Learn how to have important conversations like this in our book Never Too Late: Encouraging Faith In Your Adult Child.”
Never Too Late: Pluralism & Relativism
The past century has seen a radical and destructive shift in how people think. The shift progressed with each generation, and two key words capture this thought revolution—pluralism and relativism. Pluralism, put simply, is the reality that people have many choices about what they believe. Pluralism has existed since the garden of Eden and is the consequence of living in a world with good and evil. Today, our world is filled with a plurality of religions and values from which to choose. Each has its attractions. There are sides. There are differences. But there is truth and there are lies. We’re free to choose what we will believe, and God will hold us responsible for those choices.
Today’s young people are saturated with pluralism, which has become unfortunately intertwined with relativism. The philosophy of relativism suggests that all statements of fact depend upon one’s perspective. In other words, all statements of truth depend upon your point of view, and are relative in comparison to the point of view of others. If we tell someone that we believe Christianity is true, we frequently hear the response, “I’m glad that you’ve found something that works for you. Christianity is true for you, and my beliefs are true for me.”
Consider the basic premise of relativism: “All statements of fact are relative.” Look carefully at this declaration. There’s an immediate problem—if all statements of fact are relative, then no statement of fact is absolutely true. If, then, nothing is absolutely true, then the statement, “All statements of fact are relative,” cannot be true either. That statement itself is a pronunciation of fact. Thus, the philosophy of relativism is thoroughly self-defeating. Its basic premise teaches that you cannot accept a basic premise. It is philosophically and logically dead before it even begins, and yet this lie has penetrated the hearts and minds of billions of people around the world.
Pluralism and relativism are most deadly when they come together in matters of faith. A few years ago, I met weekly with a group of high school students at a local restaurant. None of them were Christians, and it would be an understatement to say that the group was diverse. All together, they had pierced every pierceable body part, and had every shade of color in their hair. We had a great time every Friday afternoon talking about issues of faith, God, and the Bible. One day I asked them, “Who do you think God is?” A young man with wild hair said, “I think God is kind of like my granddad in Florida. He’s there, but I never really see him.” Another quickly chimed in, “God is an evil being who’s out to punish us and make our lives a living hell.” The third took the opposite tact: “I don’t think God exists at all,” she said. What would I hear next? “I believe God is everywhere and in everything,” said another teen. “He’s the rocks. He’s the trees. The universe is God. I am God, too.” At that point there was an uncomfortable pause. Finally, another student offered his opinion in a thoughtful tone. “You know what? You’re all right. You all see God in a way that’s true for you, and it works for you.”
I expected the other students to either fall out of their seats laughing or find some way to tell this young man that his conclusion was silly. Each student said things that were totally antithetical to one another. One said that God is an evil being who wants to hurt us, another said that there is no God, and still another that he is God. But rather than respond with incredulity, everyone around the circle nodded their heads and said, “Yeah. You know what? You’re right. We’re all right. Each one of us sees the world from our own perspective, and we each have our own truth.”
Pluralism offers us every imaginable set of concepts and faith systems. Relativism persuades us that all concepts and systems are equally true and equally valid—all at the same time. This insidious combination has proved to be a devastating philosophical one-two punch in the hearts and minds of our sons and daughters. It’s also become a destructive institution in Western culture. The public schools that you likely attended as a child are nothing like the public schools of today. Only a few decades ago, prayer was encouraged in public schools, the Bible could be read comfortably in class, and songs were sung about Jesus the Messiah at the Christmas program. Your children, however, had a dramatically different experience, and you’d likely shudder if you knew what your grandchildren are being exposed to. Today, the curriculum is built upon the principles of pluralism, relativism, atheism, and evolution. Many wonderful Christian teachers and administrators work in our schools today, but it’s the curriculum that is shaping the hearts and minds of this generation. Today our curriculum is not neutral toward Christianity—it is diametrically opposed to it.
Science curriculum is built upon the theory of atheistic evolution. To stand up in a public-school science classroom and say, “I believe that God created the world and that human beings are a unique and special creation separate from the animals,” is an invitation to ridicule. A second grader in my neighborhood was asked to tell the class who his hero was. He said, “My hero is Jesus.” The teacher immediately and sternly announced, “No one is allowed to say that name in this classroom!” The student was both scared and devastated. The teacher, of course, was wrongly applying the laws about separating church and state. Students are allowed to talk freely about their religion in the classroom. It is teachers who are restricted from proselytizing. In this case, the parents let the principal know what happened, and the teacher was corrected—but the damage was done.