Saturday, January 26, 2008

"Every way of a man is right in his own eyes"

An interview with Peter Kreeft about relativism. The interviewer is John Mallon, and the entire interview can be found on his site.

Professor Kreeft, the day before his election Pope Benedict XVI warned the world about the “Dictatorship of Relativism.” What is he referring to and what are the dangers?

The danger is to think that relativism is an open minded and tolerant philosophy. In fact, it isn’t. Mussolini was a philosopher and he explicitly said that the origins of Fascism were in relativism. He said, from the fact that there are no eternal truths and no prophets qualified to announce these truths: that each person has the right to create his own truth and to enforce it with any energy that he can. He said that there is nothing more relativistic than Fascism.

The ancient Roman Empire was very relativistic and tolerant of all kinds of gods. It didn’t matter what you worshipped, but Jews and Christians were persecuted because they had the temerity to teach that their God was the true God. So the relativists cannot tolerate absolutism.

For some this might seem like a scholarly concept, but it is so fundamental as to be the very cultural air we breathe. How do you demonstrate that this is truly a matter of life and death, and the dictatorship is very real and not metaphorical, as we see in Political Correctness?

It’s hard to see at first. You just put two people into dialogue, a relativist and a religious person and eventually you will probably see the relativist’s true colors come out. It sometimes takes a while, because some people who think they are relativists are just skeptics or agnostics and are genuinely open-minded and are searching. But the real relativist is quite dogmatic and this is his religion and he simply cannot tolerate anything that he sees as intolerance. ....

In Mere Christianity, Lewis spends an awful lot of time driving home the meaning of objective versus subjective truth. How does that play into relativism?

Let’s say there are three kinds of relativism. There’s relativism about religion, there’s relativism about morality and there’s relativism about all truth. Relativism about all truth is like the new age movement, you create your own reality, your god, the universe is whatever you think it is. If seriously believed, that is insanity—the inability to distinguish fantasy from reality.

Relativism about religion is less radical than that; it’s a belief that nobody can find objective truth in religion so religion is just a mechanism of comfort—what works for you: I like rice, you like yogurt, I like steak, you like chicken—let’s just be tolerant. That’s not a total relativism, that’s just a relativism about God because a person who holds that view is skeptical about anybody’s ability to know God.

And then there is relativism about morality which is much more serious, I think, than relativism about religion, because God left everybody, no matter what their religious views, with quite a bit of moral knowledge. Conscience is pretty much the same thing whether you are religious or not, and if you are religious no matter what religion you are. There is not a great deal of difference between Christian morality, Jewish morality, Hindu morality, Muslim morality, Buddhist morality; although there’s a great difference in the religions. So to deny the verdict of conscience, that some things are really, truly, objectively good, and that other things are truly objectively evil is to deny a very deep part of yourself.

Budziszewski said, memorably, in the title of one of his books, “There are certain things you can’t not know.”

What about people who reduce the mind, the soul, conscience, whatever, are just a construct or the result of certain chemicals in your brain according to the evolutionary process?

Well, I hope people don’t act on that knowledge, because if they do, they’re not going to take their conscience very seriously at all. So there’s no reason why they shouldn’t do whatever they please. Why bow down to an evolutionary genetic accident?

They wouldn’t bow down to it, they would just say that’s all it is.

Yet, in their living, almost everybody does admit to claims of conscience.

Everybody bows down to something?

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who believed it was morally good to be a deliberate hypocrite, and not obey your own conscience. Everybody has something about conscience that they respect, even if their theory is that it’s nothing.

Even in the midst of denying them?

Yep. ....
Thanks to Insight Scoop for the reference.

The Dictatorship of Relativism: A conversation with Professor Peter Kreeft

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