Chapter 1 – Relativism

Chapter 1 – Relativism

“Oh, excuse me! I’m so sorry,” I exclaim, nearly running headlong into a parent who is coming out the door as I am going in. “No problem,” she smiles in reply. As I step inside the door, I see several familiar faces and am surprised to see so many faces. Last week there were only about twelve teenagers and this week around twenty had showed up. It’s Tuesday night, 7:00 p.m. at a home in Colorado where a group of students in Fellowship of Christian Athletes regularly meet. This week the house smells wonderfully of lasagna. After twenty minutes of talking, laughing, and eating, the group settles into the living room for the more serious portion of the evening. “This week we are going to do something a little different,” says the leader. “This week we (the leader motions to himself, me, and the third leader) are going to ask you questions instead of you asking us questions.” The students nervously look around at the rest of the group, unsure as to the direction of these questions. “What kind of questions are they?” asks one high school junior. “All types,” the leader replies. “Some are serious, some not so serious. But you must answer whatever question you are asked. You cannot say ‘I don’t know’ and you cannot answer in a one word answer.” All the students look a little stressed but nod in assent. The twenty-seven questions written by the leaders can be placed into four general categories: life after death questions like “How do I know I am going to heaven,” factual questions like “What is circumcision,” theological questions like “Who is Jesus,” and worldview questions like “How do you know what is true.”

I am anxiously awaiting the first question about worldview, as this is the question that will reveal the true foundation of our students’ lives. What a person believes about truth has possibly more impact on the other areas of their life than any other singular belief. On the twenty-third question it arrives: “How do you know what is true?” The student thinks for a moment or two. “Truth what you believe to be true,” he explains. “It would be hard to define what truth is because people don’t agree on that. Truth is what you want to believe in. You have to know what truth is to you.” He elaborates a bit, struggling to articulate his ideas. At the end of his answer, we all clap for him as we do for everyone’s answer, thanking him for his honesty. The next person is asked a different question about the salvation of someone who commits suicide and the everyone in the group’s thoughts move on. Except me.

Although I continue to be engaged with the group, reading a question when it is my turn, my mind cannot move past the student’s statements about truth. The idea that truth is not solid and knowable certainly is not new. Jesus faced a similar statement when He was questioned by Pilate. Pilate asked Him if He was a king, to which Jesus replied, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” [1] To this Pilate replied, “What is truth?”[2] The word used for truth in this verse is ά[RZ1] λήθεια, “The content of that which is true and thus in accordance with what actually happened – ‘truth.’”[3] In this instance, Pilate voices a thought that many have had for thousands of years: What is truth? If what has actually happened historically can be questioned, how much more can something nebulous like morality be questioned? As Christians, there must be truth because there must be a Savior who must be the way to God who must have taught how to follow Him. So how is it possible that a student who has been meeting with us regularly for over a year when asked about truth not only defines truth as very subjective and vague but fails to mention the Bible, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or anything resembling the Gospel as truth? It is not only possible, but according to research from 1995 to 2009, it is probable.

According to survey results published by The Barna Group in 2009, less than 0.5 percent of adults age 18-23 have a biblical worldview.[4] For the purposes of this study, a biblical worldview was defined as belief in absolute moral truth, the accuracy of the Bible, the actual existence of Satan, the inability of a person to earn their way into heaven, Jesus Christ living a sinless life, and an all-knowing, all powerful creator God who still rules the universe. Of course, there are possibly individuals who may believe in absolute truth but reject one of the other beliefs defined as necessary for a biblical worldview. However, the survey also found that only 34 percent of all adults age 18 and older believe in absolute moral truth. Considering that over 11 percent of adults over the age of 23 were found to have a biblical worldview, compared with less than 0.5 percent of the younger group, certainly much less than 34 percent of the younger group believes in absolute moral truth.

Though this survey was of adults rather than teenagers, the situation looks much direr when looking at teenagers alone. Over 13 years earlier, George Barna found that 91 percent of teens agree with the following statement, “What is right for one person in a given situation may not be right for another person in a similar situation.” [5] This parallels another survey done in 1995 where only 7 percent of adults held a biblical worldview.[6] These results have changed very little since 1995, going from 7 percent to 10 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2005 to 9 percent in 2009. While these statistics may seem startling, questioning the average Christian about their worldview probably would not return the same results. Most Christians assume that their worldview is based in biblical truth, with very little to support that belief. How can it be that so many Americans who call themselves Christians can hold views so contrary to biblical teaching? A cursory look at American culture may indicate the problem, but an in depth look would no doubt pinpoint the issues affecting the American people.

In Television

24. If there is a show where the hero is constantly changing between the hero and the villain, it would be 24. Keifer Sutherland stars as Jack Bauer, an agent for the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) who is constantly working to save someone. Jack is also constantly on the wrong side of the law, being placed in situations where what is normally wrong is clearly Jack’s only option. Jack tortures criminals, sometimes killing them, runs from government agents, and will break the law whenever he deems that it is necessary. He is portrayed as being the best agent CTU has ever had, even though some who are currently in charge may not agree because of his storied history of doing whatever is necessary to save the day. Throughout the 192 episodes, Jack deals with evil of all kinds including biological, chemical, and nuclear threats, cyber attacks on CTU, presidential assassination attempts, corrupt government officials, and internal killers and spies. Jack is always short on time, with each series taking place during a 24-hour time span, and long on incredibly important decisions. He is repeatedly portrayed as someone who does not care what everyone else thinks of his actions because he knows that he did the best the he could in the moments he was given to make a decision. Almost without fail everyone learns in the end that Jack did what was necessary to achieve the ends that saved the most lives, or the most important lives in cases like saving the president.

