoid national commitment to one particular God or belief system). The unavoidable fact is, “public policy” will always be the reflection of some belief system. If we do not realize that legalizing abortion, removing prayer from “public” school and efforts to legalize gay marriage (among other things) are motivated by accompanying belief systems, we are simply ignoring what is clearly there to be known. Even in our pluralistic society, the Biblical worldview is a belief system against which there is significant discrimination.

The first thing we should know about Relativism is that it is one of many philosophical responses to the factual existence of Pluralism; one way of explaining and dealing with plurality of beliefs. The relativistic perspective attempts to give equal credence to all belief systems by emphasizing that all assertions of a belief system are based on social, environment, psychological and economic factors. We do not hold to moral beliefs because they are true but because we are reacting to other factors that give rise to our beliefs. I do not deny that some of what we believe involves this ingredient but I do deny that we can ascribe this source as the primary or even prevalent origin of our belief systems. Relativism attempts to deny claims of absolute truth or that our beliefs are efforts to arrive at truth. Consequently, no one can claim to be right, in the sense of communicating absolute truth.

Since we must have a reason to believe what we believe, in the absence of truth as the criteria, Relativism tends to lead to Pragmatism and Utilitarianism. Pragmatism emphasizes that if something works (on a practical level) it is “good.” Since we can’t say it’s right or true, we base the value of a belief on whether it works. Consequently, if lying works, it’s acceptable. Utilitarianism emphasizes that if something serves a purpose it is “good.”

Relativism views religion as different systems of thought attempting to promote the same end. Therefore, you cannot say that your religion represents truth and another is false. This idea is comparable to ice cream. We would not refer to vanilla ice cream as true ice cream and chocolate ice cream as false ice cream; they both serve the same function of making different people happy based on their personal preference. The only place the relativist might concede is when it comes to empirically provable, scientific data. In a relativistic culture the only way to be wrong is to say you are right. In a Relativistic system, condemning or judging is, therefore, condemned and judged to be unacceptable and wrong. At some point, it must borrow from beliefs outside itself in order to promote and support itself. Consequently, Relativism, as with all false belief systems, is internally self-destructive. It will eventually contradict itself or deny its own ideal at a certain point. Consider the following two illustrations.

Not only will Relativism contradict and destroy itself but, instead of encouraging and defending pluralism, it will eventually destroy it. Relativism insists on being the one belief system that defines how we deal with all other belief systems, consequently becoming the one belief system we are not allowed to question. Relativism, therefore, refuses to subject itself to Pluralism and is not actually interested in Plurality of belief but Unity of belief insisting all beliefs unite around or under Relativism. When the Relativist says there is no ultimate difference between religious beliefs, he is not supporting but arrogantly denying Pluralism.

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