Relativism proposes that what is right or wrong for a culture is whatever that culture believes to be right or wrong. So what right do we Westerners have to judge other cultures according to our values?
William Gairdner points out that the very idea of cultural relativism is a contradiction. For, he writes, “...it begins by assuming there is such a thing as right and wrong, and then allows that the standard for judging what that may be is in principle infinitely flexible – which is only to say there is no standard of right and wrong.” (The Book of Absolutes, p.35).
Despite these contradictions, cultural relativists suggest that the things that they are willing to call relatively good or bad are made so by people’s beliefs. If this is so, then surely they are forced to admit that obvious evils such as Nazism are good just because lots of people at the time, essentially a whole culture, thought they were good? This we must deny.
Most cultural relativists are deeply concerned to promote the equal validity of the non-Western cultures in the developing world. Those cultures are defended as being every bit as good as ours. However, two problems emerge:
Firstly, cultural relativists have no grounds for resisting any form of cultural cruelty, tribal hatred or gender discrimination (to name but three of the kinds of things that they abhor). They are intellectually committed to endorsing all such things, despite their abhorrence, simply because they are practiced and believed by some group.
Secondly, cultural relativists decry Western Imperialism that believes in the superiority of a western worldview; instead they insist on cultural neutrality – demanding that we neither judge based on our western values, nor seek to impose those values on others. However, the very notions of cultural neutrality and relativism are part of a western liberal worldview – one which is aggressively being imposed on the developing world in a new wave of cultural and moral imperialism. The relativists who want to validate the beliefs and cultures of others are at the forefront of the effort to download western liberal values, like democracy, egalitarianism and moral tolerance, onto cultures in which such concepts are totally foreign.
Cultural relativists actually believe in the absolute superiority of a relativistic philosophy that requires the conquest of inferior non-relativistic worldviews like Christianity. Intellectual imperialism.
The preaching of the Gospel is, in a sense, imperialistic. It proclaims the victory of The King and promotes the spread of his Kingdom. It is portrayed in terms of the Light penetrating the Darkness. It does not assume that all ways of life are equally valid – in fact it affirms that some lead to death. It is sadly ironic that it is now considered laudable to promote modern Western Enlightenment values, but not the Lord who is the Light of the world. Especially sad since the gospel of the kingdom is good news.