In spite of the frequent gore and language, all eight series of 24 prove it to be an intriguing and addicting show. Viewers were always left on a cliff-hanger at the end of an episode, often with someone’s life hanging in the balance. However, for almost every episode, Jack faces a moral question along with an impossible task. Shows like this constantly place the hero in a moral dilemma to subtly imply that morality is very relative to the situation in which it is applied. 24 is particularly confusing because Jack is always found to be above reproach in his search for truth and justice.  Is it right to torture a criminal to obtain information that will save the lives of everyone in Los Angeles? Is it justified to defy your boss because you have a hunch that they are being deceived? These are just two of the thousands of ethical questions the viewer encounters while watching 24. Is it wrong to ask ethical questions? Definitely and emphatically the answer is no because grappling with such issues is necessary to find the truth, which it must be mentioned is usually Jack’s goal through his actions. However, is it true that the end justifies the means? This is clearly shown to be Jack’s ethical motto in almost every episode and it is not a biblical ideal. The truth is that most people will never be in a position where to kill one person saves one million, but they will use the same justification in other situations in their lives. Maybe Jack really is always doing the best thing, but maybe he isn’t. Maybe the undercurrent of utilitarianism that flows through 24 is carrying the viewer further away from the idea that there is truth and a constant morality and closer to the idea that truth and morality are more fluid concepts that really cannot be defined.

Dexter. Actress Julia Stiles explains Dexter has “a moral code, even if it is a different moral code.”[7] The man she is speaking about is the main character in the Showtime drama that bears his name. In this show, Michael C. Hall stars as Dexter, a Miami Metro Police Department blood spatter analyst who is also a serial killer.[8] Dexter’s late adoptive father, Harry, identified Dexter as a sociopath from an early age, a condition resulting from him witnessing his mother’s brutal murder as a child. Harry, a Miami cop, taught Dexter “The Code of Harry” to ensure that he only satisfies his murderous desires by killing people who are truly guilty and have escaped the justice system. Harry also taught Dexter how to interact with people on a somewhat normal level to avoid being caught. This “different moral code” provides much food for thought in regards to truth, lies, ethics, morals, and standards. Viewers are aware that right and wrong will be questioned immediately just by the nature of the show.

Fans have commented that they enjoy the show because they relate to his dark side and his struggle between right and wrong.[9] The question of right and wrong cannot help but come to the forefront of every episode because Dexter is constantly living a double life, murdering and dismembering people who by The Code of Harry are guilty. This double life reaches a climax when Dexter’s wife Rita is brutally murdered by a serial killer in the first episode of season five. Rita never knew about Dexter’s double life and Dexter feels guilt after her death about not being truthful with her.

Later in season five, Dexter finds and saves a woman named Lumen, played by Julia Stiles, from certain death at the hands of a group of serial killers. By the time he rescues her, she has already been raped and tortured and as a result, she eventually joins Dexter as his partner to eliminate the men who tortured her. By the end of season five, Dexter and Lumen have killed the fifth and final rapist. At this point Lumen no longer feels the need to kill and she decides that she can no longer stay with Dexter.

Although Dexter and Lumen kill only those who are guilty of rape, torture, and murder, the subtle message conveyed through the show is that morals and ethics are a fluid concept, subject to change with changing circumstances. Dexter is shown to have a moral code of his own, a moral code that if adopted by the populous, would lead to anarchy. This underlying message undergirds the entire show, indeed convincing viewers that sometimes truth is not truth, right is not right, and wrong is not wrong. The gore, sex, and other adult themes in the show are simply a veneer over the more important questions Dexter stirs inside viewers. The writers of Dexter cause the viewer to ask, what is truth? What is right and good and real? If one has dark desires to kill, should he or she adopt the moral code of Harry? Who are we to judge, the writers seem to be saying. We do not live in Dexter’s mind; we only see that he is doing his best with what he has been given. In spite of the truth of this statement, without an anchor of truth, Dexter will take the viewer on a long ride to the middle of relativism.

Many viewers have taken this ride with Dexter; the season five finale had over 2.9 million viewers and Dexter has had over 6.7 million “likes” on Facebook as of January 27, 2011.[10] That accounts for a significant number of fans, especially considering Dexter has a TV MA rating for adult content, graphic language, graphic violence, and brief nudity. However many shows are rated for mature audiences but do not tackle the issue of truth and morals so directly. Why is Dexter so popular? Aside for entertainment value alone, Dexter intrigues the postmodern mind by appealing to their sense that everyone’s view of the world is an interpretation. We cannot interpret the world the same way Dexter does and therefore have no way to judge him or say that his interpretation is wrong because it is different. The writers of many other shows encourage these thoughts as well, but in a much more subtle way, using comedy instead of crime drama.

Modern Family. This comedy involves significantly less blood than Dexter, but still provides many interesting insights on the nature of truth and morality. This show is based on the families of Jay Pritchett, his daughter Claire Dunphy, and his son Mitchell Pritchett. Jay has re-married to a much younger Columbian woman named Gloria and has a stepson named Manny. Claire is married to Phil and they have three children, Haley, Alex, and Luke. Mitchell has a male partner of five years named Cameron Tucker and they have an adopted Vietnamese daughter named Lily. The show is a mockumentary with the purpose of “exploring the many types of a modern family.”[11] While exploring the modern family, viewers are treated to some serious moments and more than a little comic relief. The show is quite funny but contains serious themes about truth and morality.

