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But there's no way to get around this reality:
Our future and the preservation of our freedom depend on the Absolutes. "Now is the time to stand up and make decisions based on God's Absolutes," says James Robison. "If we do so, you will be changed. Our nation will be changed. And our world will be changed--for the good!"
Unless a man become the enemy of evil, he will not even become its slave but rather its champion. God Himself will not help us to ignore evil, but only to defy and defeat it. G. K. CHESTERTON (1874-1936)
Oftentimes, to win us our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray us in deepest consequence. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (1564-1616)
1 Evil Is a Horrible and Present Reality
The reality of evil exposes the
bankruptcy of relativism.
No sane person who watched the unfolding horror at the World Trade Center or saw the destruction at the Pentagon could deny the reality of evil in the world. In those terrifying moments, our perspective changed. The nation was jolted out of its complacency by the sheer wickedness of the attacks. Almost immediately our vocabulary-including that of otherwise politically correct journalists, politicians, and law enforcement officials-became downright theological. The tension and uncertainty of possible further attacks dramatically adjusted our priorities.
The events of September 11 reminded us once again that evil exists in the world. In the glare of such purposeful brutality and devastation, the shabby ambiguities of relativism no longer seemed adequate. Out of the rubble of Ground Zero, the truth of the absolutes began to reemerge with extraordinary poignancy and power: Our beliefs and our actions matter. Life and death matter. Justice and injustice matter. Right and wrong matter. The absolutes matter. EVIL IS A HORRIBLE AND PRESENT REALITY
Throughout human history, the existence of evil is a reality that people have had to take into account-in dealing with one another, in commerce, in passing laws, and in building civil societies. Because the world is infected by sin and populated by sinners, evil wreaks havoc on our best-laid plans and our sincerest intentions. The existence of evil is self-evident. Its effects are the most basic observations of both anthropology and sociology. No one ever has to teach a child how to do wrong. It doesn't take a bad environment to teach someone how to be cruel, selfish, or perverse. No one needs a role model to learn about greed, pride, or dishonesty. Sin is inbred in us.
Our natural inclination to sin is no petty or trivial matter. Evil is destructive. It runs roughshod over everything and everyone -including the person who perpetrates the evil. Left unrestrained, evil morbidly embraces death. "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."
The consequences of unrestrained evil are all too familiar to us. We have seen their tragic end far too many times over the course of the last century. The memories are carved on our hearts with a dull familiar blade-a blade variously wielded by Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, and Saddam Hussein. Indeed, the gruesome results of evil clutter the pages of human history. Every great society has had to take evil into account-and decisive, principled action has been the only proven remedy. In response to evil, the bankruptcy of relativism and appeasement are clearly evident. What is needed is a return to the absolutes.
The absolutes are the principles that undergird our most basic assumptions about life. They are the underlying foundations of common sense, the standards by which we determine the difference between right and wrong, truth and falsehood, essential and trivial. They are the truths that support our truisms. They form the bedrock of our civility. The absolutes are the fixed points on the horizon by which we navigate the river of life.
Nineteenth-century historian and philosopher Robert Goguet argues that the genius of the Constitution was that it took the necessity of the absolutes fully into account:
The more [the founders] meditated on the biblical standards for civil morality, the more they perceived their wisdom and inspiration. Those standards alone have the inestimable advantage never to have undergone any of the revolutions common to all human laws, which have always demanded frequent amendments; sometimes changes; sometimes additions; sometimes the retrenching of superfluities. There has been nothing changed, nothing added, nothing retrenched from biblical morality for above three thousand years.
The founders, fresh from the experience of the Revolutionary War, were well aware of the consequences of moral disarray. They knew that in order to build cultural consensus-let alone a nation-they needed an identifiable, objective standard of good. Although many of them were not practicing Christians, the priority they gave to biblical morality was a matter of soberminded practicality.
John Jay, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court, affirmed the necessity of having a standard of virtue to ensure the proper maintenance of civil stability and order:
No human society has ever been able to maintain both order and freedom, both cohesiveness and liberty, apart from the moral precepts of the Christian Religion applied and accepted by all the classes. Should our Republic e'er forget this fundamental precept of governance, men are certain to shed their responsibilities for licentiousness and this great experiment will then surely be doomed.
The founders recognized the futility of creating and implementing a system of laws without a foundation of absolute principles. Constitutional provisions such as the separation of powers, mixed government, checks and balances, jury trials, and civil rights were all predicated on the notion that people are bent toward chaos if left to their own devices. Laws were designed with the understanding that in a fallen world both sin and sinners must be restrained if justice is to prevail. For a system of law and order to succeed, the difference between right and wrong must not only be defined, it must also be accounted for in the very fabric of our relationships.
Abandoning the Absolutes
During the waning days of the twentieth century, as a society we began to contradict many previously held assumptions about life by turning the absolutes upside down. According to our topsy-turvy logic, "bad" came to mean "good," and "good" was a label that every status-conscious teen desperately wished to avoid. Some people began to take pride in things that once would have shocked, shamed, and silenced us. As the apostle Paul said, "Their future is eternal destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and all they think about is this life here on earth." Breaking traditions, violating conventions, and upsetting taboos became fashionable. Rebels were seen as heroes, whereas true heroes were either forgotten altogether or became the object of cynicism.
