Book Review | Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air

I am not sure how to best respond to Relativism by Beckwith and Koukl. On the one hand, it clearly describes and subsequently unravels a rather obnoxious, if popular, philosophy, and yet on the other hand, even with its clear and concise intellectual emasculation of relativistic thought, I worry it has left the beast fertile: I do not think that relativism is an intellectual problem which can be solved by argument, for argument presupposes a groundwork which relativism denies. On the whole, this idiotic philosophy can’t withstand a moment’s clear thinking, which in no way demeans the work of the authors, but a relativist has no reason to care about truth or clear thinking to begin with.

I remember what unfortunately became one of the last times I would see a childhood friend, or at least, we have not seen each other for many years since. BB made some relativistic assertion, and I countered. We went back and forth, and for us this was nothing new: He was an atheist and I a Christian, he didn’t graduate our senior year and I was salutatorian, he supported Sparta and I supported Athens. Though we argued all the time, we were bound by certain artistic leanings not shared by our fellow classmates. As children we were always trading off ideas, sharing our fantasies with each other. As we argued, I eventually asked him what I thought would be a slam dunk: I propositioned that if what he had said was true, that morality was relative to societal power, then Nazi Germany, if it had won and spread across the world, would have effectively created an amoral morality.

To this he assented. I was a little deflated and did not believe what my friend had said. He would accept no moral intuition: He had ideologically accepted relativism and would carry that belief into absurdity. No matter the concept of moral reform (I did not grasp at MLK as the authors of Relativism did, instead supposing an anti-Nazi rebellion within the context of the imagined world of the Nazi’s victory) no matter the fact that he lived and acted upon moral principles; morals had to be relative, had to be a fiction disguising power.

I love BB, and hope he may repent of his position, and yet the fact remains that afterward our relationship was dead and gone. As the modern phrase goes, he ghosted me.

Forgive that I should fill this reflection with a personal story, but I think it illustrates what I have found in every argument I have ever had regarding relativistic thought: I have never met a relativist who would change his mind because he couldn’t argue for relativism. While reading Relativism, I remembered a movie starring Ian McKellen titled, Mr. Holmes. It is a somewhat entertaining film with one basic moral: The intellect, standing on its own, is insufficient in describing the whole of human life. (I do not support the conclusion of the movie regarding this problem, but recognize the problem as a true one).

All I have written is not to say that the book Relativism is bad. It is very good. It is clear and methodical. It is reasonable and true. Best of all, it is relatively cheap and eminently readable. I do not think it could persuade anyone. I do not know if that was the intent. As a textbook it is great in offering an intellectual basis to oppose relativism, but relativism’s rot has already hollowed out the possibility of debate.

My friend was bold and would tell me to my face that his philosophy would make no difference between Hitler and Mother Teresa, but most people will hem and haw, not admitting to me, and I doubt to themselves, the logical conclusions of their position. The motive for relativism is great, for it is one and the same with that serpent’s whisper: You can become God. Man will always choose to believe relativism, as he will always reject God.

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