Exposing the New Relativism

For many years, in apologetic circles, refuting relativism was the craze. Relativism had become such a common and dangerous part of the modern cultural landscape. “You have your truth, I have mine” was the phrase that summed it up.

But, early in my research, I began coming across the claim that relativism was gone, passé, not the real problem anymore. Political commentator David Brooks, for example, argued in the New York Times that although American college campuses used to be “awash in moral relativism,” that’s not the case anymore. Instead, Brooks went on to argue, “college campuses are today awash in moral judgment” (emphasis mine), becoming a hotbed for what some have termed the “shame culture”— in which unmerciful moral crusades are initiated against those who violate the absolute moral values of inclusion and tolerance.

Since you can’t shame people and be a moral relativist at the same time, it was reasoned, relativism was a spent force.

This idea that relativism is dead seems to have gained traction even among some Christians, non-Catholic and Catholic alike. Within the non-Catholic camp, for example, Ted Olsen, in a piece for Christianity Today, argues that Christians need to “come to terms with the passing of the ‘moral relativist.’” His evidence? “Today we live in an era of constant moral indignation.”

In the Catholic camp is one Kerry Floyd, formerly involved with FOCUS and now an instructor at the University of Denver–University College. In an Exodus 90podcast interview, she claims that relativism is dead and has been replaced by what some have called “The New Moral Absolutism.”

In contrast to relativism, where the mindset was, in Floyd’s words, “you run your track and I’ll run mine, or ‘you do you,’” the new moral absolutism states that if you don’t get on board with the specific cultural rules about how we should behave, you’re a racist, sexist, and part of the problem. So if you don’t toe the party line, you’ll suffer consequences.

This view is not entirely off base. Our elite culture in academia, media, politics, etc., does affirm and enforce its preferred moral absolutes. On the surface, people who do this don’t seem to be relativists of any sort, whether intellectual or moral

But as I dug deeper, I discovered that there’s more to these absolutes than meets the eye (or ear). When I examined them more closely (the news provided almost daily examples), I recognized in them the same familiar strains of relativistic thought. They were all, in some way, a code for some form of our old nemesis, relativism. They were nothing more than relative absolutes.

Take, for the example, the modern fight for racial “equity” and the defeat of white supremacy. A few years ago, the president of Pomona College, David Oxtoby, wrote an email to the entire campus in response to protesters who had shut down a speech intended to be given by Black Lives Matter critic Heather MacDonald. In the email, Oxtoby expressed his disapproval of the shutdown, arguing that it conflicted with the mission of Pomona College, which is “the discovery of truth” and “the collaborative development of knowledge.”

A group of students responded to the email with an open letter, claiming that “the idea that there is a single truth . . . is a myth and white supremacy.” The letter, signed by over thirty students, further stated that “historically, white supremacy has venerated the idea of objectivity . . . as a means of silencing oppressed peoples.”

These statements, ostensibly examples of the new moralism, are grounded in the idea that there is no such thing as objective truth—what philosophers call global or total relativism, the most universal relativism of all.

And this is not just some fringe group view held by a few college kids who don’t know up from down, institutions that you’d think would be marked by greater intellectual sophistication espouse this view as well. And the relativism that informs their “moral absolute” and its variants lurks behind the mask of other examples of modern absolutism that together make up what, at least in the parlance of this cultural moment, we have come to call “wokeness” or “wokeism.”

But, by chance or design or a little of both, relativism—which is the moral, intellectual, and spiritual enemy of Christianity and all right thinking—has taken on a new guise.No relativism to see here anymore, we’re told. But the enemy is still there, under the appearance of absolutism.

My goal is to expose this “new” relativism that lurks behind modern “woke” absolutes and provide you with the intellectual tools needed to refute the thinking behind them.

We hope you enjoyed this excerpt from
The New Relativism: Unmasking the Philosophy of Today's Woke Moralists

Order your copy today!

Jun 7th 2023 Karlo Broussard

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