It is no longer wise to simply state, even to a Christian audience, that the acceptance of alternative lifestyle choices reveals a deeper statement about relative truth and morality. Many Christians believe that homosexuality and other sexual preferences are choices that must be allowed for and accepted within the Church and American culture. Because everything in the world is an interpretation, no judgments can be made about how others see their world or the choices they make as a result. This assumes that all interpretations are true, an idea that is continually stated throughout American culture. This belief alone is a symptom of the larger issue and will be addressed in the following paragraphs as part of the analysis of Modern Family.

By the very nature of the composition of the families showcased in Modern Family, the initial assumption is that any family is a good family, a theme that is repeated in another comedy television series that will be highlighted in a later section, 30 Rock. This basic premise flies in the face of a biblical description and the traditional Church’s view of marriage, but it is important to distinguish between the types of diversity highlighted in the show. While the interracial marriages shown on Modern Family have long been taboo by traditional and Christian communities, the Bible does not condemn this. It has been a great error for the Church act in ways that are racist and separatist and now these actions have come back to haunt the Church. The stigma on interracial marriages has thankfully been largely cast aside in American culture. However, the stigma on homosexual, bisexual, and open marriages has largely been cast aside as well. By operating outside Paul’s teaching to the churches in Colossae and Ephesus that all races and genders are equal in Christ, the Church has opened itself up to great error in the opposite direction.[12]

The issue of sexual orientation is a very sensitive one and one that has often been mishandled by the Church and evangelicals in general. Signs that declare “God hates fags” or “God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve” are not helpful to anyone. Christians who are faced with same-sex attractions but believe the Bible is clear on God’s view are often left with no one to help them who is willing to love them through it, though the Church has reached out to other examples of sexual immorality like pornography and heterosexual sex addicts. Phrases like “love the sinner, hate the sin” are difficult, if not impossible to live out in daily life. The Church has largely failed the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (GLBT) community by running from them rather than to them. These types of sexual issues are very complicated, intertwined with identity and actions, and everyone has their own story. Therefore, this section is not intended to be a full treatment of such a hotly debated and greatly argued topic, but rather a presentation of the Church’s traditional view.

Marriage, and therefore the family structure, is only defined one way biblically, between a man and a woman.[13] Alternative lifestyles are never condoned, though many pastors, academics, and lay-Christians reach a different conclusion. These issues are spoken about frequently in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testament. Considering only the New Testament, Jesus, James and the apostles, Paul, Peter, and Jude speak several times about sexual immorality of all kinds.[14] Many of these are excused by Christians who feel that lust alone is being addressed, not loving, one partner homosexual relationships, unions, or marriages. However, Paul speaks of homosexuality in several places, including this very specific reference in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God (emphasis added).

The word άρσενοκοίτης, [RZ2] translated “homosexual” that is used by Paul in this letter to the Corinthians is the Strong’s number 733, defined by Thayer’s Lexicon as “one who lies with a male as with a female.”[15] Thayer’s goes on to explain that this word is derived from two words, άρσην, “a male,” and κοίτη, “a bed”. Additionally, Louw and Nida mention that in a certain context, this word may refer to the active male partner in homosexual intercourse.[16] In case there is further doubt as to Paul’s meaning, he also uses the word μαλακός, translated “effeminate” in the NASB. This word indicates the passive male partner.[17] It is impossible not to note that many contemporary scholars who are more skilled in Greek have interpreted these words differently, but through the last 2000 years of church history, these definitions have been accepted as God’s truth to the Church.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul provides a much deeper understanding of unnatural sexual passions. He explains that all unrighteousness occurs because of the suppression of the truth about God. Instead of worshiping God, mankind has chosen to worship other things and this leads directly to the lusts of the heart and degrading passions:

Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their persons the due penalty of their error. (Rom. 1:24-27)

This connection between truth and sexuality is critical in understanding the many ways that American culture has been misled into believing that sex of all kinds is part of the human identity. The problem with sex runs much deeper than it may appear on the surface, revealing an idolatry problem. The American people have placed created things in the position of the Creator God and as a result, have been given over to degrading passions and sexual obsession, both heterosexual and homosexual. Sex in America is not just a physical action but has become a god in and of itself, an identity. Almost everything is about sex, even things that have no real connection to sex have been turned into innuendos about sex. Sex will be revealed as a major theme throughout the rest of this chapter as we further dissect aspects of American culture.

For Modern Family, as most other television comedies, sex plays a major role in the plot for each episode. In one particular episode in season two, the three Dunphy children walk in on their parents having sex. All three children are teenagers or pre-teens and are shocked and horrified by what they saw. The rest of the episode centers on the parents trying to decide what to say to their children and their children’s reaction to the situation. The children leave the house for a little while because their parents have not yet come down to address the situation. While they are out, Luke tells his sisters that his friend Jacob’s parents are getting a divorce. Haley responds by telling him, “He [Jacob] will get used to it. Half of my friends’ parents are divorced.” [18] Alex echoes her sister’s statement adding, “Mine too.” Luke responds, “So it’s a good thing Mom and Dad still do sex.”

