Darrow Miller and Friends

Relativism: The DEATH OF GOD and the Death of Man

The hideous shadow of death looms over the West today, a death which is the fruit of relativism.

Francis Schaeffer once spoke about what he called the “curious mark of our own age: the only absolute allowed is the absolute insistence that there is no absolute.”  We live in the age of relativism. The only virtue is tolerance. Everything, including moral evil, is tolerated, with one exception – people who are certain there are absolutes.

Defining Relativism

Philosophically, relativism is any theory holding that truth or moral or aesthetic value, etc., is not universal or absolute but may differ between individuals or cultures.[1]

Relativism is the product of an ideology that denies God’s existence. If there is no God, there is no foundation for absolutes. In a universe without God, the only possibility is relativism: moral, metaphysical, and aesthetic. Without an absolute standard, we are left with subjectivism – doing whatever “feels right.”

The relativist is unable or unwilling to make moral judgments about right and wrong, metaphysical judgments about what is true and false – what is real and what is an illusion, or aesthetic judgments that distinguish between the hideous and the beautiful, between the glorious and the grotesque.

The prophet Isaiah warns, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (5:20)

The Impact of Relativism

Once again, relativism manifests itself morally, metaphysically, and aesthetically. Moral relativism regards good as evil and evil as good. We see this, for example, in the media and entertainment. Hollywood seems on a rampage to promote evil. (See the Wikipedia article Incest in Popular Culture.)

Metaphysical relativism makes truth and falsehood interchangeable. We seek to live in a world of illusion, denying reality. Many school districts in the US allow children to declare their own gender, against the reality of their biology. A boy who declares himself female may use the girls’ bathroom or play on a girls’ sports team. Gender confusion is growing rapidly, denying the reality of biology in favor of illusion. If we are so confused about something so basic to human existence, no wonder we are confused about lesser things.

Aesthetic relativism affirms that “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” No distinction is made between the beautiful and the hideous. Consider the misogynist lyrics in gangsta rap. Edward Armstrong’s research of thirteen gangsta rap “artists” and their 490 songs found that “22% of gangsta rap music songs contain violent and misogynist lyrics.” Yet we are to regard this genre as the aesthetic equivalent of a Handel aria! Another, macabre, example is Dr. Hagen’s Body Works, a display of human bodies that have been “plastinated” to create a work of “art.” In today’s value system, Hagen’s work is to be acknowledged at the level of Rembrandt’s.

A couple of generations before such atrocities, Francis Schaeffer declared, “I believe that pluralistic secularism [relativism], in the long run, is a more deadly poison than straightforward persecution.”

The Progression

Consider the logical progression  (or should we say digression) from the Death of God in the 19th century to the Culture of Death in the 20th century to the Death of Mankind in the 21st century. This devolution can be diagrammed as follows:

Death of God Man

Ideas have consequences!  The slope is indeed slippery.

Neither an individual nor a society can declare God to be dead and still hold on to that which has its basis in His existence – love, human dignity, purpose in life, goodness, beauty, truth, et al. If God is dead, all that flows from his existence is dead, including humanity. The great Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky, announced the consequences of the death of God in The Brothers Karamazov (1880): “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.”

In the end, a world without God surrenders to the Darwinian cry, “Survival of the fittest!” Or, as Mao Tse-Tung put it, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

Death of God

Fredrick Nietzsche predicted the death of God in 1882 in his book, Joyous Wisdom.

I read Nietzsche 40 years ago at a time when I was trying to understand the changes being  unleashed in our world.  This was during the Vietnam war. The world’s youth, perhaps more than usual, were seeking answers to life’s basic questions: “Is there truth? Is there any purpose in life? In my life?” It was an invigorating time to be alive. Today, as I reflect on Nietzsche’s prediction, I wonder if anyone cares. Have the last few generations numbed themselves so deeply that they no longer ask such questions? I believe the proclamation of the death of God has changed all of life radically.

Nietzsche’s announcement of God’s “death” came in the rant of the Madman before a crowd of skeptics:

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market-place, and cried incessantly: “I am looking for God!  I am looking for God!”

As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. Have you lost him, then? said one. Did he lose his way like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus they shouted and laughed. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances.

The Madman continues by answering the question who has killed God?  He shouts “Where has God gone?” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. We are his murderers.”

After the announcement, the Madman turns his attention to the consequences of this action.

We have loosed everything from its moorings.

But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder?

