Ten years ago the warning trumpet for Post-Modernist thinking was being sounded almost daily for me. Today, it is more like the annoying car alarm in Fred Meyer. I hear it but don’t really pay much attention anymore. This article was a slap back to reality for me. Michael Novak is an American Catholic philosopher and writer. Most of his life’s work has dealt with the philosophical and religious aspects of freedom. In 1994 he was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion at Wesminster Abbey. The following article is an adaptation of the address and is well worth the read. In it, he speaks of four truths that man has learned from the twentieth century, which was the bloodiest in all of human history.
1. Truth Matters
2. Democracy is better than Dictatorship
3. Capitalism is better than Socialism
4. Vulgar Relativism Undermines All of These and Hastens the Collapse of Society
Although some may wish to quibble about the validity of his comments concerning Democracy and Capitalism (please read his article first) I thought his arguments for truth and vulgar relativism were very accurate.
One principle that today’s intellectuals most passionately disseminate is vulgar relativism, “nihilism with a happy face.” For them, it is certain that there is no truth, only opinion: my opinion, your opinion. They abandon the defense of intellect…Those who surrender the domain of intellect make straight the road of fascism. Totalitarianism… is the will-to-power, unchecked by any regard for truth. To surrender the claims of truth upon humans is to surrender Earth to thugs. It is to make a mockery of those who endured agonies for truth at the hands of torturers. Vulgar relativism is an invisible gas, odorless, deadly, that is now polluting every free society on earth. It is a gas that attacks the central nervous system of moral striving. The most perilous threat to the free society today is, therefore, neither political nor economic. It is the poisonous, corrupting culture of relativism.
During the past hundred years, the question for those who loved liberty was whether, relying on the virtues of our peoples, we could survive powerful assaults from without (as, in the Battle of Britain, this city nobly did). During the next hundred years, the question for those who love liberty is whether we can survive the most insidious and duplicitous attacks from within, from those who undermine the virtues of our people, doing in advance the work of the Father of Lies. “There is no such thing as truth,” they teach even the little ones. “Truth is bondage. Believe what seems right to you. There are as many truths as there are individuals. Follow your feelings. Do as you please. Get in touch with yourself. Do what feels comfortable.” Those who speak in this way prepare the jails of the twenty-first century. They do the work of tyrants.
This warning to the church is a sobering reminder to guard itself from the kind of “vulgar relativism” that would seek to diminish its influence in the world.