Is Postmodern Relativism Dead? (James)

26 June 2024 by Wes Bredenhof

It was not very long ago that many Christians believed we were living in an age of unfettered relativism. ‘That’s true for you, and this is true for me’ was supposedly the indefatigable orthodoxy of the postmodern West. Its philosophy is illustrated in a scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where the legendary archaeologist is teaching his university class that ‘archaeology is the search for facts, not truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall.’ The contrast of ‘truth’ as an ephemeral abstraction versus ‘fact’ as objective reality summarizes well the spirit of relativism. But in the last few years, this mentality has evaporated. Activism for the sake of racial justice or #MeToo has illustrated that the emerging generation of Western adults does not, in fact, think ‘what works for you, works for you.’ Instead, the moral claims of justice have reshaped society so that to oppose what is perceived as justice is not an acceptable expression of individual morality but an offense against culture. Moral relativism is dead, and the hashtag helped kill it.

Digital Liturgies, pp.117-18

Though he may be overstating the extent to which this thinking is gone, Samuel James may be on to something here. Especially in the last number of months with campus protests regarding Israel vs. Palestine, it certainly seems like moral absolutes have absolutely returned. It wasn’t sustainable to think we could do without them. Maybe now we can get back to discussing the sources of our absolute moral claims.