This article is part of the The 5 Major “Isms” of the Modern World series.
A Common Way of Thinking
Relativism means that there is no God and therefore no absolutes in any area of life. Everything is up for grabs.
On the first page of The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom writes, “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” (1)
What that book set out to prove is that education is impossible in such a climate. People can learn skills, of course. The student can learn to drive a truck, work a computer, handle financial transactions, and manage scores of other difficult things. But genuine education, which involves learning to sift through error to discover what is true rather than false, good rather than evil, and beautiful rather than ugly, is impossible, because the goals of real education—truth, goodness, and beauty—do not exist according to relativism.
Besides, even if truth, goodness, and beauty did exist in some far-off metaphysical never-never-land, it would be impossible to find them, because even the process of discovering absolutes requires a belief in absolutes—it requires belief in such absolutes as the laws of logic, for example.
A Hopeless Foundation
The solution Bloom offers in this otherwise excellent book is inadequate. He offers a return to Platonism, the classical Greek quest for absolutes, without acknowledging the need for a starting point in God and revelation. Nevertheless, Bloom is entirely right about what relativism does. It makes true education impossible and undermines even a quest for what is excellent.
Is it any wonder that, with such an underlying destructive philosophy as relativism, not to mention secularism and humanism, America is experiencing what Time magazine called “a moral morass” and “a values vacuum.” (2)
This article was adapted from Whatever Happened to The Gospel of Grace?: Rediscovering the Doctrines That Shook the World by James Montgomery Boice.
(1) Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), 25.
(2) Time (May 25, 1987), 14.