Monday, June 15, 2015

Against the Flow: A Dark Vision of Relativism

The prophet Daniel had two visions that terrified him. One was of four beasts (Daniel 7). The other was of a ram and a goat (Daniel 8). Both were connected to the idea of a ruler who would terrorize the faithful (the faithful Jews, in this case).

Theologians and Biblical historians see the point of these visions in the person of Antiochus Epiphanes, the descendant of one of Alexander the Great’s generals who ruled what today is Israel, Syria, and part of Iraq, and who almost conquered Egypt. Antiochus believed he was a god, or perhaps “the” god, and everything was to reflect his deity: coins, building inscriptions, buildings, culture, religion – including the Jewish temple at Jerusalem. He was determined to Hellenize his empire, including Israel.

When the Jews resisted, he struck back, and hard. The temple was turned into a temple of Zeus. Faithful Jews were imprisoned and killed. Circumcised babies were killed, hung around their mothers’ necks, and thrown from the walls of Jerusalem.

Antiochus overreached (a gross understatement). He inspired the successful Maccabean revolt. He lost Palestine. His legacy is cited in the New Testament as “the abomination of desolation.” What is also clear is that the story of Antiochus Epiphanes is not over; both the account in Daniel and references in the New Testament suggest more is to come, at some point in the future.

In Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism, John Lennox discusses what happened, and what could happen, in great and fascinating detail. As he’s been doing previously in the book, Lennox draws the parallel with the multi-god worship practices on Daniel’s time with the relativism that dominates so much thinking today. And this he explains why this is important.

“Relativism weakens intellectual and moral resistance to totalitarianism,” he says, “and opens us up to manipulation and deceit; so that in the end the ‘truth’ we believe is dictated by those who hold the power.”

Earlier this month, a very small example of what can happen was noted.

Edward Schlosser is the pseudonym of a college professor. He writes for Vox, the online news and commentary site. In early June, he published an article that has gained a fair amount of notice: “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me.” What he described is the growing fear of professors, even and perhaps especially liberal ones, of offending their students in the normal course of teaching.

As in, “Your reading of that quotation by Mark Twain offends me.” Or, “You are not taking my opposing view seriously enough.” Professors have been reported and disciplined for less. Yes, in America. I wish I was making this up.

As Rod Dreher at American Conservative says, “Welcome to the Maoist Cultural Revolution.”

I have to admit it’s difficult for me to feel sympathy for a self-acknowledged liberal college professor. This is what post-modern thinking comes to – so far – and what “progressive” professors may well have brought on themselves.

It’s the ultimate challenge of relativism, boomeranged back on the very people whose thinking and beliefs enshrined relativism as the new religion. If everything is relative, your truth is no better than my truth, your “facts” no better than mine, and if you offend me or cause me anguish, I will report you, because I have the power to do so.

The implications reach far beyond the college classroom. Imagine a U.S. Internal Revenue Service punishing groups because they adhere to the “wrong” political philosophy. If they have that power, they can use it.

For the past several weeks, I’ve been discussing Against the Flow and how the book of Daniel in the Old Testament has meaning application for us today. This post is based on Chapter 16, “The Four Beasts and the Son of Man,” and Chapter 17, “The Vision of the Ram and the Goat.”

Painting: The Triumph of Judas Maccabeus by Rubens, circa 1630.

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