What is Relativism?
relativism [ < Latin relātivus, adj. form of relātus (brought again) ppart. of referre : re- + lātus (to bring, carry)]. The idea that all truth is relative.
The scientific root of relativism is Einstein's theory of relativity, which states that the difference between mass and energy (which are all that materially exists) is a conversion constant related to time via the speed of light. This means all that exists changes in relation to all else that exists. Treated as an -ism or ideology, this means the very idea of an absolute (even of an absolute, unconditional God, or a permanently definitive revelation from that God) is seen as a harmful fiction. In relativism, there can be one who is a 'god' when compared to you, and a briefly-effective revelation of how that god is or was at a given moment. But it's a sometimes-God who kind-of-reveals sort-of-truths, and loves us in widely-varied amounts most of the time, dependent on the situation. In relativism, there is no such thing as clear morality. Right and wrong are situational and utilitarian, with only a sorta/kinda meaning ('moral relativism'), and ultimately without a clear concept of truth or reality. In our attempts to do best for others, we can easily lose the larger vision of what 'best' is ('ethical relativism').
Why Is Relationship So Central?
If the Bible is right, then the word 'relative' is not quite the right way to go. It's much better to say "all truth is in relationship". It's true in math and physics - every equation is a form of relationship, every graph tracks the course of a relationship. Something done to one particle has been seen to have an effect on another distant particle. The entire field of sociology is about relationships with groups of people. The "green movement" is about changing our strained relationship with the world of nature, of which we are a part.
Christian theology is, at its core, about relationships. The God of the Bible is in a relationship with a people (the Jews), called a "covenant". The Torah was given in order that this covenant nation might know what it takes to live in a society of relationships that are in accord with God. The actions of God's Son, Jesus Christ, are done to restore the broken relationship of all people and all creation with God. The Church is defined by that relationship, and is called to relate to everyone else with the love of Jesus. One of the key acts of most Christian lives is the act of marriage, the relational oneness between two people. If God is a trinity, then there is a unique kind of relationship within God, though none of us are in any position to accurately describe it. (One of those big theological words, perichoresis, is often used when trying to describe God's inner relationship.) In the Genesis account of the beginnings, God says, "Let us create humankind" (the 'us' is a relationship within God) "in our image" (we are made to be like God, inferring we will be able to relate with the aforementioned 'us'). Also, it's said that "God is love", but 'love' is itself a relational term that is meaningless outside of relationship. (You don't just 'love'; you love someone or something.) God keeps working to bring us back to the relationship we had sundered.
There is a truth that sets us free. One truth that gives strength to all the other truths. Jesus, the Christ. And, since the key truth is a person not a thing, our freedom is found not in mere knowledge about that person, but in our relationship with that person. In a relationship, you bring every aspect of yourself into play: thoughts, knowledge, feelings, experiences, presence, memories, deeds, tastes, and time. In a close relationship, a large part of you is at stake in it.
The life of following Christ is about being in one-to-one relationships with God and with each person, whom Jesus calls on us to love. While some in church circles speak too blithely about that one-on-one relationship, it is a critical one, both for you and for what God is doing. Having a relationship with someone who can't be heard or seen strikes many modern folks as being silly, a lot like the child who has an imaginary friend. But imaginary friends can't do what God does. Prayer is the communication through which the human-God relationship works. Prayer (rightly understood) is the give-and-take between the best of friends.
"One of the most destructive mistakes we Christians make is to prioritize shared beliefs over shared relationship, which is deeply ironic considering we worship a God who would rather die than lose relationship with us."
------- Rachel Held Evans blog entry, *My Parents*, 03/27/2015.