The relativists recast certainty as intolerance. Virtue was considered a potential liability, if not an actual vice. Orthodoxy was labeled as radical fundamentalism-giving fundamentalism a negative connotation-while heresy was praised for its honesty, courage, and ingenuity. Society began to question whether there was any such thing as a standard by which we could judge truth from falsehood or right from wrong. Judgment and discretion were abandoned for fear of being found guilty of judgmentalism and discrimination. Thus, adherence to absolutes no longer seemed reasonable, normal, and practical, but small-minded, mean-spirited, and insensitive. Even the gentlest reminder of their relevance served as an unwelcome distraction to our "politically correct" society.
In dismissing objective standards upon which right and wrong were judged, our culture came to value all ideas as equally valid and good. As philosopher Richard Weaver observed, "That it does not matter what a man believes is a statement heard on every side today. This statement carries a fearful implication: It does not matter what a man believes so long as he does not take his beliefs seriously." To a great extent Americans have not taken their beliefs-or any one else's, for that matter-seriously for quite some time. As a result, we have become embroiled in a running battle over the meaning of values and truth. In the face of an increasingly subjective or "relative" mind-set, it has become harder and harder to forge consensus, build community, nurture families, uphold freedom, and develop trust.
Ravi Zacharias shared the following observation in his important post-September 11 book titled Light in the Shadow of Jihad:
The relativist who argues for the absence of absolutes smuggles absolutes into his arguments all the time, while shouting loudly that all morality is private belief. Alan Dershowitz, professor at Harvard Law School, spares no vitriol in his pronouncements that there are no absolutes and that that's the way it is. "I do not know what is right," he contends. It all sounds very honest and real, until he points his finger at his audience and says, "And you know what? Neither do you." So it is not just that he does not know what is right. It is also that he knows the impossibility of knowing what is right so well that he is absolutely certain that nobody else can know what is right either. There is his absolute.
Zacharias later added that Professor Dershowitz, "who denies our ability to define good, says with equal vehemence that he does recognize evil when he sees it. Fascinating!"
Are All Ideas Equally Valid?
In practice, relativism is an attempt to create "out of the mosaic of our religious and cultural differences, a common vision for the common good." But that is just so much wishful thinking. After all, if "everything's relative," who decides what is and what is not a part of the common vision? Who defines honesty, or loyalty, or justice-or any other ideal, for that matter? Under relativism, the public opinion poll becomes the voice of virtue-subject to continual update and a certain margin of error.
Perhaps the most destructive trait of modern relativism, so common in our culture today, is the brash and cavalier attitude it has toward the existence of an objective standard of goodness and morality. In the name of civil liberty and cultural diversity, the conscience of the individual is elevated to the role of moral compass. What's good and true for me might not be good and true for anyone else. Of course, if all ideas are deemed equally valid, there can be no action or idea that is objectively "worse" (i.e., more harmful) than another. Reaching that logical conclusion, however, forces people to fudge the reality of good and evil, because the existence of an objective standard would negate the assumptions of relativism.
To disregard objective standards in the name of liberty only serves to undermine that very same liberty. First, by denying the existence of evil, relativism by definition precludes the ability of a society to restrain evil. How can we legitimately criminalize something that might just be the result of a difference in values? You can see how relativism quickly becomes a self-defeating philosophy. It should be clear that unrestrained evil is the enemy of all free societies.
Further, relativism cheapens our freedom by seeking to bestow liberty as an unearned, undeserved, and unwarranted entitlement, ignoring the fact that with great privilege comes great responsibility. Throughout the history of our country, freedom has been bought with a price-through moral diligence, virtuous sacrifice, and ethical uprightness in opposition to objective evil. Relativism shuns the idea of sacrifice because it implies that no idea is more valuable than another. Unless the sacrifices and responsibilities of freedom are recognized, however, those freedoms will be neglected and then lost, because people only truly value those things for which they have worked or sacrificed.
As Thomas Paine so aptly said, "The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; 'tis dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as Freedom should not be highly rated."
By confusing liberty with license, relativism threatens our freedom rather than upholds it. Also, by its very nature, relativism weakens the common vision and destabilizes the common good by its emphasis on the primacy of the individual. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the brilliant Russian novelist, historian, and Nobel laureate, was alarmed by this drift in Western cultures and offered a stern critique:
Fifty years ago it would have seemed quite impossible in America that an individual be granted boundless freedom with no purpose but simply for the satisfaction of his whims. The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless. It is time to defend, not so much human rights, as human obligations.
According to political analyst James Q. Wilson, those who embrace relativism end up disguising their wrongheaded thinking in a cloak of reasonable-sounding euphemisms:
Many people have persuaded themselves that no law has any foundation in a widely shared sense of justice; each is the arbitrary enactment of the politically powerful. This is called legal realism, but it strikes me as utterly unrealistic. Many people have persuaded themselves that children will be harmed if they are told right from wrong; instead they should be encouraged to discuss the merits of moral alternatives. This is called values clarification, but I think it is a recipe for confusion rather than clarity. Many people have persuaded themselves that it is wrong to judge the customs of another society since there are no standards apart from custom on which such judgments can rest; presumably they would oppose infanticide only if it involved their own child. This is sometimes called tolerance; I think a better name would be barbarism.
Although relativism purposely blurs the distinctions between good and evil-so much so that one might wonder if there is any distinction at all-every now and then a tragic event will snap us to attention, bringing back into stark focus the great chasm between right and wrong, righteousness and wickedness, good and evil.
Excerpted from The Absolutes by James Robison Copyright © 2002 by James Robison
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.