Tag Archives: Pragmatism

How to respond to postmodernism, relativism, subjectivism, pluralism and skepticism

Four articles from Paul Copan over at the UK site “BeThinking”. Each article responds to a different slogan that you might hear if you’re dealing with non-Christians on the street.

“That’s just your interpretation!”

Some of his possible responses:

  • Gently ask, ‘Do you mean that your interpretation should be preferred over mine? If so, I’d like to know why you have chosen your interpretation over mine. You must have a good reason.’
  • Remind your friend that you are willing to give reasons for your position and that you are not simply taking a particular viewpoint arbitrarily.
  • Try to discern if people toss out this slogan because they don’t like your interpretation. Remind them that there are many truths we have to accept even if we don’t like them.
  • ‘There are no facts, only interpretations’ is a statement that is presented as a fact. If it is just an interpretation, then there is no reason to take it seriously.

More responses are here.

“You Christians are intolerant!”

Some of his possible responses:

  • If you say that the Christian view is bad because it is exclusive, then you are also at that exact moment doing the very thing that you are saying is bad. You have to be exclusive to say that something is bad, since you exclude it from being good by calling it bad.
  • There is a difference, a clear difference between tolerance and truth. They are often confused. We should hold to what we believe with integrity but also support the rights of others to disagree with our viewpoint.
  • Sincerely believing something doesn’t make it true. You can be sincere, but sincerely wrong. If I get onto a plane and sincerely believe that it won’t crash then it does, then my sincerity is quite hopeless. It won’t change the facts. Our beliefs, regardless of how deeply they are held, have no effect on reality.

More responses are here.

“That’s true for you, but not for me!”

Some of his possible responses:

  • If my belief is only true for me, then why isn’t your belief only true for you? Aren’t you saying you want me to believe the same thing you do?
  • You say that no belief is true for everyone, but you want everyone to believe what you do.
  • You’re making universal claims that relativism is true and absolutism is false. You can’t in the same breath say, ‘Nothing is universally true’ and ‘My view is universally true.’ Relativism falsifies itself. It claims there is one position that is true – relativism!

More responses are here.

“If you were born in India, you’d be a Hindu!”

Some of his possible responses:

  • Just because there are many different religious answers and systems doesn’t automatically mean pluralism is correct.
  • If we are culturally conditioned regarding our religious beliefs, then why should the religious pluralist think his view is less arbitrary or conditioned than the exclusivist’s?
  • If the Christian needs to justify Christianity’s claims, the pluralist’s views need just as much substantiation.

More responses are here.

And a bonus: “How do you know you’re not wrong?“.

Being a Christian is fun because you get to think about things at the same deep level that you think about anything else in life. Christianity isn’t about rituals, community and feelings. It’s about truth.

In case you want to see this in action with yours truly, check this out.

A Christian and a postmodern relativist debate atheism and Christianity

I listened to an episode of the the radio show “Unbelievable”, which is broadcast in the UK by Premier Christian radio.


“The Atheist’s Bible” (Duckworth & Co) has been a bestseller in the USA. It brings together a mass of quotes from atheists, agnostics and more. Its compiler Joan Konner speaks to Justin Brierley about why she put it together and her own thoughts on atheism. She interacts with Christian apologist Peter Williams whose own book “The Sceptic’s Guide to Atheism” (Paternoster) has just been published.

Joan and Peter debate whether atheism has some fundamental faith assumptions of its own, as Peter argues that atheistic naturalism is a self-defeating notion. Joan argues that Christianity is arrogant in its exclusive claims.

The MP3 file is here.

Some people in our society believe that moral rules and the purpose of life should be decided based on an individual’s feelings and intuitions, and not by any external state of affairs that can be reasoned about or proven. I call these people postmoderns. Postmoderns are opposed to organized religions as well, because they usually come with set ideas of what’s right and wrong. Some organized religions, like Christian theism, try to show that their system of morality and their ideas about meaning and purpose in life should be accepted because their system is true – i.e. – because Christian claims about the way the world is are true, and therefore humans are obligated to act based on Christian morality and Christian ideas about the purpose of life. Postmoderns are especially hostile to these truth-claiming religions, and they attack them in several ways.

What postmoderns believe about religion

1. Postmoderns think that truth claims made by a religion cannot be proven true or false using public, testable evidence, because then people in some religions that contradict history or science would feel bad. I.e. – they think that claims made by a religion, like “the physical universe came into being out of nothing” cannot be tested using scientific experiments and shown to be true or false, because if you tested it and found that the universe did begin to exist, then people like Mormons who think that the universe is eternal would feel bad. So the safest thing for a postmodern to do is to assert that religions are all neither true nor false, and cannot be tested. This is, of course, not the view of religion that many religious people have – we think that morality and purpose are true objectively because we are able to make a case that the religion that defines them is true.

2. Postmoderns try to argue that changing their actions to comply with an objective moral reality or an object purpose, even if it has been shown to be true using logic and evidence, is “coercive” and opposed to individual freedom. I.e. – they think that even if a religion like Christian theism is shown to be true using science and history, they shouldn’t have to care about it, they should just be able to do whatever makes them feel good without caring about what’s true. It’s not that they have considered the case for Christian theism, it’s that they decide, in advance of considering the evidence, that they will not let the real state of affairs in the universe determine what is right or wrong, or what they are supposed to do with their lives. They don’t want to let what can be demonstrated about reality “coerce” their search for happiness.

