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Sowing Subversion In The Field Of Relativism

Author: Mark L Y Chan
Date: 25.02.2010
Category: Truth and Pluralism

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Globalization and migration have brought religious pluralism—something that Asians have lived with for millennia—to the West. Singaporean theologian Mark Chan mines his experience as an Asian believer to help Christians everywhere evangelize those who have been blinded by the fallacies of relativism.  

The world has always been home to many religious faiths and ideologies. This religious pluralism has become more pronounced for people in the West, due to globalization and migration between countries. A shrinking world brings adherents of different religions closer to each other. We meet people of other races and learn of their cultures and beliefs through television and the Internet. Mosques, temples and non-Western restaurants reflect the increasingly diverse nature of many Western societies.

This is recent in the West, but in Asia pluralism has always been the order of the day; virtually all major world religions started, and have continued, in the Asian continent. In Africa the Church has grown up alongside traditional religions, as well as Islam. So the vast majority of Christians today live alongside people of other faiths. In this we are not unlike the early Christians, who proclaimed Jesus as Saviour and Lord in the face of the many gods and lords of the Greco-Roman world.

Like the early Church, we are called to embrace, embody, and declare the truth that God has revealed himself definitively and finally in Jesus Christ. Through his death and resurrection sinners can find forgiveness and be reconciled to God. So how do we proclaim the finality of Christ, given religious pluralism and the relativizing of truth claims that often comes with it?

Christians must learn to work with adherents of different religions for the common good, without compromising their faith. Some argue that social harmony can be achieved only if religionists stop making exclusive truth claims. The challenge to the Church is to demonstrate this isn’t the case.

Pluralism and the Relativization of Truth

Some former Christian thinkers have stopped proclaiming the uniqueness of Christ and instead have embraced pluralism. Whereas no one can deny social pluralism and the co-existence of religions in a descriptive sense, these thinkers have moved to embrace a metaphysical pluralism, with an acceptance that all religions are equally valid paths to God (or ultimate divine reality), and that no one single religion has the final word on the truth. In this, they unwittingly speak for Vedanta Hinduism. ’Jesus is but one among many ways to ultimate divine reality, one avatar among many possible manifestations of the divine.’

This separation of ‘spirituality’ from any given religion sits well with our postmodern culture. The major concern it raises for Christians is found in its deconstructive aspect: its incredulity toward absolute truth, its rejection of overarching stories that give meaning to life; its relativization of truth. These have huge implications for the whole Church in her efforts to embody the whole gospel and bring it to the whole world.

The postmodernist says we do not have access to the absolute overarching truth; all we have are truths, stories constructed from within our communities with no external truth-validity. Truth is therefore tribalized. Since there is no neutral platform from which to judge between competing stories, we must put up with many viewpoints all jostling for supremacy and acceptance. Truth is whatever emerges from this contest. Thus truth is defined by power, and those claiming absolute truth are perceived as simply trying to impose their will on others.

Keywords: relativism, religious pluralism, Asia, truth, secularism, proclamation, postmodernism, tribalism, pragmatism, spirituality, humility, forbearance, love, practical care, subversion, Scripture

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Reply Flag 2 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down johnfranklin (1)  

I offer here a brief response to Mark Chan’s article "Sowing Subversion in the Field of Relativism" .
Mark you use the phrase "absolute overarching truth..." and suggest that it is the postmodern position that we only have "truths" that have no external truth-validity. Now though there may be some who make this claim this is not a universal claim for postmodern pluralists. The phrase you use seems to bring together the notion of absolute truth and overarching narratives. I could be wrong here.
Lyotard who is the writer most often associated with the idea of suspicion against (or better increduality toward) metanarratives does not necessarily preclude a role for the metanarrative. What Lyotard was after I believe was metanarratives that sought to be self - justifying. That is they not only tell a story but believe they can legitimate the story by some completely objective means. And the means of legitimization is within the narrative itself. It is essentially a critique of autonomous reason. I think such a critique leaves plenty of room for religious belief in that it suggests that some commitment is essential for all "worldviews" and follows at least in its structure - faith seeking understanding.
I think it is right to say that there is no "view from nowhere". We are always placed/embedded in history and culture. Hence the need for revelation.
John Franklin


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