Sunday, January 28, 2007

Introduction and On Relativism

First of all let me say how honored I am that lord J-bar would consider me worthy enough to be invited to submit posts to his blog. I am not a scientist and know little more about evolution than what I have been able to personally gauge from the mind of Lord-J bar. I do consider myself a firm pragmatic thinker and shall make posts on such matters that suit that fancy.

Thus it is with great pleasure that I introduce my first post… a query on Relativism.

Let me begin with this assumption.
Assumption: It is commonly believed that those who are religiously devout tend to believe that the world is made up of moral absolutes. Such people are called (no surprise here) Moral Absolutists.

According to the idea of moral absolutism, something deemed “morally wrong” is and was always morally wrong. The idea is that certain practices transcend cultural is not all together wrong. Murder, rape, theft, all these things are fairly universally condoned. But the practice of rampant absolutism runs into difficulties in my following hypothetical situation.

I put forth that slavery is and was always wrong. Simply because it was done in abundance in olden days did not make it right.

The bible; however, has specific mentions to slavery and actually sets down regulations on how it is to be conducted (See Exodus 20:1-12 through 21:1-31)
Therefore, a devout person of the Christian or Jewish faith, who also professes to be a moral absolutist, must admit that these passages of the bible are morally repugnant; that their practice was wrong, and by setting out specific instructions for the proper conduct of slavery, God was morally wrong.

I know of no one who would suggest that their own sacred texts are morally backwards and I am certainly not saying to those of us who do believe in the almighty are worshiping a morally bankrupt God.

But in this sense it would be far more pragmatic for the religious person to be moral relativists; that the practices of out forefathers were not wrong… just acceptable to the morals of the time.

However, this is contrary to those who would suggest that the bible is literally true.

If it makes much better sense then for the bible to be relative then, why such opposition to the idea of Relativism?

I have no good answer to that. Maybe because accepting the bible as relative debunks all biblical arguments against things like homosexuality and abortion. But relativism seems to me to make for a much more tolerant society, and furthering this idea may be to all of our betterment.


Cassandra said...

Hi, to make a long story short: this is throwing the baby with the bath water. If a scientist makes a mistake (which happens frequently) - or is building on a fallacy or fad of the time (which regretfully happens very frequently), should we call science henceforth relative or void?
Relativism is the bane of our time and pseudo-philosophy: it is full of oxymora and contradictions, which should tell a rational person something.
Its baby sister tolerance is the source of a lot of intolerance (the passive-aggressive tolerance trick) and ruins true debate, attacking the messenger instead of the message.
What's this call for democracy, not theocracy? Who's calling for a theocracy? The mullahs in Tehran?
Caricature is funny and a nice pastime, but it has nothing to do with a quest for truth or with wisdom.
Best, Cassandra

Lord J-Bar said...

I see we have a moral absolutist. I don't see what a scientist making a mistake has with morality. When a scientist makes a mistake, his peers usually catch it and the scientist starts over. There's no invocation of morality there.
As for being totally against relativism, you clearly didn't read the essay because you didn't address any points GreatScott brought up.

Cassandra said...

Hi Lord J-Bar, yes I am a moral absolutist, and not a rare endangered species. I see that we're going to be some time here (I too can be condescending); my mistake, as I should have resisted the temptation to react, if I don't intend to play.
Contrary to your conclusion I did read the essay, if by that you mean "an effort, a try" in the original French sense of the word: I know an essay is short, but a simple blog post really doesn't qualify.
You want a moral context, that's no problem as churches at confession time are doing brisk business and their frequenters aren't all pocket Adolf Hitlers too, but that is not my point. My point is, you shouldn't condemn an entire book because it contains one point you find morally outdated; that would not be wise. The verse in question doesn't say "and God said, Thou shalt have slaves". It merely states that there are, and how they should be treated and what their rights are!
God was/is indeed not morally bankrupt. It would certainly not be pragmatic to become a moral relativist: as I said, don't throw the baby with the bath water, and relativism is very unpractical and unhelpful, to say the least!
The opposition to the idea (where do I start?) is perhaps because: it is an oxymoron which makes it untrue as a philosophy; Or because it causes serious brain damage: whole hords - of mainly young people - cannot even think straight anymore, confusing fact with opinion and people with ideas, public opinion with truth and religion with democracy, crushes pride of self (if I pretend to be smaller, the other guy looks bigger), causes tolerance of the intolerant and turns tolerance into intolerance, confuses valid critique with rudeness and equal with identical. And it polarizes people. And that's just for starters.
With regard to your Mission Statement please note that the founder of Christianty was the first to separate matters of religion from those of the state. In the Western church this has remained a valid and important point till this day. There is no contradiction in reason, Christianity and democracy.
If by theocracy you mean that you fear the mullahs, then say so and direct your wrath and arrows there. These are the enemies of reason and the fruits of the enlightenment, not Christianity on which theses values are ultimately based.
Cheers! Cassandra

Lord J-Bar said...

