Values and Relativism
Back in the early 90’s when I was in Midland, TX, we had a guest speaker at our church by the name of Fr. Earle Fox. His teaching was devoted to distinguishing between what we call values and principles. Values he said are like a moving target. They are typically based in a relativistic mindset. In other words, we can make them mean what we want them to mean. Principles are more clearly defined and can be articulated with a fair amount of clarity.
I mention values because these days I hear people using the word values without any clear reflection or explanation of what they mean. On the news, I all too often hear from all sides of the political spectrum, people making reference to ‘American’ values. The assumption being made is that when the phrase is used we all know what that means. I don’t! How can people use such phrases or words without being clear about what is meant? Secondly, I never hear anyone ask in reply, what exactly is meant by the phrase “American values”.
I bring this up because I also often hear people in the church refer to “Christian values”. What are they exactly? Who defines what they are? Who defines what the values themselves mean? In the end, what happens is that the Christian Gospel gets relativized to a broad stroke of meaninglessness because things can be defined any way one chooses.
From a different perspective, that of the long Tradition of the Church, it was the Church, through the guided wisdom of the seven ecumenical councils that gave us the dogma (teaching) of what should be contained in true Christian teaching and what shouldn’t. The councils taught us and gave us some fundamental boundaries for orthodox believing and living.
The times we are living in require us to become even more discerning about what we hear from popular media and read in pop-Christian culture. We have been slowly indoctrinated into thinking that values are important. I would put forth that they are of secondary importance. They can be found within principles, and/or good theology, but cannot lead the way. Our culture has become so overtly oriented to relativistic thinking, or “I can define truth however I choose.”
The danger to our Christian faith is that we begin to think, because of the inculturation of values oriented, relativistic thinking, that Christianity is open to whatever one wants to believe. The ancient Church gave us the means for which we could reasonably answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” The councils interpreted the scriptures and helped us to have a clearer picture. If we make up our own view of who Jesus is and what his values are, how can we be sure that the Jesus we are worshipping is the same one who lived in Israel and suffered and died on the cross?
My point is this: during these very restless and uncertain times it is important to be wary of the language being used. Don’t make assumptions that we all understand the values’ being referred to. It’s easy to create linguistic short-cuts by using words that we assume everyone knows what we mean. But can that be true in the current age? I am pretty sure that when I hear certain references used by people who take polar opposite viewpoints, they don’t necessarily mean the same thing when they are using the same words.
Did anyone read this?
February 16, 2018
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