This dialogue shows the children’s acceptance of divorce as a cultural fact. Of course the children do not know why all their friends’ parents have gotten divorces but it is accepted as a fact of life. The children of divorced parents will get used to it just like they would get used to a new house or a new car. Spouses can be exchanged for new ones and everyone will “get used to it.” The lie in this dialogue is that divorce is common and therefore normal. Though about half of American marriages end in divorce, making it all too common, it is a mistake to consider it to be normal. Jesus taught in Matthew that though Moses allowed the Israelites to divorce, it was not intended to be that way. He went on to say, “…whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”[19] Young people who hear dialogue like this assume that divorce is a normal occurrence, contrary to biblical teaching.

The parents finally decide to have a conversation with their children, explaining that sex is a normal and natural human function that they should not be embarrassed about. Claire tells the children, “As long as you are in a committed relationship with consenting adults, there is really nothing to be embarrassed about.” Scripture does not imply in any passage that sex is normal and natural outside of marriage. Paul speaks about this directly to the Corinthians when he teaches:

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body… Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? …Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body but the immoral man sins against his own body. (1 Cor. 6:12-18)

Paul instructs the Corinthians that though they are free in Christ from the law and legalism, not everything is good for us. Sex outside of marriage is less than ideal because with every partner, the body is connected as one. When writing to the Ephesians, Paul also uses marriage and the concept of two becoming one flesh as a shadow of the covenant relationship between Christ and the Church.[20] This shadow reveals God’s heart behind marriage and sex and provides additional insight into what God considers sexual immorality. Sex that does not fit into the appropriate function of Christ and the Church must not be the way that God intended.

Later in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains, “But I say to the unmarried and to the widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it better to marry than to burn with passion.”[21] He goes on to tell them, “Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. I think that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is.”[22] Paul is teaching that marriage, one that is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the Church, is good if you cannot restrain your sexual urges. It is much better to marry than to constantly struggle with celibacy. However, there is no indication that to be unmarried and sexually active is an option open to Christians, no matter what culture they are surrounded by. The issue is not that sex is bad or sinful or wrong, but rather that it, like everything else in the Bible and the world, was made to point to the glory of God. When anything is taken out of its rightful place and moved into the position of chief importance, God is no longer being glorified. The glorification of sex and America’s statement that sex is always good between consenting adults is contrary to God’s design of sex as a reflection of Himself.

30 Rock. What happens at a New York TV network located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza? According to 30 Rock, a lot of drama with many sexual connotations is what happens. In one episode in season five, the network executive Jack and his girlfriend Avery tell Jack’s mother Coleen that Avery is seven months pregnant. Coleen becomes very upset because they are not married, choosing to ignore the fact that Jack was born out of wedlock with a man named Milton. To combat her hostility towards him, Jack invites Milton to the Christmas dinner. Coleen does not know that Jack even knows about Milton so she is very surprised when he shows up at Christmas dinner. The entire Christmas dinner is a huge explosion of hurt feelings, jealousy, mean comments, and sexual innuendos. Milton, a hippy with 1960s ideals, is upset about Coleen’s objection to the pregnancy out of wedlock, saying, “There is no wrong way to make a family.”[23] As has been previously discussed, this is an idea far from biblical. A recent study found that children who do not have a father present have sex earlier than their counterparts who always had a father present.[24] Returning to the previous discussion about sexual promiscuity indicating departure from God’s original intent, it follows that a family made outside of God’s design would produce children who are inclined towards the same things.

The closing scene of the episode is a rendition of “O Holy Night,” played while showing scenes of the different characters. The star actor of the network is shown at a home for battered women who are watching his latest comedy film. They are laughing and enjoying themselves while watching three characters in an extended scene of the film vomiting at a Christmas dinner. Jack is shown in the hospital, smiling while inciting his parent to begin arguing with him. He is enjoying the moment because for a moment, he has a mother and a father who are doing what mothers and fathers normally do. Tracy, the best friend of the show’s protagonist Liz Lemon, is shown singing “O Holy Night” with her cross dressing ex-boyfriend Paul. Both Paul and Tracy are cross dressed, Paul as Natalie Portman from the movie Black Swan and Tracy as former Pittsburg Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swan. The juxtaposition of a song about the birth of Jesus Christ with vomiting, arguing parents, and a cross dressing is a creation intended to make the viewers laugh. But the lie underneath this scene is that for a moment, all is well in the world. Everyone is where they should be, enjoying this Christmas moment. Of course this is not true because an argument is never a place of happiness and gender confusion is another outworking of what happens when sexuality is placed as god. The situation is created in such a way that the viewer is happy that things have been resolved at the women’s shelter and between Jack and his parents and Tracy and Paul, happiness they then project onto the closing scene, mistaking vomiting, argument, and gender confusion for a happy resolution. The inclusion of “O Holy Night” adds to the moment, signifying Christ’s approval at the happy ending. Everyone walks away with good feelings about the show and its resolution, not realizing that their mind has accepted this lie as truth.

Glee. Although there are many other television comedies that focus on sex, one show that includes sex plus many other solid concepts turned fluid is Glee. A musical comedy-drama about a high school glee club called New Directions, Glee focuses on the lives of the students and teachers at William McKinley High School. As a musical, most issues are dealt with in musical fashion like “Chicago” and the show was meant to be lighter and more for escapism, rather than a serious drama like Law and Order, CSI, NCIS, Lie to Me, The Mentalist, 24, or Dexter.[25] Within this structure, the writers have much to say about relationships, sex, and society as a whole. Although there is a definite focus on sex of all types, as most every glee club member has had some type of sexual contact with the others by season two, Glee makes many other statements about American life outside of just sex. In fact, at least two main characters on the show will not have sex with their boyfriends, though they are not opposed to making out with them.

