Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Fallacy of Relativism OR A Chestertonian Experiment

So, as the finale of my studies here in Oxford, I have to write what is called in Britain a "long essay." In America, this would be called a "very long essay" or possibly a "monstrous abomination." It's 4-5 thousand words with at least 20 sources. Fun stuff. Anyway, I'm writing on Chesterton--it's going to be a kind of extension and elaboration of my essay that I've posted here. So I'm re-reading Orthodoxy. And a thought struck me--and now that I've somewhat unnecessarily given you a behind-the-scenes look at what's going on over here, I'm going to tell you that thought.

Chesterton says that society suffers from "humility in the wrong place." He says "At any street corner we may meet a man who utters the frantic and blasphemouse statement that he may be wrong. Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view." Chesterton admired people who stuck to their beliefs, even if he believed them wrong--he was horrified by people who were unwilling to state their beliefs to be right. Unfortunately, society has progressed even beyond this point of misplaced humility.

Chesterton lived in a world where people said that they're view may not be the right one. As a result of this, he predicted (and his prediction has now come to pass) a world where the very existence of a "right view" is doubted. The time has now come where people no longer say "My view may not be correct." They now say, "Every view is correct," and by doing so they take away all meaning from the word. The world in which all views are equally "true" is a world in which truth does not exist.

Now, we Christians are often accused (if we are, indeed, living like Christ) of being "narrow-minded" by the relativists. There is the statement that our beliefs are restricted while relativism is limitless. This is patently absurd. The Christian is much more free in his belief than the relativist. The Christian can believe in Christianity, and in believing in Christianity can believe in Love and Joy and Happiness and Courage and Honour and Beauty. The relativist is not allowed to believe in anything. The relativist believes that truth does not exist and so has lost the privilege of believing in anything else. The Christian may look on a sunrise and proclaim it beautiful--the relativist is not allowed to even admit it is a sunrise, nor can he admit the existence of Beauty.

The relativist will say that there is no Truth. He is forced to say this--admitting the existence of truth would be admitting the existence of error, because you cannot have one without the other. If one belief is true, than another belief is false. The relativist has attempted to rid the world of Error by declaring it free from Truth. There is no thing called Love, to the relativist. There is no Happiness, no Courage or Honour. There is no Beauty, because to call something truly beautiful would be to say that anyone who did not call it beautiful was wrong. The relativist cannot believe in anything because, to him, there is nothing to believe in.

The Christian, on the other hand, is gloriously and marvelously free in his belief. He may believe all sorts of things--he may believe that there is something truly wonderful about watching the sun rise over the mountains. He may believe that the Grand Canyon is actually grand, and that the night sky is really beautiful. He may believe in the thing called Courage that courageous people are exhibiting. He may believe in Love, and that there was a time when Love became flesh and dwelt among us. The Christian is the one who is free, because he admits the existence of Right. The relativist is bound in chains of his own design, because he denies the existence of Wrong.

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