There was a powerful description given by Pope Emeritus Benedict to describe the modern stance of a world that has abandoned any notion of objective truth to which it is accountable. The phrase he used was “the tyranny of relativism.”
In effect, the expression describes what happens when there is no standard outside ourselves to which reasonable people can and should appeal in order to square their views or opinions. In such a setting, appeals to reason and agreed-upon standards cannot hold the day and resolve disputes.
Who “wins”? Whose view prevails? The sad answer is that those with the most money, power, or access win. It is power that wins, not reason or truth. Those with the greatest physical power or access, those who have the money to influence, they are the ones who “win” the day. Truth is set aside in favor of force, power, money, or access. The one who can shout the loudest, be the most politically organized, and who has the right friends in the right places wins.
This is tyranny because it is about power and the ability to force the issue. The truth is of lesser or no importance.
The video below shows, in a humorous way, the manner in which the truth can be resisted and error and lies forced upon us. It demonstrates well that the problem of the tyranny of relativism lies not only with the man of power but also with the weaker “victim” of his power, who refuses to insist on what is right, instead ceding acre after acre of territory.
In the video, Darth Vader has been enlisted to record his voice for a GPS navigation system. Quite frequently he does not speak the correct phrase. After meager attempts to correct him, the sound engineer just caves in. Perhaps a little compromise about what is right, a little patience, will convince Darth of the correct way. It does not; Vader just becomes more obnoxious and egocentric. The message is that “playing nice” and compromising about what is right only creates more problems and a deeper darkness. The compromise with tyranny brings only greater tyranny and ultimately deadly resistance to what is right.
Consider a few stages and techniques displayed in the video.
1. Kindness offered but rejected – The sound engineer (SE) welcomes Darth Vader (DV) and inquires as to his needs, offering basic kindness and concern for his well-being. Of itself, this is good, necessary, and required for a Christian, and is to be commended. But DV rebuffs the SE’s offer with a certain rudeness.
For those of us in the Church who seek to address an increasingly hostile world, kindness is essential as an opening stance. But we must be sober when our kindness is rebuffed. The world often sees kindness as a sign of weakness. This does not mean that we should be unkind, only that we should be sober in assessing the stance of the many who reject, even ridicule, our kindness and mistake it for weakness. We must balance kindness with clarity.
2. Correction without perseverance – DV misspeaks the sentence in his very first take. The SE tries to correct him, but DV simply denies he has made any mistake.
And this, too, is a common tendency in our modern setting wherein many simply refuse to admit that what they have done is wrong. It is common for many who live sinful lives to insist, like DV, that they are doing nothing wrong.
But it is also important to note that the SE chooses not to insist on pointing out DV’s error and correcting it. Instead he just shrugs and accepts DV’s insolence. This, of course, will only ensure that things get worse. Too many clergy and parents have had this attitude in recent decades. As a result, behavior and respect for the truth have only gotten worse. Without correction, confusion increases.
3. Redefining terms – Note that DV does not really argue about what the correct word is (he says, “turn round” when he should say, “turn right”). Instead, he insists that what he said is the right word.
Many today redefine or water down the meaning of terms so that they can insist that what they have said or done is what is required. For example, love is redefined or equated merely with affirming and supporting, but is never associated with correction or with insisting upon what is true and best even if it is hard. The same is true of the word mercy. Many people think they can go on forever doing what they please and in the end, God, who is love and has mercy, will overlook what they have done and save them. Further, those who speak of limits and insist on what is right are called unloving, hateful, unmerciful, etc.
Just as DV insists that his phrase “turn round” is the same as “turn right,” many today misuse words or insist that there is no difference. For example, many today would redefine marriage to mean almost anything. And then when the Church (like the SE) tells them that they are using the wrong word (“marriage”) to describe homosexual liaisons, they stubbornly and irrationally say, in effect, “Oh no I didn’t.” Thus, like DV, those who absurdly misuse the word “marriage” to describe homosexual liaisons greet any objection with a simple denial that the word used is wrong.
4. Caving – Sadly, after several attempts to correct DV, the SE simply gives up and puts a positive spin on what is still wrong, saying, “OK, let’s just go forward!” But this is NOT going forward. It is caving in to error. And this is something too many Christians are willing to do today. We just cave in, thinking that somehow this will enable us to “go forward,” to find peace in overlooking and compromise. It will not. Things will only get worse.
5. Suggestion replaces clear direction – At one point the SE asks DV, “Is there any way you could breathe a little quieter?” What should be a clear instruction from the SE comes across as a feeble “suggestion,” or mere wish.
This is sadly emblematic of the modern Church setting wherein too many preachers are not clear. Instead, they use a tone that is merely suggestive rather than confidently instructive. Who will follow an uncertain trumpet? Who will muster for battle?
6. God made me this way! – Of course DV objects to the suggestion and takes offense, stating that this is just the way he breathes (i.e., this is just the way God made him)!
How common it is today for people to make excuses for their behavior, saying that “God made me this way,” or that someone else is to blame (“My mother dropped me on my head when I was two”).
Of course no one denies that we all come into this world with certain gifts and struggles, certain proclivities, and certain deficits. But we are still called to moral uprightness regardless of the nature of our temptations and struggles, whatever the cards we were dealt. No one playing a card game can reasonably say, “I don’t like the cards I got so I’m changing the rules.” But this is common today. Blaming God or others does not excuse us or entitle us to live by a different set of rules.
7. The soft bigotry of low expectations – Sadly, the SE accepts DV’s protests and enters the booth to rework the equipment. DV cannot meet the standard so the standard must change.
Welcome to modern education and moral theory. Since certain people cannot meet the standard, they get a different standard, a lower standard, a fake standard.
In the end they are not helped by this even if they are made to “feel better.” It is actually the worst form of discrimination to conclude that someone is too pathetic to meet the standard. It is also destructive of human potential and progress.
8. Ineffective instruction leads to incorrigibility – To be incorrigible means to be stubbornly resistant to correction. And thus despite all the doting, all the suggestions, all the attempts to compromise, DV doesn’t get better. In fact he just gets worse. In the end he becomes violently non-compliant.
Welcome to the tyrannical world of modern relativism and suggestive moral leadership. Without clear teaching and an insistence on what is right, darkness and stubbornness grow and the end is even violent. The rise in juvenile delinquency cannot be separated from the uncertain pedagogy of the modern scene. In the end we are left with too many young people who will not be told what to do, who are incorrigible. Many adults, too, have been poorly instructed by the Church. They have not become more amenable because we tried to be “understanding.” Rather, they have become hardened in their sin and are often beyond correction.
The tyranny of relativism. This is a heavy topic, but it is humorously illustrated in the video. Enjoy!