Relativism always begins with an appearance of wisdom. ‘Has God indeed said?’ (Gen 3:1). Relativism is the craftiest demonstration of folly. It questions the absolute truth of God, thereby relativizing His absolute decrees. ‘Has God said?’ is another way of saying, subtly ‘that is God’s opinion, I have my own which differs from His, and you know what; so, should you too!’
In other words, relativism, like syncretism and pluralism holds that, because all people are equal in value, therefore all opinions are equal in value. You have your opinion, I have mine, she has hers. Therefore, opinions are attached to the value of the person holding them, so that to call any opinion wrong and another right would be considered prejudice, narrow-minded and bigoted.
Relativism holds that no single worldview captures the whole reality, but rather that every worldview has blind spots that need examination and correction, which is only possible by accepting another worldview as equally valid. It is the tale of four blind men and the elephant. No one has a full picture of the elephant, just a side of it.
In this text, Satan is telling Eve just that. God, according to Satan, has just one side of the elephant. Satan happens to have another, and it’s time Eve had one of her own too. If only Eve could see things Satan’s way, she would know that he is right. Satan says that Eve should not trust God’s account of things. He is asking Eve to be enlightened, to move away from what he (Satan) deems the authoritarian rule of God.
Last Wednesday I attended the pre-departure orientation at the American Embassy, as I plan for my further studies. It was a fantastic opportunity for me to meet new people who are as well travelling to the States for studies.
One of the facilitators of the orientation is a young lady, Gloria, who is in her second year at college in the USA. As she takes us through the talk, her relativistic overtones shone through, as she convinces us not to be ‘conservative’ and to be ‘open’; for, after all, no one wants to risk hurting people’s emotions and lose friends by telling them, their view of reality is wrong.
The fear of isolation is used as a tool for deception, and many fall for it. Satan tells Eve in effect, ‘God and I know the secret you don’t know, you are isolated. But you can join the league of the enlightened, you can also know, and this, without God’s help, really’. The temptation to blur the line between right and wrong, and thereby killing the opportunity to tell the truth with conviction is strong, and only those who know their God can stand against it. Contentment in knowledge is a rare virtue in the academia, and in this, St. Tertullian was right to admonish the discontented. About the idea of enlightenment we now turn.
Satan and the idea of Enlightenment
Satan hijacks the created order, seeking to turn it against the Creator. He hijacks ‘reasonable’ creatures. That is what Genesis 3:1 is telling us. He assumes the bodies of the clever, the intelligent, the subtle and dynamic. Relativism through the ages has been espoused by those considered the intelligent of the age, the educated. If you looked around those who identify themselves as atheists, they are probably among the most educated, most read, and/or most traveled. It was so from the beginning, there is nothing new under the sun.
During our coffee break at the Embassy, I begun interacting with other prospective students. I like making new friends, for fun and connections. Because I had introduced myself as a person who is going to seminary, and who loves interacting with people who believe differently than I do, this lady asks me if really there is absolute truth. Her name is Sarah. ‘I don’t believe in such a thing as absolute truth’, she said. ‘You just made an absolute claim concerning truth right now’, I replied. ‘Simbawo akati awo’ (loosely translated, put a comma to this conversation), ‘this is to be continued’, she replied.
She was one of the well-traveled in the room of about 70 people. She has been to South Africa, Rwanda, the States, among other nations. I would be safe to suggest that she never started as a doubter of absolute truth. Relativism caught up with her on the road, on a road they might call enlightenment.
But, by claiming that there is no such a thing as absolute truth, the relativist is making an absolute claim. They are saying that it is absolutely true that there is no absolute truth. This is a logical fallacy, a contradiction of terms, a lack of enlightenment. And she saw this, she is smart. The one who claims that all religions have only a portion of the elephant must himself see the whole elephant, otherwise he would not know that this is even an elephant to begin with.
In other words, if the relativist is right, then he is wrong. If God must be doubted, so must we doubt Satan. To doubt God is sin, to doubt Satan is faith. A heart not grounded in God’s word shall not see this temptation for what it is, for it is closed in the appearance of knowledge and wisdom. Satan has to use what is to introduce what is not. That is why, Satan must hijack the created order, for he cannot even succeed at his lying without borrowing from the truth. Therefore, he steals the serpent’s body, and lies to Eve, about the ultimate reality of nature, and about the ultimate nature of reality.
Satan Against Authority
At the heart of relativism is rebellion. Satan has rebelled against God, and wants mankind to follow suit. He does this by pretending that uniformity is the way to go. ‘We must all know what God knows’, he says. ‘God has no right to keep a secret from you, it’s unfair. You must inquire’. By promising enlightenment apart from God, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:4,5); Satan succeeds at causing doubt in Eve’s mind concerning two things: God’s love for mankind, and the true reason why God gives laws.
When one speaks to atheists, you cannot but see their rage against God, whom they say doesn’t exist. What is known of God is clear to them, as it was to Eve, as it was to Satan. But they love their own pleasures and therefore their idolatry causes them to reject God’s love for them. They think God is simply a highhanded Master who doesn’t care about their pleasure.
‘So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.’
Relativism, and all sin, is borne out of the search for pleasure without God that leads to the rejection of God’s plans and boundaries. We want our way so much that we entertain Satan’s suggestions on how to have fun apart from truth and holiness, and how to get away with sin. It’s a wonderfully crafted plan of how to get away with murder. When we doubt that God’s law is a consequence of God’s love, we are on the road to incur God’s wrath, we are committing suicide, and we won’t get away with it. And that is what happens to Adam and Eve.
Anarchy is the end-product of the rejection of authority, God’s kind of authority. Relativism is the road to anarchy, a road to self-destruction. A land where all opinions are equally valid is a land where no opinion is valid at all. When the facilitator asked us to be liberal or else incur the wrath of liberalism, I remember Ravi Zacharias’ statement; ‘the liberals are the most bigoted of the human lot’. I then turned to my neigbor and asked; ‘if liberalism is a way to get along with everybody, why is it that it has failed to get along with conservatism?’
What relativism sells to us, that is, that to get along we need to take all opinions equally fails its own test. For it never takes absolute claims as equally valid, except those relativism makes. But, not all opinions are equal. That is why liberalism hates conservatism. That’s why atheists mock Christians. You only mock someone’s view only if you believe it to be objectively wrong. But if there is an absolute wrong, why isn’t there an absolute right? There is truth, and there is deception. Humility is not in cowardice but being brave as to stand for truth in such an adulterous generation. Relativism rejects absolute right because it can’t see itself bowing to the King of Truth. They know Him, therefore they hate Him.
As it turns out, relativism is absolute bigotry, a rejection of order, truth, love and hope. It has no truth to teach us, after all, it claims that such truth doesn’t exist. If anyone tells you there is no such thing as truth, they are asking you not to believe them, so, don’t. If you do, you prove yourself to be a fool, fooled by language. And I hope you reject relativism and embrace God, I hope you tell Satan; ‘it is true because God said it, I believe it, I will live by it’. For God, is the creator of the elephant, which the relativist has refused to see as a whole. Perhaps, that is why Satan entered the serpent rather than the elephant.