by Bill Nugent
The professor enters the classroom and glances at the students of his sociology 101 class. He is casually dressed and sports a speckled gray beard and a pony tail that requires every strand of hair on his balding head. He has every mark of 60’s chic. Since it’s the first day of class the students expect to hear a brief list of particulars and then be immediately dismissed. Instead the prof belies his casual demeanor and reveals a sharp mind as he launches into a lecture that amounts to a sophisticated wrecking ball that he slams against every traditional norm of decency.
He drops names like Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, William James, Harvey Cox and James Joyce. He sprinkles his secular sermon with biting humor and sardonic wit. He closes with a thumbnail sketch of the play Waiting for Godot for which Samuel Beckett won the 1969 Nobel prize for literature. The Christian students in the room are blown back and are thoroughly impressed by a man who seems more sophisticated than their pastor. They are in danger of being seduced by him even though every word spoken by this secular priest is parasitic, contradictory and self-refuting.
The progressive secularization of western civilization has resulted in universities that have become virtual temples of atheistic materialism. The above mentioned professor is a composite of what young people will likely encounter in the halls of academe. Harvard, Yale, Princeton and most any college you can name was founded by Christian people to impart Christian values and practical knowledge but they have strayed far from their founding principles. The substance of the 21st century colleges’ error can be summed up in one word: relativism.
Relativism is the idea that there is no absolute truth which is to say that there is really no measure of right and wrong but onlypreferences. Relativism is nothing new. The Greek philosopher Protagorus (c. 485 – 411 BC) wrote “Man is the measure of all things.” This is the fountainhead of the idea that all things are relative which is to say that each person decides what his own truth is and decides for himself what is right and wrong. Protagorus was the first of the Sophist philosophers.
The Sophist philosophers were vigorously opposed by Socrates (469 – 399 BC) who revealed the absurdity of relativism by his famous questions. Socrates maintained that virtue can be reliably and absolutely defined and conveyed with authority to the next generation. It is ironic that postmodern universities are teaching what is essentially pre-Socratic philosophy!
The Christian view of truth is that absolute truth was given by revelation from God in the form of the Ten Commandments and other teachings written in the Bible. The modernist position is that absolute truth is discovered by human reason. Modernists claim that they can rely on their own minds rather than on revelation from God. Modernism is similar to Socratic philosophy in that most modernists acknowledge the existence of absolute truth. Postmodernism is the rejection of the very idea of absolute truth and is a bold assertion that each person decides his or her own truth. This is relativism and is similar to the ancient Greek Sophists.
Evolution with its implicit atheism has been the catalyst for the university elite’s rejection of God and the rejection of God’s absolute truth. The universities have even gone on to reject rational thought and modernist ideas of truth! The philosophical fads on today’s campus are the postmodern philosophies phenomenalism and linguistic analysis.
Linguistic analysis is the study of language as one of the tools of knowledge. It includes deconstructionism which examines literature from the standpoint of the sovereignty of the reader. They have reached such absurd conclusions as to claim that no communication is really possible because each reader decides for himself the meaning of the words and can read any meaning into a work of literature in a radical way unintended by the author. It is from this backdrop that we can understand how Supreme Court justices read their own meanings into the constitution. Postmodernism is a denial of the authority of language and the denial of the authority of any law or document.
Relativism is self-refuting because the statement “All truth is relative” must also be relative and if it is relative it must be false if I choose to regard it as false since each person decides his own truth and no authority compels me to regard the statement “All truth is relative” as true. Therefore to believe in relativism is to deny relativism.
Samuel Beckett who wrote Waiting for Godot also wrote a play called Breath, first performed in 1970. It has no characters and no dialog and lasts 30 seconds! This is part of the 60’s Bohemian New York artistic fad known as the Theater of the Absurd. This artistic fad attempted to convey the idea that life is meaningless. It is a shame that so many fine universities have also become theaters of the absurd. Young people have to be on their guard and be ready to stand up for God’s revelation in the Bible as the absolute truth and the only real foundation for sound thinking.