Three Types of Relativism

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia)


Ever talked to someone who spoke as though they were experts in the field, even though they obviously are not?  I come across this often on campus, especially regarding the topic of morality and ethics.  I will hear someone say that what is right is what one’s society deems is the moral action to take.  Then a few sentences later they will say that it is okay for them to do whatever they want because morality is based on what the individual decides is right and wrong.

What these people, who assume they are well-read on this issue, miss is that they have just contradicted themselves.  They do not understand that three different brands of relativism exist.  Why is this important?  Because beliefs held in one category of relativism are not held in others, yet many often mix the beliefs held in differing camps.  In this post we will get a cursory glance at each of the three and will break them down in future posts.

The first kind of relativism is named cultural relativism or descriptive relativism.  This branch says that what is right for one society is based off of how they evolved.  If something brought pleasure or benefit to the tribe, then it was deemed right and, conversely, if it brought dissatisfaction and harm to the clan, then it was deemed wrong.

Those who hold to this view point to evidence that says that there is such diversity in moral codes throughout the globe, that no one society’s can be better than another.  Seems reasonable enough, right?  The next post will deal in particular about this type of relativism.

The second camp of relativism is that of conventional relativism or normative relativism.  In this view, actions that are moral are those that align with what one’s culture says to do.  One must be content to follow the rules, as to not disrupt the nation.

The reasoning used by this group states that the reason a culture rises and sustains itself is through its people obliging by the precepts established by those who rule.  This view  claims that all societies’ need to stay away from each others’ issues and instead focus internally and heighten the moral responsibility of their citizens.

The third and final system of relativism is individual relativism or subjectivism.  This one dominates the minds of those on college campuses across the United States, Canada, and much of Europe.  This one you probably understand already, but I will define it just in case.  Individualism says that each person, regardless of their cultural background gets to decide what actions they should or should not do.

This mindset endangers more lives than any other type of relativism, however, it does not take long for people who claim this type of morality to reveal that they actually do have some broader definition of morality.

This is a little off the topic of defining differing views of relativism, yet it is paramount that this issue be addressed.  It is this:  Christians cannot be relativists.  That simple, yet more and more “Christians” are claiming that moral absolutes do not exist.  Why must Christians believe in transcendent truth?  Because a key tenant of Christendom is that all  have sinned, or in other words, have broken the law of God.  If absolute oughts and ought not are non-existent, then there is no need for Jesus to pay for our sins because sin does not exist.

What type of relativism do you see most often?  Why do you think that is?



In class two weeks ago, someone said that all religions are true.  He stated that since morality is defined individually, and religion defines morality, all religions are equally true.

For this post, I will not deal with the topic of morality and whether it is objective or subjective, though my next post will start to confront the topic of morality.   Through this post, I hope to show evidence that all religions can not be true.

In pluralism, all belief systems equally are valid and everybody gets to experience their own heaven, if you will.  The Muslim goes to paradise while the diligent Hindu takes the final steps towards Nirvana.  In pluralism, everyone wins, and there is an absence of hell and eternal punishment.  I think this view is popular because it allows minds to not fret over an absolute morality.

When I examine this further, I see one fatal flaw in this mindset: claims of religions contradict one another.

Christianity claims that the Roman government crucified Jesus, resulting in his death, and that he rose from the dead  (Romans 1:4).  Muslims claim that no one murdered Jesus (Sura 4:157-158).

Hindus believe that one is reincarnated upon death, re-birthed into a new form determined by karma while atheists believe that one ceases to exist upon death.

In the above examples, both persuasions cannot be true.  One can be true or both can be false.  There is no logical way to say that the above views are not mutually exclusive.

So, what is the true religion?  The one that the supreme being (or a body of supreme beings) says to be true.  In the case of atheism, no true religion exists (For this post, I will assume that atheism is not true since the article would have to address two entirely different issues.  I will deal with atheism in future blogs).

If the celestial beings say that we ought not eat cows because our honored relatives become cows, then that would be a part of the true religion.  However, the infinite being cannot issue decrees that contradict one another.  He cannot say “one must not fell trees” and then say “one ought fell five trees a day.”  That would be incoherent, showing that the perfect being to be logically imperfect, making him cease to be perfect.

In short, religion is a lot more like a game than a buffet.  In a buffet, one gets to meander and selectively decide what will be consumed, while games possess  a system of operations that can be completed properly or not.  When we treat religion like a buffet, no one plate is better than another.  Conversely, when religion is likened to a game, we see that a procedure can be broken, resulting in an illegal result.

The title of this post is a math equation.  If we follow the rules of math, we get the result of X=4.  We do not get to decide what X is for us.  Also, if someone got the result X=8, we could show them the proper complete the equation.

So, when we compare life to a game, there are rules crafted by a rule maker.  In the courts, there are laws made by lawmakers.  In everything except personal opinion, there is  right and wrong.  Religion can not fall under personal taste because it is a system of should and should nots.

What do you think?  Are all religions equally true or are some better than others?





My Favorite Defenders


(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

You are in class when a classmate says something along the lines of “Allah and the God of the Bible are the same God.”  You know this is obviously not the case, but how do you refute this claim?

What happens when someone says that morality is relative?  How do you respond?

When I come across an issue that I am unfamiliar with or am unable to answer, I go home and do some homework.

I do not just Google the topic that I am interested in, I have come across some organizations that have brilliant minds defending Christian values.  Allow me to share those that I venerate the most, in no particular order.

  • William Lane Craig possesses one of the greatest Christian minds of the 21st century.  His work deals mostly with cosmology.  He is not an astrophysicist but rather a philosopher whose main claim is that everything that has a beginning has a cause, the universe had a beginning, therefore, it has a cause.  His writing is straightforward, however; the topics he covers are complex, making his books more than a light read.  My two favorite works of his are On Guard and Reasonable Faith.
  • Lee Strobel was an atheist whose wife became a Christian.  He set out to prove to her that Christianity existed only for the weak-minded and was not intellectual in the least.  After his research to prove his wife wrong, he became a Christian.  His work is easy to grasp and overviews topic central to the Christian message, including contextual criticism, the personhood of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus.
  • Greg Koukl’s endeavors might be the most practical when used in discussions with friends and classmates.  He attempts to make a case for Christianity by asking questions that reveal the flaws of modern thinkers.  He answers the questions that present the most trouble for conservative minds today, such as abortion, gay marriage, etc.

I will not list all of those whose work I study because this post would almost be infinite in length.  There are two others I must mention before I close: Norman Geisler and Ravi Zacharias.  Both of these men require diligence to listen to or read.  Despite this, their works are fantastic.

Also, all of these have great lectures and debates on YouTube, which are worth the watch.

So, when I get a question or hear a comment that boggles me, I turn to these apologists to assist me in my investigation.

One thing that I never want to do is let these guys do all my thinking for me.  At the end of the day, if my position is held because these men hold the same, then I really have no view of my own.

I encourage you to also think for yourself.  Do your homework and also think of reasons you believe what you do without consulting a book.

Feel free to post any defenders that you consult regularly.