Nietzsche mimics Isaiah (29:16): the world is being turned upside down. Darkness comes at the dawn and as the Madman understands we will now need to light lamps in the day time.

Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning?

Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition? Gods, too, decompose.

Then the Pronouncement:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

And where will we find atonement for what have we done?

How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us?

With God being dead, what must we do now?  Man must become the center of the universe, man must become God. Man must define reality. There is no God to save us, we must save ourselves. Here Nietzsche is proposing the coming of the superman.

Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us – for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.

If God is dead, than those who killed him must become God. It is man who now reserves for himself to define what is True, Good and Beautiful. Thus is created the trinity of cultural illusion. Everything is relative. Reality is now a kaleidoscope of illusions. This is what some have called the atheist’s delusion.

Of course, we cannot kill God. What Nietzsche is announcing is that in man’s disbelief, the West is cutting herself off from her Judeo-Christian roots, the worldview that made the Western civilization all that she became.  A new worldview, Atheist Materialism, will in fact turn the world on its head. Roman Catholic philosopher, Peter Kreeft, writing in C.S.Lewis  for the Third Millennium , says “faith in God is dead as a functional center for Western civilization … we are now a planet detached from its sun.”

Culture of Death

God, who created the universe, breathed the breath of life into human beings. We are made in his image. There is a Culture of Life, a culture of flourishing.  But with the Death of God, a Culture of Death is born. We have seen this culture penetrate the 20th century and lay the framework for the literal Death of Man in the 21st.

“Godlessness is always the first step to the concentration camp.” So writes Chris Banescu,  an Orthodox Christian attorney, and university professor in his recent article When Men Forsake God, Tyranny Always Follows.

The  20th century was Nietzsche’s.  Fundamentalist atheism – the hard atheists that want to rid the world of any notion of the transcendent God, have flourished. We see this in the rise of Adolph Hitler. It can be argued that here is an organic connection between Nietzsche’s philosophy and the policies of the Third Reich. The death of God also led to the rise of Communism and the social experiments of Stalin and Mao.

While atheists decry Islam and Christianity for the bloodshed they have brought to the world, they are loathe to connect their own secular philosophy with the two bloodiest wars in human history: World Wars I and II.  Fundamentalist atheists are now seeking to stamp out the last vestiges of Judeo-Christian theism and the culture it produced in the West

In addition to the fundamentalist atheists are their cousins, the soft atheists. These are the non-thinking, emoting narcissists who put themselves at the center of the universe. All of life is bent to their own well-being and pleasure, to their “feeling good.”  They are marked by an extreme self-centeredness and vanity. Narcissists may be 40 or 50 years old but function from the mentality and emotions of a teenager.

Death of man

The 21st century will be marked by the climax of the Death of God in the Death of Man.  This has two expressions, one metaphorical and one literal.

Metaphorically, we can think of the warnings of two prophetic giants in the 20th century: C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer.  

The great Oxford don and Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis,  writes in The Abolition of Man  that the modern educational system is stripping human beings of their humanity: “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

What happens when human beings are chronically no longer virtuous?  We enter a post-human world. The atheistic and materialist worldview frames a universe of relativism. Steven Loomis and Jacob Rodriquez writing in C.S. Lewis: A Philosophy of Education, state:

The day is rapidly approaching when a single model of thought will dominate the entire world and its institutions, above all the institution of education. No one understood or anticipated this better than C.S. Lewis. Already some sixty years ago Lewis was warning the public about the dire effects of this model, arguing forcefully that it would prove irresistible and inevitably bring about a world of post-humanity, a world “which, some knowingly and some unknowingly, nearly all men in all nations are at present laboring to produce.”

Writing in The God Who Is There, Francis Schaeffer warns of the dangers of relativism:

But if I live in a world of nonabsolutes and would fight social injustice on the mood of the moment, how can I establish what social justice is? What criterion do I have to distinguish between right and wrong so that I can know what I should be fighting? Is it not possible that I could in fact acquiesce in evil and stamp out good? The word love cannot tell me how to discern, for within the humanistic framework love can have no defined meaning.

In the post-human world, we have lost sight of what it means to be human.  Man is reduced to an “evolved” animal without any transcendent nature. In some cultures (communist societies, for one, and hedonistic capitalist civilizations for another) man is reduced to a machine that produces and an animal that consumes. The spirit of man is gone. Only things are left. Human beings are objectified, becoming part of the cosmic machine that is the universe according to atheist doctrine.