In episode nine of season two, Finn’s (ex)girlfriend Rachel finds out that he had sex with Santana, a girl in the glee club who joined in order to destroy it from the inside, while the two of them were broken up. Rachel is a very upset because she is still a virgin and Finn had lied to her by telling her that he was as well. In revenge, Rachel makes out with another glee club member, Puck. When Finn comes to apologize to Rachel again for his earlier mistake with Santana, he learns about Rachel’s revenge with Puck and breaks up with her. As he is walking away, Rachel cries, “You said you would never break up with me!” Finn replies, “I never thought you would make me feel this way.”[26] The message in this scene is that sometimes it does not matter what you say, if your feelings change, you can take it back.

However, the Bible does not allow for feelings to alter statements or promises made. The Lord commanded through Moses that a man “shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.”[27] Jesus also addressed this during the Sermon on the Mount teaching that His followers should not make vows but should “let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.”[28] Human beings are commanded in both the New and Old Testaments to keep their promises and be faithful to what they have said. Though some have said faithfulness and truthfulness are simply cultural ideals, the Bible explains that honesty and faithfulness are commanded for all people in all cultures because all people are created in God’s likeness.[29] In Exodus, God passes in front of Moses and proclaims, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth….”[30] The word translated as “truth” is defined by Strong’s as “stability; (figuratively) certainty, truth, trustworthiness.”[31] Faithfulness is part of God’s character and therefore should be reflected in human beings as His image bearers. Because He keeps His promises, He desires His children to do the same.

In regards to feelings being a way out of promises made, Proverbs has much to say, including that “there is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” and that “he who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered.”[32] Jeremiah takes this idea a step further by explaining, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?”[33] No one can trust that their feelings will lead them in the right direction. Following feelings and the heart will ultimately lead to destruction because the heart is not innately good but wicked. In addition to a wicked heart, as Paul struggles to explain difficult concepts to the Christians in Rome he finally exclaims, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!”[34] Even if our hearts were not wicked, we still would not be able to understand God and make decisions based on our understanding, feelings, or wisdom. We cannot understand God’s ways because we are finite and He is infinite; therefore, feelings are not a reason for making decisions, and certainly not for breaking promises.

In Music

Television is not the only avenue where relative truth is being portrayed as a fact of life. One of the easiest ways to convey this message of relativity is with statements about how every person is their own person, their own boss, their own king. Personal individuality and relativism in this fashion are both aspects of modernity which have grown with the coming of postmodernity. Though relativistic philosophically begins with the observation that diverse moralities exist in the world, the brand of relativism accepted by most non-philosophical Americans is inextricably intertwined with individuality.[35] Expressions of this individuality are very prominent in musical themes, as will be seen in the examples that follow.

It Gets Better. The Center for Disease Control reported that suicide is the third leading cause of death of youth, behind accidents and homicide. In response to a September 2010 reported spike in suicides among youth who identify themselves with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, & transgender (LGBT) community, Dan Savage began the “It Gets Better” campaign.[36] This campaign is largely a movement intended to encourage LGBT youth not to commit suicide and to stay the course. Life gets better after high school, if you are just alive to see it happen. Hundreds of people, including politicians, actors, actresses, sports stars, and average citizens have sent in videos to add to the project. Jay Kuo, Blair Shepard & Broadway also created a song in support of the project and The Trevor Project, a hotline for LGBT youth. Although suicide prevention is certainly necessary, “It Gets Better” is filled with statements that cause concern for anyone looking for truth outside of the individual human heart:

Just defend the part of you that’s true

Find yourself and you will find the way

………………………………………..

It’s time you took the stage[37]

If the human heart is deceptive and wicked, is it possible to look within to find the truth? Finding yourself will never show you the way, according to Paul who, citing Old Testament prophets, insisted that “there is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.”[38] According to biblical truth, looking within can only lead to evil, not to good. Many other songs reflect this idea of looking within, looking to the truth inside who a person is to find the way. Individualism of this sort is rampant in the lyrics of many other popular songs as well.

Firework. Katy Perry, an artist who has soared to popularity with several recent hits, enjoys playing music that is honest and real. This honesty has produced a pop artist with a great following and not a few songs with mature themes. As mentioned earlier, mature themes are only a symptom of a larger problem. The idea that a person really is a functional god because they are unique is a far more devious lie than blatant praises of sexual misconduct or sexual preferences. An example of this is seen in Katy Perry’s “Firework”:

‘Cause baby, you’re a firework
Come on show them what you’re worth
Make them go, “Oh, oh, oh”
As you shoot across the sky

……………………………
You’re original
Cannot be replaced[39]

While it is true that people are originals, made in the image of God, the focus of this song is to encourage listeners to “show them what you’re worth.” God gives people value by making them in His image; however, songs like this set up the listener as god. People are not given value because they are gods, but because God is glorified in making them. Just as Americans have done with making sex a god, the individual has also been made a god. There is no mention of the purpose of being made an original or of being made with value.

