It was a dictator–Pontius Pilate–who famously asked, “What is Truth?” and it was Pope Benedict XVI who famously warned about the “dictatorship of relativism.”
Pope Benedict was referring to a philosophical tyranny–a domination of the idea of relativism in academic circles. Relativism was oppressive, domineering, bullying and uncompromising…while all the time pretending to be open minded, tolerant and neutral.
However Benedict’s warning about “the dictatorship of relativism” is now much more ominous because relativism will almost certainly end up in a real, political dictatorship and here’s why.
In our society we are now experiencing the fruit of fifty or sixty years of relativism. This philosophy that there is no such thing as truth, or if there is, you can’t really know it or state it explicitly…this philosophy has wormed its way into educational circles, political thought, morality and ethics. It’s everywhere. It’s the wallpaper. It’s the air we breathe.
“Well you have your truth and I have mine” smiles the nice lady when there is a disagreement.
The fact is, when you have relativism everywhere you don’t have neutrality. You have lies. The absence of truth is not a vacuum. The absence of truth is lies. Therefore when we say “relativism” we are really talking about a whole complex network of lies interwoven and built on a fundamental lie–the lie of relativism.
How does this play out? We are seeing it play out before our eyes. The media lies. This is not just the liberal mainstream media. Both sides–right and left slant the truth, report selectively, ignore information that doesn’t fit their narrative and actively fabricate lies, disinformation, propaganda and “fake news.”
Did you think it was just the “other side” that does this? Nope. Both sides do it and we all collude with them because the other aspect of all the lying that is going on is called confirmation bias. Bewildered by all the lies we gravitate towards the news and social media stories that tend to confirm our own bias. Disturbed by all the lies we are desperate for truth so we dig more deeply into the truth we think our side is telling.
Then what do the writers and journalists and social media pundits do? We soon learn what “sells” we soon learn where our audience is and we start throwing them red meat. They love it. It gives them a kick because somebody is “telling it like it is.” We love it because our viewing figures go up, our fan base goes up. We are getting love and some folks money–lots and lots of money and they are getting paid for telling the truth
But are they really? How do you know your side is not fudging the truth, massaging the statistics, exaggerating, being selective in their choice of evidence, slanting the evidence and downright inventing stories? How do you know that YouTube big guy is actually dishing you the truth? How do you know that TV celebrity who is sooo sincere and sooo articulate is dealing in truth and not just the half truths and slanted truths that he and his editors know will hook you in? You don’t know, and your refusal to seek out the truth and allow that the other side might be right and you might be wrong makes my point.
My wife told me the other day about a guy she met whose job it was to produce industrial rumors. They basically make up lies about the competition or they make up lies about a particular social or political issue and they are paid to spread the rumors through social media and the press. This particular person was paid by health insurance companies to spread negative lies about socialized medicine in Canada. The lies were not only very plausible, but they were also unverifiable. They were also designed not to be based in hard facts, but to appeal to the emotions. They were smart. They knew what they were doing and they were paid well for it.
So here’s where we are: Because of relativism: “There’s no such thing as truth” –we are in a situation where that has become literally true. Everything out there could be a lie or it could be truth. Is COVID real or is it a hoax? Are the COVID numbers real or are they exaggerated? Do people die from COVID or with COVID? Are the politicians using COVID to increase their power or are they right that we need to be more cautious and have masks and lockdowns? Who knows for sure? Are there graphs and statistics? They could be forged and manipulated to deliver the lie more effectively. Are there photographs? There’s photoshop and digital editing. Are there sources? Eyewitnesses? Affidavits? Those people could have been paid off.
This is just one example. The examples could be multiplied many times over with almost every issue.
How does this lead to relativism? Well, the fact of the matter is, people can’t live very long in this atmosphere of lies, lies, lies. They need certainty. They need truth. They need someplace to stand.
So what we see happening is an authority emerging who will tell us what the “truth” is, and it will be their truth. This is what all totalitarian regimes have done: they have controlled the flow of information. They determine what the truth is and the rest will be ignored, denied, abolished and censored out. Furthermore, if you stand up for a truth which is not their truth they will block you, censor you and eventually remove you for “re-education.” And when this happens there will be nothing you can do about it because the howling mob who have accepted their “truth” will feel supported and affirmed every time a dissenter is removed.
Thus the actual dictatorship of relativism.
Now, if you are a conservative like I am, it is easy to believe that the mainstream media and the big tech companies are doing this already. Maybe they are, but remember this tendency toward control of information and manipulation of the media and control of “truth” can just as easily happen from the right wing as the left, and the trend can shift almost overnight from one side to the other. Whether you tend to be conservative or liberal and you agree with what I am saying and your tendency is to say, “Fr Longenecker’s right! I an see the other side doing this to us all the time!” then maybe you are already blind to the fact that your side can be doing this too, and your tribe is colluding with the propaganda masters and guess what? The fact that the masses are blind to how they are being manipulated is evidence that this dynamic is going strong.
The state of affairs with relativism and the rot that has set in is the topic of the book I’m working on. Keep it in mind as I work hard to get this done.
I think it is going to be an important book and a solid follow up to Immortal Combat.
What to do about this state of affairs? First of all, why don’t we all scale back the amount of news we consume? Turn off the TV. Check the news in the morning then leave it to God. Second, let’s scale back the social media. I’m stepping back from Twitter and Facebook and only. using them to publish links to my blog posts, and I’m trying to kick the habit of tweeting whatever I think. Better to tweet verses from Scripture or sayings that really help people. Third thing is to read the old books–especially the Scriptures. Fourth thing: pray more. Prayer is a live connection with truth. Prayer puts things in perspective and the Holy Spirit enlightens our hearts and minds to see things for what they are and to abide in the truth.