As an example, we witness the loss of the feminine, and it its place, we have the objectification of women. Women become a commodity to use in advertising to sell other commodities. They become sex objects in the multifaceted sex industry.  Even little girls are sexualized.

These are examples of the metaphorical death of man. But the Death of God leads to a Culture of Death that results in a literal death of man as well. Writing in The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin could foresee a future where groups of people will be exterminated.

At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes [3]  as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break will then be rendered wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state as we may hope, than the Caucasian and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as at present between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.

Ideas have consequences. Darwin’s theory of evolution is not only poor science, it leads to a devastating social science and the culture of death.  And it is not simply the intermediate races that Darwin envisioned.  The century of post-humanity has arrived.   Human beings are currently being treated as non-human throughout the world. Do you doubt that? Consider the global plagues of ..

  • Gendercide: 200,000,000 females in our world are dead because females are viewed as less human than males.
  • Abortion: 40,000,000-50,ooo,ooo babies are killed each year before they are born, simply because they are not wanted. They are inconvenient.  Media personalities and government leaders actually promote such wholesale carnage as “enlightened.” We do not recognize that what a women carries in her womb is both human and alive.
  • Infanticide: Mentally or physically handicapped children are allowed to die, or even killed, after birth. Today, some advocate for allowing healthy but unwanted children to die (or be killed) as well. CAN WE DOCUMENT THAT? and   The current President of the United States, Barak Obama, has been a proponent of infanticide.
  • Euthanasia: Increasingly, adults who are no longer “productive” are being encouraged to “get out of the way” in order to save scarce medical resources. This represents  another growing example of the  literal death of humans

Just as there is a slippery slope from the Death of God to the death of humanity, the world of the 21st century is experiencing a similar descent in marriage and sexuality.  Dostoevsky’s prophecy–“If God does not exist, everything is permitted”–is proving  true in the arena of sexuality. The moral relativism of the “LGBT” worldview will inevitably lead to pedophilia and bestiality, as captured in the diagram below. We have no anchor to hold against this tide. It does not take long to move from the reality of God’s created order – the sacredness of sexual intimacy within a covenantal marriage, to a world of illusion that degenerates into the ultimate animal behavior: bestiality.

moral slide

The Place of Hope

The world looks bleak; but hope lives. The 21st century can break the pattern of the death of man. God is waiting to heal the land. The key lies in his people leading a movement of repentance –  2 Chronicles 7:14.

First, Christ followers must repent and restore true worship of the living God. That repentance requires, among other things, a “new mind.” We must abandon relativism and restore the Judeo-Christian worldview as the moral, metaphysical, and aesthetic grid of the church. God’s people need to affirm that God is alive and sovereign and reaffirm the Biblical worldview for all of life.

Second, we must restore a culture that affirms life and builds institutions that support human life from conception to natural death. We need to practice an apologetic of hope – Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.

We must flee the relativist’s standard “Does it feel good?” We must ask and answer the questions, “Is it true?” “Is it Good?’ “Is it Beautiful?” And then increasingly live the answer.

This will require a faith that moves from worship to the creation of culture and then the building of a civilization. We will need to trust God for the impossible. It will require Christians to live counter culturally, to be willing to pay any price needed to reverse the growing tide of darkness and evil.

May it be so.

– Darrow Miller



print this page Print this page

Tagged in:, , ,
Darrow is co-founder of the Disciple Nations Alliance and a featured author and teacher. For over 30 years, Darrow has been a popular conference speaker on topics that include Christianity and culture, apologetics, worldview, poverty, and the dignity of women. From 1981 to 2007 Darrow served with Food for the Hungry International (now FH association), and from 1994 as Vice President. Before joining FH, Darrow spent three years on staff at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland where he was discipled by Francis Schaeffer. He also served as a student pastor at Northern Arizona University and two years as a pastor of Sherman Street Fellowship in urban Denver, CO. In addition to earning his Master’s degree in Adult Education from Arizona State University, Darrow pursued graduate studies in philosophy, theology, Christian apologetics, biblical studies, and missions in the United States, Israel, and Switzerland. Darrow has authored numerous studies, articles, Bible studies and books, including Discipling Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Culture (YWAM Publishing, 1998), Nurturing the Nations: Reclaiming the Dignity of Women for Building Healthy Cultures (InterVarsity Press, 2008), LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day (YWAM, 2009), Rethinking Social Justice: Restoring Biblical Compassion (YWAM, 2015), and more. These resources along with links to free e-books, podcasts, online training programs and more can be found at Disciple Nations Alliance (https://disciplenations.org).