In the same vein, many Christians love Paul’s encouragement to the Ephesians when he speaks about how Christians have been blessed, chosen, predestined, adopted, given grace, redeemed, forgiven, given an inheritance, and sealed.[40] However, what is so often missed is that in those eleven verses Paul uses “He” or “Him” in reference to God or Jesus Christ no less than twenty times and the phrase “in Him” five times. Although the Christian has been given all of the things he or she is so encouraged by, the purpose of Paul’s statement is to speak about God’s glory, not the gifts given. He makes this clear when he includes phrases like, “… He chose us… that we would be holy and blameless before Him,” “…that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory,” and “…you were sealed in Him… to the praise of His glory.”[41] The purpose of the blessing is not the gift of blessing, but rather the glory of the Giver. This misguided purpose constantly proves to be a snare to idolatry in the guise of self-esteem or individualism.

What Faith Can Do. This individualistic mindset has permeated more than just secular music; it is also found all through popular Christian and even worship music. One popular Christian song that falls victim to this mentality is “What Faith Can Do” by Kutless:

You gotta find the strength to rise
………………………………………………….

But you’re stronger, stronger than you know
…………………………………………………

You gotta face the clouds to find the silver lining
It doesn’t matter what you’ve heard
Impossible is not a word
It’s just a reason for someone not to try
…………………………………………….

You will find your way if you keep believing
…………………………………………………

When the world say you can’t/ It will tell you that it can[42]

This song speaks of faith, the power of faith and the fact that faith makes impossible things possible. Of course it is true that faith is necessary and critical, but biblically speaking only faith in Jesus Christ is of any worth at all. David sings, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”[43] Faith and trust must be in the right thing to be of value. Faith alone will not save, if that faith is not in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ name is never referenced in Kutless’ song; in fact, there is no reference to God at all. Someone can sing this song and never feel the need to trust in anything outside of him- or herself because only faith is needed. The band sings many songs beautifully written to bring glory to God but of all the songs on the worship album with “What Faith Can Do,” only that one made the WOW Hits 2011 album, the yearly “30 of Today’s Top Christian Artists and Hits.”[44] This song is not alone in the Christian music genre as a song promoting individualism.

Worship Songs. Many worship songs also speak of the individual more than of the God who is worthy of worship. Songs like “The Heart of Worship” by Matt Redman speak more about the individual than God. The purpose of this song is to return to worshiping God rather than just singing songs, but the point of the song is that the singer is singing to God. But as a worship song, shouldn’t the song be more about God than the singer? Another example is “Your Love Never Fails” sung by Jesus Culture. Despite the fact that the song tells of the unending love of God, the lyrics point to the singer being of great importance, somehow at the center of a song written about God. The bridge repeats, “You make all things work together for my good” (emphasis added).[45] This statement is scriptural, based on Romans 8:28 where Paul points out that “God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (NASB). But Paul makes this statement to exhort Christians who were being persecuted and tortured for their faith, which he makes clear a few verses later in 8:35 when he declares, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” The purpose of God’s love for His creation is to show His glory. In verses 16, 17, and 18, prior to his statement in verse 28, Paul explains, “… we are children of God… if indeed we suffer with Him [Christ] so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The glory to be revealed is the glory of God, not the glory of mankind. The idea is not that God works all things together for the Christian’s good as an end unto itself, but to reveal His glory. These things may seem trivial and inconsequential but in a world that is constantly proclaiming that the individual is the center of the universe, it is necessary to be clear about who and what deserves that title.

How Did We Get Here?

Observation of these themes through some of the most popular television shows and music begs the question of how we got here. How did American television go from Leave it to Beaver to Modern Family? Were artists like Johnny Cash or Elvis Presley similar to Katy Perry in their time? Has American culture always been this way undetected or is the relativism that is foundational for the younger generation something new? In Ecclesiastes, the wise man tells his readers, “That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.”[46] If this is true, these ideas must have come from somewhere and must be a recycling of old beliefs into new packages.

In order to untangle the complicated web of ideas Americans are now faced with, it is necessary to return to history. Nothing exists without roots, complicated though they may be, and a reconstruction of the past will be helpful to understanding the present and the future. Though some have used Henry Ford’s statement that “history is more or less bunk” [47] to discount the use of history in understanding the present and future, others like C.S. Lewis have explained that “…nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—[is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”[48] It is this history which concerns us most, this history that will explain how American culture has spiraled far away from a biblical foundation, this history that will help to rediscover how we can return to a foundation with Christ as its cornerstone and the Bible as its revelation. Without this history, Americans are left in a trap of all things being equally true and their children, the youth of America, with no way to grasp anything with substance. It should be noted that the history of relativism in relation to Greek philosophy and the Renaissance and Reformation are immensely large topics, and it is far outside the scope of this work to provide a complete explanation of them. The following summary is merely the tip of the iceberg, a concise history of incredibly complex issues.

Greek Philosophy. Relativism and the idea of relative truth cannot be traced back to one source, especially because of the many types of relativists. However one of the founding fathers of relativism was Protagoras of Abdera, a Greek contemporary of Socrates in the fifth-century BC. Though others had made relativistic statements before his time, he is known as the first philosopher to speak about relativism definitively. He is most famous for his statement that “man… is the measure of all things, of the existence of things that are, and of the non-existence of things that are not….”[49] None of Protagoras’ work has survived, except fragments that were quoted in the works of others which did survive. The previous quotation is one such example, coming through Socratic dialogue recorded by Plato in Theaetetus. With the little context for this statement, one cannot know precisely what type of relativism is being defended; however it seems that Plato attributes to Protagoras the idea that truth “should be relativized to a framework or perspective,” a type of relativism known as alethic relativism.[50] Plato disputes this idea through the rest of the work, but one problem with relativism is that its goal is not to be proven.

