Everything is relative, nothing is definitive, and all religions are true…I hear this over and over again.
These days, I hear all the time about spirituality, acceptance, tolerance, and the relative nature of Truth. It’s become normal for me to see the same people who say these things giving me this weird little smile when they find out I’m a Christian, like in the back of their mind they’re thinking “oh, you poor, close-minded fool.”
I’ve also seen bumper stickers that say things like “I absolutely will not tolerate intolerance.” I’ve seen blog posts condemning Christianity as evil when Christians believe other religions are not true. I’ve heard over and over again the implication that anyone who doesn’t think every religion is true is a closed-minded, hypocritical bigot.
It deeply concerns me, because the exact opposite is true. The relativist mentality is closed-minded to an extreme, not even recognizing the possibility that spiritual things are capable of being true. Yet I’m starting to notice people who I know are strong Christians buying into this rhetoric, or at the very least not knowing what to say to relativists.
I want to spend a little time addressing how relativism breaks down, and what I believe it’s designed to accomplish. But before I start explaining my points, let me present the core of my idea here as simply as I can.
Relativism, as an idea, is inherently impossible, and it conditions people to be dismissive, closed-minded, and ignorant of religious ideas.
Only people that acknowledge the potential for, or believe in the existence of, a definitive spiritual truth are capable of being open-minded about spiritual ideas.
The belief all spiritual ideas are true is ridiculous. God either exists or doesn’t, not both. There are many spiritual ideas that are in direct opposition, and they can’t all be true at the same time. But this isn’t an issue for most relativists because the very core of their idea is truth doesn’t work like that—it’s about the emotional process.
They aren’t talking about all religions being an accurate reflection of reality; they are talking about all religions being meaningful and useful, which is essentially their concept of truth. When you mention this to a relativist, most of the time you can figure out what they really believe pretty quickly. In my experience, it boils down to something like this:
Good people go to their version of heaven, and bad people probably go to their own version of heaven too, maybe with some bad karma. Religion is all about needing to believe in something—community, faith, etc. Their main concern is with the here and now, trying to hold onto positivity and create an atmosphere of emotional health.
Whatever it is they believe, it’s important to realize there’s not a shred of actual relativism contained in their genuine beliefs. No matter what they believe, they truly believe it, and talking to them about their genuine beliefs is the key to having a meaningful discussion with them, which we’ll come back to later.
But first, I want break down the problems with relativism itself.
This idea, that nothing is definitive and everything should be about emotional health, faith, and positivity… is not an open-minded, loving, and tolerant belief like it claims to be.
It’s a firm set of principles based on a set of definitive ideas that rejects all other ideas as false. “If you don’t accept all religions as true, then you are closed minded, bigoted, probably a racist.” “If you believe God is real and Allah is not, then you are a hypocrite since you can’t prove anything.” In this way, relativism conditions people to be dismissive, close-minded, and bigoted against religion.
This is the most intolerant belief I’ve come into contact with, and in my opinion, is a reflection of 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11 which states “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie.”
First, because it rejects the possibility for definitive truth, while at the same time clinging to a very definitive set of ideas; second, because the ideas it clings to are very specifically engineered manipulations designed to play on emotions, and set themselves up as a silent theocracy.
Tolerance, open-mindedness, and mutual respect all require people to have an underlying belief in definitive truth.
When a person believes in the existence of definitive truth, they are able to pursue it, discover it, and consider questions about its nature. We can respect other seekers because, even if we disagree with them, we don’t dismiss the very foundation of their belief as foolish. We respect the search for truth because we are on the same search.
Even though I know Buddhism is not the way, I can see a great deal of wisdom in its teachings, and God can use that wisdom to help me better understand truth itself. I respect the wisdom I see in all religions, and I see things in all religions that are reflections of truth.
When the heavens declare His glory (Psalms 19:1) and the law of God is written on the hearts of Men (Jeremiah 31:22, Romans 2:15), I should naturally expect his truths would be seen in hints and theories in all corners of the world. Relativism has no such respect for truth, so it cannot really consider philosophy and religion in any kind of genuine way.
When talking to a Relativist, it’s important to come at the discussion on a personal level. We have to figure out what their genuine beliefs are and talk about the merits of those versus the merits of real truth. We need to be extra sensitive to the Holy Spirit to show us what he wants us to say, because only God knows what it will take to get through to their heart.
We can’t get frustrated and walk away. We can’t come into the discussion swinging a theological club. Relativists need Jesus just as much as the rest of us—they just aren’t going to be swayed in the same way a “definitivist” would. They aren’t going to be convinced by any argument or religious wisdom until they acknowledge definitive truth exists.
But there is hope because, as I mentioned before, there are no real relativists. People are not as rational as they pretend to be. They may think of themselves as relativists, but still have actual beliefs. There are real emotional foundations and personal histories behind those beliefs. I would suggest focusing on why they believe what they believe. Trust the Holy Spirit to give you the right words.
If that’s not something you are comfortable with yet, find some people that are and try to train yourself to get better at it. Because in this day and age, especially when talking to a “relativist,” their defenses against spiritual truth are better than most rational minds can crack. Which means we need all the help we can get from the Holy Spirit to be effective at loving them and knowing how to talk to them.
Only God knows the layers in their soul and can help you peel them back; only he knows exactly what will be effective to help them, even if it’s just getting them one step closer to the real truth.
First things first, Philip is a B.A. writer for Geeks Under Grace. He has been a theology and Christian life writer for three years. In his spare time you can find him creatively sharing bad puns, and doing batman impersonations to annoy his lovely wife.
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