The Dictatorship of Relativism Comes to Campus
by Eric Metaxas
We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.
—Pope Benedict XVI
I first encountered relativism when I went to college at Yale. Before that I had lived in a working-class world where truth was a real concept. In my parents’ world, truth was something noble and beautiful; it was something that people lived and died for, like freedom. To be an enemy of the truth was to be about the worst thing there was. Since Yale’s motto is Lux et Veritas—Latin for “Light and Truth”—I was eager to get there so that I could begin learning what truth really was. I was genuinely excited about the idea of searching for it.
But by the time I got there—in the 1980s—Yale had abandoned the outdated notion that truth was something real, something to be sought after and discovered and treasured. That onetime seminary had instead espoused a winking, postmodern attitude, in which the notion of a singular truth had been replaced by the relativistic theory that there are many “truths” . . . which is to say no truths at all.
I began in my sophomore year to hang out with a group of friends who were politically and theologically liberal. They tended toward a relativistic view of the world, and I began to see things as they did. (Incidentally, this happens a lot in college.) Radical subjectivity was our guiding light. There simply was no right answer. Everyone was equally correct. We all had our own “truths” and that was that.
This was the very essence of freedom from constraints and rules—and it was completely undemanding.
A Confused Idea of Truth
But I began to see that relativism really isn’t anti-truth. Rather, relativism is a confused idea of what truth actually is.
Relativists pretend that the only alternative to relativism is authoritarianism and fundamentalism. If you want to talk about truth—or God forbid, about Truth—they immediately attack you as patriarchal, like those Dead White Males who dared declare anything to be concrete and specific and historical. They will probably suggest that you have violent and oppressive tendencies. They’re sincerely threatened by the idea of truth…
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