C ultural relativism is the basic concept that no single culture should be seen as superior to any other. It is one of the inevitable results (not the only one) of the postmodern mindset which is now fast becoming entrenched in the liberal West. This paradigm denies that truth can ever be eternal truth, that is, true for everybody and at all times, but it greatly loves the concept that 'truth' for one person might not be 'truth' for some others.
The evidence of cultural relativism is clear in liberal social policy; what is far less well understood is that its true orgins lie in Marxist social theory which was a cynical attempt to replace Christian ethics with purely atheistic 'ethics.' Those who laid the groundwork for this atheistic social approach (Sigmund Freud being just one among several) are sometimes referred to as 'the Frankfurt School,' they were mainly German Jewish intellectuals of an atheistic worldview. Rarely acknowledged nor discussed, these people have become incredibly influential.
Among various effects of this, here in the liberal West, we now have multiculturalism, as it has become termed; it is all around us in our land today. In one sense it is a concept with which Christians should, perhaps, be very comfortable. We believe, for sure, that all people of whatever race or culture are created equal in the image of God. We believe that God loves the whole world. A proper tolerance is, therefore, something for which we should be able to work. The idea generally that minorities from different backgrounds should not face unfair discrimination and that all people should be treated with respect is something the Bible argues for very clearly, for example, consider Exodus 22.21 and Psalm 94.3-7. And, indeed, cross-cultural interchange can be a very healthy and rewarding enterprise. Yet today we witness a different kind of multiculturalism; it is one which denigrates western culture, it becomes an ideology which looks not just to respect other cultures but insists they must be actively promoted. This kind of multiculturalism is beginning to cause big problems to surface in several countries. It is occurring in the United States, Australia and, of course, right across western Europe. It is part and parcel of the new postmodernist liberalism.
There is a difference between living peacefully alongside different people and the State deciding to positively sponsor cultures from outside of one's homeland. Whereas the Bible looks for equal treatment for all under the law, we now live in modern countries which are not at all sure what that law should even be! We have abandoned any belief in the God whose laws were seen as being applicable to all (Romans 2.12-15). It necessarily follows that we must accept that our law is just the product of our culture. Because all cultures have different standards and no culture is superior or inferior to another (in this reasoning), it is impossible to say what is truly right and what is wrong. So - the reasoning goes - with this new kind of outlook, who has the right to impose one's own national laws on people of a different culture? Shouldn't we be equally in favour of all customs/traditions/religions? This is the very sort of reasoning which (having cheerfully abandoned any concept of divine, or biblical law), is now starting to state that Islamic communities should be free to uphold sharia (Islamic) law amongst their own! It is, however, very flawed reasoning to insist that individual rights are more important than stable society; a stable and peaceful society always must impose some restrictions on choices of behaviour in oder to protect that society as a whole. Here we may immediately perceive the limitations of a liberal society which refuses to defend any particular culture.
So many are now arguing that this kind of multiculturalist ideology has become an unhelpful force, indeed, a potentially dangerous and divisive force. The liberal postmodern State insists that other cultures must not simply be respected, but must be positively promoted and - increasingly - the State even uses its financial muscle in order to empower that. Some would say this not only patronises ethnic minorities but has pitted people of different backgrounds against each other, often unfairly denigrating the culture of the indigenous people and so - in actual everyday life - actually serving to exacerbate racism.
Of course, multiculturalism is frequently misused, or misunderstood, by other cultures coming to live in the West; an Islamic extremist will simply see it as being a 'green light' not only to practice his religion (seen as acceptable), but to be free to plot against the western nation which has welcomed him. So some use multiculturalism, but don't support it. Here, without any doubt, the West has been incredibly naive. So it is not hard to see the limits, indeed dangerous limits, of postmodern liberalism with its strong dislike of judgment and of the imposition of any restrictions.
Let us now consider the 'gay community.' We do so not to oppose, and certainly not to ridicule, but society's change of attitude toward this section of society really tells us a lot. To start, perhaps we should be prepared to admit that making homosexual behaviour completely illegal (as was the case for a few hundred years), was very possibly cruel, unjust and ignorant of plain fact (there have always been both men and women who were fully capable of having romantic feelings towards their own sex, probably something like 3-5% of adults). Today we can look at the science and be far more compassionate, yet without needing to sacrifice the great Christian principles; just as one quick example, if a boy is born with two X chromosomes (that is, if he is XXY instead of XY), and thousands of such boys are born every single year, he will grow up to be at least potentially 'intersex' and very possibly either bisexual or homosexual. So we now understand more. This won't have been a 'sinful choice,' it all happened in the womb.