The idea that relativism could be proven is quickly self-defeating because arguing for relativity means arguing that there is an absolute, that relativity is absolutely true. Because of this, “The best that a relativist could hope for – from within some reference frame – is to show that the absolutist program might be implausible, unlikely to succeed, issue hollow promises, or other such dissuasions.”[51] As a result, the relativistic argument has continued from the time of Socrates until today and will invariably continue until the end of time. Since its official introduction with Protagoras, relativism has gone through many philosophers who have refined, expounded, and defined more clearly its direction in postmodernity. In the late second and early third-centuries, skepticism which is defined as the “systematic doubt of all knowledge claims and justifications” also grew as a result of Greek thinking.[52] Skepticism during the time of the Greeks and Romans was often intertwined with relativism and though these have been clarified into separate philosophies, even today the thoughts of the average person blur these two ideas together.

Renaissance & Reformation. For several hundred years, thinking on relativism and skepticism was limited due to the rise and then dominance of the Church. But through the humanism that rose to prominence during the Renaissance, the West began to focus on man instead of God. This humanism brought mankind back into the center of the universe, the position Adam and Eve hoped to achieve in Genesis 3. It emphasized that men (women were not yet able to participate, though their time would come) were individuals, able to think independently and view things though their own eyes. The rebirth of classical literature, thoughts, and art brought with it several new avenues of thought. One of these was a renewed desire to read the Bible in its original language, a desire that led directly to Luther’s Reformation. The second was a revival of skepticism and relativism through the independence of human thought. By the late fifteenth and early sixteenth-century, the Church was ripe for such ideas.

Like every event, the Reformation did not spring from nowhere but rather had roots in many serious concerns about the Church. A complete explanation of the Reformation is outside the scope and purpose of this work, but a short survey is necessary in order to understand the roots of relativism within the Church. In the late fourteenth and early fifteen-century, men like John Wycliffe and John Hus, forerunners to Martin Luther and later John Calvin, raised concerns about the immorality of the clergy, the Church’s ownership of property, the glorification of the pope as head of the Church rather than Christ, and the view that the Church rather than the Bible was the sole authority for the Christian.[53] They saw the many ways the Church had strayed from biblical teaching and urged the Church to reform its practices in light of the Bible rather than tradition. In 1415 at the Council of Constance, about thirty years after his death by stroke, Wycliffe’s remains were exhumed, burned, and thrown into the river because of his heretical views. The council also ordered Hus to be burned at the stake for his refusal to recant. Though this Council and two others were held between 1409 and 1449, the Church failed to make significant reforms from within. In 1517 when Luther made his statement to the Catholic Church about the sale of indulgences through his 95 Theses, the Protestant movement officially began. Though Luther was not a humanist, it is undeniable that the renaissance of the time influenced his actions. He argued that “his only authority… would be neither the pope nor the church, but the Bible.”[54] Luther’s belief in sola scriptura, using the Bible as the only authority, was based in his understanding of the Bible as the inspired word of God, completely sufficient as such.

This summary is not intended to affirm or deny Luther’s statements or the Protestant Reformation, but rather to highlight the door that was opened to relativistic thought. Undoubtedly when Luther made his statement, the Church had left little option open to him because of the rampant corruption and desperate need for reform. However, Luther’s stand against the Church and on his interpretation of the Bible made it possible for many others to do the same, some with accurate interpretations and others with inaccurate interpretations. Notably, Luther was not the first to disagree with the established church leadership. The Great Schism of 1054 found two groups who disagreed so intensely that Christianity was divided into an Eastern and a Western branch. Out of these branches came the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church. Although both parties have sought reconciliation in the last millennia, the two churches have never reunited on a level that could be considered a real union. And of course, before and after the Great Schism, many individuals and groups have risen who objected to the Church’s interpretation of various scriptures and doctrines, the vast majority of whom were condemned as heretics. However, Luther and others during his time like John Calvin and Huldreich Zwingli did something that had never occurred in church history on this large of a scale; they asserted that their interpretation of the scriptures was equally valid to that of recognized church authority and encouraged their followers to interpret them individually as well. After Luther, many Christians have formed new Protestant denominations because of their interpretation of the Bible. For a visual representation of these denominations and dates of their inceptions, see Figure 1 below.[RZ3]

Figure 1. Family Tree of Denominations

Source: Rose Book of Bible Charts, Maps, and Time Lines (Torrance, CA: Rose, 2005), 179.

One thing that should be noted is that for the first 1024 years of the Church, it was undivided. Many heresies rose and were quenched during this time, but the Church as a whole stood united. The Great Schism occurred and it was another 500 years before another significant division took place. At that point, division became commonplace, with the above figure showing no less than 32 different denominations that exist today. Of course this is a very incomplete list, with the World Christian Encyclopedia counting over 33,800 denominations.[55] Clearly Luther’s statement in 1517 had significant reverberations through the Church, signaling to believers everywhere that individual interpretations are welcome.


[1] John 18:37.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domain (New York: United Bible Societies, 1988), PC Study Bible formatted Electronic Database (2006), NT:225.

[4] The Barna Group, “Barna survey examines changes in worldview among Christians over the past 13 years,” http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/21-transformation/252-barna-survey-examines-changes-in-worldview-among-christians-over-the-past-13-years (March 6, 2009) (accessed January 25, 2011).

[5] George Barna, Generation Next (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1996), 31.

[6] The Barna Group, “Barna survey examines….”