By theocracy, I'm referring to the attempts by evangelical Christians within the United States to force legislation based on their religious beliefs. One example is the attempt to create a constitutional ban on hay marriage. There's no secular reason for this. It's purely a religious belief that homosexuality is bad. Once religious beliefs are behind a majority of legislation, then you have a de fact theocracy.

As for the morally outdated points in the Bible, I can find far more than one. The Old Testament is full of them. If you want me to start listing passage I find morally reprehensible, just ask and I will do so.

Maybe an important question before continuing is: do you think the Bible is the true, inerrant word of God as many fundamentalist Christians in the US believe? If so (remember, I'm an atheist), what evidence do you have?

Cassandra said...

Hi there again, Sorry I was a bit busy lately. Well, if we all go for homosexuality, within one generation humanity would be annihilated, wouldn't it? Perhaps a good natural incentive, but still not good enough for secular morality, eh? Ockham (of the razor) first defined freedom - which before then was restricted to mean, having the freedom to excel - as the exertion of willfulness. The present liberal interpretation is, do what you want as long as you don't hurt anybody (meaning, there is consent). This makes liberal morality about just as simple and disingenuous as it gets (and if you tell liberals they have no morality to speak of, or ask them what their source is, they get angry!). So indeed, secularism - by which I take it you mean liberalism as per the above definition - has no problem with gay marriage. But then it doesn't have a problem with lots of things we now know are bad for people and society. Next pedophiles are roaring to assert their right to emancipation, with good reason by your definition, as long as the children "consent". But the next thing is that the age of consent is also being relativized, all with good secular/relativist reason. Overstated? Not so. Check out this article "".
If you want you can have it translated from Dutch to English by Babelfish "".
But then, I think the only thing you want is have it your way and bend any rule, value and/or norm that's in your way. May I suggest less willfulness and more responsibility? Cheers, Cassandra
P.S. By the way, I'm having relativism on the couch this weekend - drop by if you will!

Lord J-Bar said...


Certainly, if everyone was homosexual, then, yes, natural selection would leave us extinct in a generation. Except this is a red herring because not everyone is homosexual. It only occurs in about 8% of the population, and all scientific evidence even shows that homosexuality is due to the person having a brain that's wired like that of the opposite sex. There's even gay sheep. Please, read my post on the subject:

I'd like to reiterate, there's no harm caused because homosexuality takes place between consenting adults. Note that I said adults. I certainly don't think children should make decisions about sexual acts because it undoubtedly causes psychlogical harm. You can't say the same about homosexuality

However, the age of consent brings up a new debate: namely, the proper age when such decisions could be made by a person since throughout history, the age at which people are allowed to marry fluctuates wildly from one culture to the next.

As for secularism, it's a broader term than liberalism. Basically, secularism means using reason and evidence instead of religious beliefs to make governmental legislation.

As for where atheists/liberals get morality, I don't get angry when someone asks me. Once again, I'd ask you to please read my post on the subject:

I definitely don't think liberals feel no sense of responsibility. We're held responsible for those who live after us. It should be our duty to make the world a better place than we found it. We owe it to the future inhabitabts of this planet. Atheists feel that since there is no god, we have a higher responsibility to help our fellow man because we know that no one else will do it for us.

Now, I have a question for you: if we were to embrace an absolute morality, upon what do you propose we base this system on? Which system can all people agree upon?

Mike Haubrich said...

Allow me to awaken an old post. I came here through your blogroll enrollment at Pharyngula and found this topic, which has always been a curious complaint for me; moral absolutism. Cassandra totally misses the point that the Bible really can't be used as a source of Moral Absolutes, as if such a source could exist in the first place.

Primarily, we have the problem of whether the Old Testament's laws are nullified by the "Salvation by Grace" tenets of the New. Saul of Tarsus never quite succeeded in resolving this problem. In Matthew 25 Rabboni directly contradicts through the Parable of the talents teh concept of salvation by grace. Later, Paul, in Romans 3:20 says "because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for through the law cometh the knowledge of sin."

The debbil quotes scripture, too, you know.

Moral absolutists practice relativism whether they realize it or not. Everyone is faced with choices at times, and in self-preservation they sometimes have to choose between two wrongs, and need to decide between the "lesser of two weevils."

One of my favorite examples in U.S. History was the Iran-Contra scandal. David Gold, (Dallas TX's most popular conservative moral absolutist) justified their actions on the basis that they did the wrong thing for the right reasons when they broke the law and then tried to cover it up.

Creationist moral absolutists break the commandments when they bear false witness against evolution. I wold call that moral relativism, choosing to lie in order to save souls.

Poor Christians are sometimes forced to choose between the moral good of paying their bills on time or feeding their children. I would call that moral relativity.

And so, we are left with a situation in which Absolutists are left with choosing to be absolute in questions of granting freedom to people they personally find abhorrent: libertines and homosexuals, muslims and atheists, pornographers and scientists.

Tangled Up In Blue Guy