You can also check the dictionary definition of
What Is Discipleship?
discipleship : a disciple is one who undertakes the discipline of his/her teacher. Thus, discipleship is about learning what that discipline is, learning how to follow, to listen to the Story. Discipleship is part schooling, part mentoring, part apprenticeship, part service, but it goes a step beyond all of those. Disciples not only take in what they are taught and what they learn from being with the teacher, they take it into their core identity, so it defines who they are. In ancient times, the sages passed their wisdom on by discipling a small core of people. That is the main or core part of how Jesus taught; Jesus grew a circle of disciples. The Christian church was built from the efforts of his disciples to disciple others. The Church has a duty before God, a call to "make disciples of all nations". Evangelism is the beckoning, the calling in, and the opened door. Discipleship is the hallways inside, that is, the relationship with God and each other, and done rightly, with ourselves.
You can also check the dictionary for 'discipleship'.
What Is Materialism?
materialism: the belief that matter (or, matter/energy as in the theory of relativity) is all there is. The main practical corollary is physicalism, which holds that interactions of matter can account for all that exists. Thus, the bodily senses, used with their technological extensions and human reasoning, can discover everything. (Except that other glove you lost....) Materialism is not new. Thoroughly non-religious thinkers have held some form of it since before recorded history. Several of India's philosophers held an 'atomistic' materialism around 500 BC. Ancient Greek philosophers developed many versions of materialism. Materialistic philosophies abounded during the Enlightenment, and even today are commonly found among scholars. Indeed, in many educated circles, those who don't think in terms of some form of materialism are not taken seriously as thinkers. Today's "postmodernists" are skeptical not only of religion but also of materialism and physicalism.
Spiritual-talk is without meaning to a true materialist. 'Spirituality' is about the undetectable and the invisible, and there are no such things for a materialist. There is only matter, so everything in the physical world must be described through some form of matter. A materialist considers us to be material beings and nothing more or less. A materialist can have strong values, and can have an ethic and live according to it. (Some radio preachers miss this truth when they criticize materialists.) Yet, in the end life loses meaning because there is nothing ultimate. Material just is, and because it's only measurable by material reality, it can only have the value you attach to it. Pursued to its end, materialism is lonely, cold, and fatalistic. There's no 'underlying', and getting 'deep' means merely acquiring a more detailed level of knowledge. Materialists can have strong relationships. But, the logic behind them will strain for meaning beyond mutual usefulness.
There's not much room for a religion to become truly materialistic, though philosophies like Marxism tried to be. Any spirituality worth bothering with is either anti- or un-materialist -- spirituality comes from reaching for the realm of the unseen and the ultimate. It grows from the sense that there's more to life than meets the eye. Christian spirituality springs from understanding that nothing is purely material, yet all that we encounter is in some way material. God, who is spirit, loves us through material things (or 'means'), and material beings (like you and I). (This view is sometimes called 'incarnational' or 'sacramental'.) We experience the immaterial through material. So real Christianity can be both fully 'spiritual', and honestly, fully, and positively 'material' -- but not really material-ist.
Even so, there is reportedly such a strange creature as "Christian materialism", in some circles.
What Is Meant by the 'Material World'?
material [ Latin māteria (matter, solid, stuff) ] made up of matter or that which can be felt; stuff-ness, object-ness; being of a tangible/physical nature. Related words include corporeal, object (n.), and substantial. It's often said to be opposed to 'spiritual', 'supernatural', 'ideal', 'emotional', or 'intellectual'. To Christians, there is no wall of separation between material and spiritual. They draw life from each other. Indeed, if that wasn't so, we'd be wasting our time with all this 'spirituality', because we'd have no way to really get into it. All that lives is in some sense spiritual, yet also in some sense material. In that way, we're not different than Jesus. When the Kingdom comes, it is a material Kingdom (a 'new earth' and a 'new Jerusalem') as well as a spiritual one.
- You can check the dictionary for 'materialism' and 'material'. Remember, as you read about it, there are many kinds of materialism, just as there are many kinds of spirituality.
- Wikipedia has articles on materialism in philosophy,
- Marxism, and
"The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible."
---- Oscar Wilde