[7] Showtime, “Reflecting on Season Five: Julia Stiles”, YouTube video, 05:20, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOJLjn0EGqA (accessed January 26, 2011).

[8] Showtime, “About the series,” http://www.sho.com/site/dexter/about.do (accessed January 26, 2011).

[9] Fan Forum, “Why is Dexter so popular,” http://www.fanforum.com/f295/why-dexter-so-popular-62930565/ (accessed January 26, 2011).

[10] Robert Seidman, “Dexter season five finale averages 2.5 million viewers,” TV by the Numbers, December 13, 2010, http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2010/12/13/dexter-season-five-finale-averages-2-5-million-viewers/75260 (accessed January 27, 2011).

[11] CBS Entertainment, “Modern Family on TV.com,” http://www.tv.com/modern-family/show/77270/summary.html?q=Modern%20Family&tag=search_results;title;1 (accessed January 27, 2011).

[12] See Col. 3:9-11 & Eph. 2:11-22.

[13] See Gen. 2:21-24, Mark 10:5-9, Eph. 5:22-33, & 1 Cor. 7:1-2.

[14] See Matt 15:19, Mark 7:21-23, Acts 15:28-29, Rom. 13:13-14, Col. 3:5, 2 Pet. 2:6-10, & Jude 7.

[15] Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1889). PC Study Bible formatted Electronic Database (2006), NT:733.

[16] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domain (New York: United Bible Societies, 1988), PC Study Bible formatted Electronic Database (2006), NT:733.

[17] Ibid, NT:3120

[18] Modern Family. Episode no. 37, first broadcast January 19, 2011 by ABC. Directed by Michael Spiller and written by Steven Levitan and Jeffrey Richman.

[19]Matt. 19:9.

[20]Eph. 5:31-32.

[21]1 Cor. 7:8-9.

[22]1 Cor. 7:25-26.

[23]30 Rock. Episode no. 90, first broadcast December 9, 2010 by NBC. Directed by John Riggi and written by Tracey Wigfield.

[24]Jane Mendle, et al, “Associations Between Father Absence and Age of First Sexual Intercourse,” Child Development 80 no. 5 (2009): 1471 (1463-1480), in Academic Search Premier, http://teach.belmont.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=44183273&site=ehost-live (accessed January 28, 2011).

[25] Michael Schneider, “Fox Greenlights ‘Glee’ Pilot,” Variety.com (July 23, 2008), http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117989408?refCatId=14 (accessed January 28, 2011).

[26] Glee. Episode no. 31, first broadcast November 30, 2010 by FOX. Director and writer unknown.

[27] Num. 30:2.

[28] Matt. 5:37.

[29] Gen. 1:26. See also 2 Pet. 3:9 and  2 Cor. 1:20 for more evidence of the faithfulness of God.

[30] Ex. 34:6.

[31] James Strong, Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary (Biblesoft, 2006), PC Study Bible formatted Electronic Database (2006), OT:571.

[32] Prov. 14:12 and Prov. 28:26.

[33] Jer. 17:9.

[34] Rom. 11:33.

[35] Steven Lukes, Moral Relativism (New York: Picador, 2008), 23.

[36] It Gets Better Project, “About,” http://www.itgetsbetter.org/pages/about-it-gets-better-project/ (accessed January 26, 2011).

[37] Jay Kuo, Blair Shepard & Broadway, It Gets Better, from Broadway Sings for The Trevor Project album, Jay Kuo, 2010.

[38] Rom. 3:10-12.

[39] Katy Perry, Firework, from Teenage Dream album, Capitol Records, MP3 recording, 2010.

[40] Eph. 1:3-14.

[41] Eph. 1:4, 12, 13-14.

[42] Kutless, What Faith Can Do, from It is Well – Extended Edition album, Bec Recordings, MP3 recording, 2010.

[43] Ps. 20:7 (English Standard Version).

[44] WOW Hits 2011, WOW, 2010.

[45] Jesus Culture Band, Your Love Never Fails, from Your Love Never Fails album, Jesus Culture Music, 2008.

[46] Eccl. 1:9.

[47] Henry Ford, Chicago Tribune (1916).

[48] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: a revised and amplified edition, with a new introduction, of the three books, Broadcast talks, Christian behavior, and Beyond personality, ed. HarperCollins (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001), 49.

[49] Plato, Theaetetus, trans. Benjamin Jowett (Project Gutenberg, 2008), produced by Sue Asscher and David Widger, Kindle eBook from Project Gutenberg, locations 1596-99.

[50] Maria Baghramian, “A Brief History of Relativism,” in Relativism: a contemporary anthology, edited by Michael Krausz, 33. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.

[51] Michael Krausz, “Mapping Relativisms,” in Relativism: a contemporary anthology, edited by Michael Krausz, 14. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.

[52] Encyclopedia of Ethics, consulting ed. Susan Neiburg Terkel and ed. R. Shannon Duval (New York: Facts on File, 1999), s.v. “Skepticism.”

[53] Earle E. Cairns, Christianity through the Centuries: A history of the Christian Church, 2nd rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982), 251-256.

[54] Ibid, 291.

[55] World Christian Encyclopedia: a comparative survey of churches and religions in the modern world, 2nd ed., ed. David B. Barrett, George T. Kurian, and Todd M. Johnson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001). NEED TO FIND SECTION


[RZ1]Wrong breathing mark

[RZ2]Wrong breathing marks… how important is this?

[RZ3]Make sure this says “next page” or “below” things change.

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