3. For postmodernists, the purpose of religion cannot be to hold true beliefs about the external world. If the purpose of a religion were to have true beliefs, then religions that were false would be excluded, and that would make people in those false religions feel bad. So, the purpose of religions must be to make people behave well, because then they are all equivalent, and no religion is excluded. It is irrelevant to a postmodern that Christians claim that their religion hinges on a historical event, (the resurrection), which either happened or didn’t. Postmodernists refuse to assess the case for or against a religion by studying whether a religion’s claims are true. The want to treat them all as equal independently of truth, because, they claim, all religions are equally good at making people behave nicely. Postmoderns also like this view because it means that they do not have to waste any time assessing whether religions are true or false.

4. Tolerance, to a postmodernist, means that everyone has to behave as if morality is not real and that life has no objective meaning. If you think that the universe is any one way, or that people ought to act any particular way, then you are “intolerant” according to a postmodernist – because you think that your view of morality and purpose is real, and that it applies to others. Postmodernists want everyone to just arbitrarily decides their likes and dislikes, as well as the goals that give them significance. Postmodernists disagree with those who think that morality and meaning are objective – that they are set up by a Designer, and not up for individual humans to decide however they like.

Responding to postmodernism

I think that many people who have this postmodern/subjectivist/relativist view of morality and purpose are people who have been raised in strict religious environments that were focused more on rituals and compliance, and less on debate and truth. It’s a lot easier to persuade a postmodernist when you 1) express a genuine interest in them as a person, and 2) take the time to try to show them why you think that your religion is true. Trying to ram moral rules and a purpose to life down someone’s throat without settling the truth question is stupid and counter-productive. Never talk about religion and theology unless you can link it to analytical philosophy, history or science. When talking to a postmodern, try to avoid sounding like a pastor. Don’t sound mystical. Don’t speak Christianese. Try to show them that evaluating a religion’s claims is no different than evaluating any other testable claim.

It’s especially important to argue that religion is about truth, because no one is going to be able to defend morality and purpose in the context of a religion unless they can argue that the major claims of that religion are true. These days, most people are postmodern, and they’ve been trained to be offended by anyone who tells them that what they are doing is wrong or that what they are believing is false. If you aren’t coming from a truth perspective, with all your arguments and facts in order, then it is tremendously difficult to withstand the sobs and victimhood of an aggrieved postmodern. Pointing out the selfish motives of postmodernists is not a bad idea either – show how they care about truth in technical areas, say, but have a selective dislike of truth in religious and moral areas.

Do you need to have a special feeling before you can share your faith?

Here’s a fun commentary from Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason.

First, the setup:

A couple of days ago, someone asked me about how much initiative I took sharing my faith in public. Do I wait for the Holy Spirit to “lead” me–waiting until I feel like God wants me to talk to a particular person–or do I just jump in on my own without a special directive from the Lord?

I’ll tell you the truth. If I waited for the Holy Spirit to “lead” me in that sense, I’d never do anything. I rarely “feel impressed” to do anything God commands, including witnessing.

That’s one of the problems with this approach. It’s a mistake to think that being led by the Spirit is a subjective thing, as if you can feel the tugging of the Holy Spirit grabbing you by the ear or the heart and pulling you along. That isn’t what the leading of the Spirit means in the Scriptures.

And a snarky excerpt:

Here’s how it works out for me. When I get on an airplane, I do not usually want to talk to anybody about the Lord. I want to work on my computer, I want to read, I want to watch the movie, I want to sleep. I don’t want to be bothered with conversation about spiritual things. Maybe that doesn’t sound very admirable, but that’s the way I feel.

Even though I feel that way, though, I know something different. I know, first of all, that I’m a Christian. I hold the information that can transform people’s lives and can secure their eternity. I have something valuable that every person needs. Proverbs says I ought not withhold something good from somebody when it’s within my power to do it (Prov. 3:27).

So when I get on a plane, I don’t feel like sharing my faith, but my attitude is to be obedient to whatever opportunity the Lord gives to me. My goal is to be available. I say, “Lord, I don’t want to talk to anyone today; I want to have an easy, conflict-free flight. That’s my desire. I don’t ‘feel led.’ But Lord, if you give me an opportunity to make a difference for the Kingdom in some way–to plant a seed, to give a word of encouragement, whatever–I’m available.”

Then, I just keep my eyes open. Generally, in the context of a conversation, I try to drop a word or two or a statement, that might open the door to spiritual things. I toss ought some bait and see if I get a nibble. I don’t try to force the situation, but sometimes–to continue the fishing metaphor–I do throw some chum in the water to see if I can trigger a little appetite.

Sometimes I get that opportunity when people ask me what I do for a living. Since I’m a writer, an educator, a student, a seminar speaker, a talk show host, and a CEO, I can say a lot of different things. I try to choose that particular description of my work that I think would offer the best opportunity to introduce spiritual things with the particular person I’m talking to.

So my goal is to be available to the opportunities God sovereignly gives me to be obedient. I look for a chance to plant a seed somewhere. I don’t do it because I feel moved by the Spirit, led by the Spirit, prompted, nudged, pushed or anything like that. I do it because I want to be faithful, to be obedient. My goal as a Christian is not to follow whatever I think my feelings are telling me, but to do those things I ought to be doing, and I don’t need a personalized message for that.

He then goes on to give an example of how he puts this into practice.

One of the things I like about Greg is that he comes across as a tough, non-sense Christian. I think a lot of men would be a lot more interested in Christianity if they realized that they could get into disagreements and take bold stands and be the pilots of their own lives – instead of waiting for the right feelings.

Soldiers don’t wait to feel like fighting when they are on the battlefield. They just do their jobs. There is plenty of time to talk about feelings with other Christians after you you finish the battle. Then you can be as emotional as you want – once the fighting is done.