However, society has not simply said, 'we should no longer persecute homosexuals,' but has gone much further. Now homosexual behaviour is positively promoted as an 'alternative lifestyle,' so we have now gone to the extreme position in which those being critical of homosexuality are warned about their behaviour and can even be visited and warned by the police! The British government now insists that older schoolchildren must be given sexual guidelines in which homosexuality should be positively upheld as one possible option for adult life. So this is not just to correct a possible earlier imbalance or injustice, but to shoot off at a hundred miles per hour in an entirely new direction! Even more, modern liberal society now insists that homosexual lovers should be free to 'marry' (without thinking through the complications/ramifications of 'homosexual divorce'). Such reasoning has surprisingly quickly become accepted by liberal society with a correspondingly surprisingly low number apparently raising objections to it. In this we may freely observe the results of cutting liberal 'morality' off from universal concepts of truth, responsibility and right and wrong. Concepts of divine law - so important only 150 years ago - are now laughed at and ridiculed by the modern liberal who is a true child of Darwinism (there is no God and we only got here by sheer chance), and Marxist social theory ('social ethics must be based on atheism, not on Christianity'). Thus we see how 'gay marriage' could be easily introduced just as abortion was easily introduced around 40 years ago; the foundations having been carefully, though often stealthily and secretively, laid by the Frankfurt School, which influence went straight into the universities and the intelligentsia (especially from the 1960s).
The Bible probably would not want to impose a cultural straight-jacket for the modern West; indeed the best of many different cultures, it would seem, will be part of heaven (see Revelation 21:24, for example), yet there surely must be an agreed framework, or set of core values which a whole society signs up to. Unfortunately liberal postmodernism, now so widely accepted throughout the universities, social services, media and all levels of teaching and government - despite never having been explained to the population at large, nor with any mandate or approval of this new philosophical approach ever having been sought - cannot provide any such thing. Because of this serious lack, are our countries beginning to fragment? Many Christians, in addition to other serious thinkers, believe so. Frankly, how long can we - in all seriousness - hold on to the concept that things such as abortion, adultery, deceit and just plain lying (often masquerading as 'a reasonable personal viewpoint' since one is simply presenting his or her personal 'truth') are not necessarily wrong for all people of all times? How can it be considered fine to cause social and moral havoc since one now lives in a postmodern society which refuses to define truth? Should we really be "much slower" to judge thieves and killers and do everything possible to avoid imprisoning them (as one liberal recently claimed)?
Here is another example: How can it be considered perfectly reasonable to employ lawyers - at huge expense - to uphold your own personal "truth"? To 'grab the headlines' in a most quixotic and cavalier manner is apparently now open to those who can afford it, especially since too many newspapers are more interested in scandal, slander and notoriety than in the pursuance of truth and integrity. Upright moral standards? Such things have become a joke, never to be taken seriously.
It is increasingly worrying that principles of solid justice are now being jettisoned by individuals who - in the belief of many seasoned observers - are simply out for financial compensation. For instance, if one states, "I claim that I was assaulted by this man 40 years ago!" the immediate question should be: Did you report it at the time? If the response should be 'no,' one would always be considered not to have any case. But now greedy solicitors and lawyers seem to be saying, No? That is fine, we will still get you some money! But that is not justice, moreover it is corrupt and it is to abuse true justice; how may any such accused man possibly defend himself/produce witnesses 40-50 years after some alleged incident?! How can it possibly be considered acceptable that a crime can be unreported to police for 40 or 50 years, then the 'story' sold to a newspaper before any legal redress is ever even sought? And then, how can it be that such an allegation is not immediately thrown out by the courts of the land? This too is a result of postmodernist relativism, because justice (once regarded as an eternal and biblical principle) is now seen as 'adjustable' to the individual.
So we see that there are many ramifications and many possibilities of gross injustices once divine law is separated from the laws of the land. If law has an atheistic basis how can there ever be true justice? Suddenly, opinions, image, outrageous accusations and ones willingness to appear as a good liberal become major factors and major players. Truth? You can, it seems, increasingly forget it! As a retired lawyer complained to me a few years ago, "It is bad that people are no longer afraid to lie in the witness box. There was once a genuine fear of lying over the Bible!"
Yet there is a God of Heaven Who is keeping account and will not be seeking the approval of social liberals when this society finally has to settle the account for its sinfulness.
Robin A. Brace. February 10th, 2014.