Eden Hill Journal

Comments, dreams, stories, and rantings from a middle-aged native of Maine living on a shoestring and a prayer in the woods of Maine. My portion of the family farm is to be known as Eden Hill Farm just because I want to call it that and because that's the closest thing to the truth that I could come up with. If you enjoy what I write, email me or make a comment. If you enjoy Eden Hill, come visit.

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Sunday, May 01, 2005

Relativism

I have to laugh. I was just reading the meaning of the term "relativism" in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy and it seems to leave out what I normally think of as relativism. Relativism as a philosophy seems to insist that all points of view are equally valid. That seems a little bit useless to me since almost nobody would subscribe to that philosophy. It would seem to make a whole lot more sense if relativism were to refer to the philosophy that an individual's point of view is valid because of the individual's belief in it.
For example, 'America is good because I believe it is good' is an example of relativism, in my view. 'I am saved because I believe in Jesus' is another good example. Neither one of these statements offers or even needs to offer any proof other than the individual's belief. The "truth" is relative to the beliefs of the individual and thus the individual is using the philosophy of relativism.
Many would argue that neither of these is relativism because neither would admit that any other point of view is equally valid, but as I see it, that idea isn't necessary. All that is necessary is that an individual's reality is based on his or her beliefs. Another individual with different beliefs would have different perceptions of reality that are as equally valid to that believer as the original perceptions are to the original believer. That seems to me like the real meaning of relativism.
When you practice relativism, real objective reality doesn't really hold much water to you. If, for instance, America's perception is that Iraq has huge stockpiles of "weapons of mass murder" as President Bush claimed, that is the perceived reality in America. I bought into that claim right up to the point where the UN weapons inspectors had the run of the place and were coming up dry even though they should have had access both to the US intelligence on Iraq and the actual locations where those weapons were supposed to be located, yet no weapons were being found. The change in my perceptions was sealed when Bush told the effective UN inspection team to get out so we could begin our war, presumably placing US troops at the receiving end of Saddam's huge stockpile of chemical and biological weapons. Some Americans needed more proof than I did.
The objective reality is that Saddam had no such stockpiles of "weapons of mass murder." But the objective reality had nothing to do with the opinions or beliefs or reality of the majority of US citizens. We believed the relativist perceptions, the perceptions where those weapons were real because we believed they were real.
That was just an example, but it is a good one. Relative realities exist throughout the political landscape and they are very effectively used by politicians to sway public opinion and support, not just for the election of the politicians but for gaining public approval for political policy. The criticism of John Bolton is that he is not so much concerned with objective reality as he is with using relative perceptions to support political policy. If that is the case, and it seems that it might very well be the case, then how can anyone argue that he is the man for the job? Do we really want to endorse relativism as the political philosophy of the United States?

7 Comments:

Blogger Mike said...

I'm sure you've heard the phrase "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." This sums up the relative view of the world perfectly. Both sides are just looking out for their own interests. Both are justified in doing so. I think were relativists (is that a word?)and non-relativists (I hope so cuz I used it again) clash is in actions. Relativists (if it isn't a word I'm going to make it one now) cripple themselves by refusing to act against those who would seek to do them harm. They don't want to go to war because that would mean killing people, even though given the chance those people would not hesitate to kill you. Non-relativists see things through glasses of good and evil. When someone claims to want to kill them, non-relativists act and seek to kill them first. Non-relativists seek to satisfy their own interests first. Non-relativists seek to satisfy the greater good. That's the difference between the two.
As far as John Bolton, as long as he puts America's interests first, I'm all in favor of him. That's what everyone else in the U.N. is doing for their countries. Why deny ourselves that?

10:37 AM, May 02, 2005  
Blogger Bill said...

Well, Mike, so much for the claim that the U.S. is a "Christian nation" huh? I see nothing at all Christian about what you wrote here.
I do see the convenience, though, of defining a "relativist" as someone who doesn't think his own interests outweigh another's interests as you so clearly explain. That means we don't need to think of ourselves as being relativists when we put our own interests first. That may be handy, but it's anything but Christian. By your definition, Jesus would be a relativist. Go figure...
What I am trying to say here, Mike, is that a more realistic view of a relativist is someone who does believe his interests outweigh the other guy's. What should I call this if not relativism? My needs are more important relative to me. Your needs are more important relative to you. If that's not practical relativism, then what is?
I would venture a guess that you think you stand on the side of the greater good and therefore you can serve your own interests without being a relativist. I'd suggest to you that maybe the world would look a little different to you if you should ever remove your rose-colored glasses and make an attempt to see things the way they really are. Your expressed views are those of a relativist. Try looking at the Iraq war, oil, Globalization, "free" trade, and all the other American interests served by our government though the eyes of God. Would the U.S. look so rosy to you if you did that?

11:28 AM, May 02, 2005  
Blogger Mike said...

Bill, I think you and I have different opinions of what makes someone a relativist. Do I stand on the side of greater good? Hmmmm...I don't know. I guess I just stand on the side of freedom. I don't trust our government and I just want it out of my life. Given this stance, I'm certainly not going to say our government is perfect to address your questions of Iraq, oil, et all. Our government is far from perfect, but I still think it is the best government on earth in that it is the only one based on Christian principles.
Now, I have no idea about your background, but based on what I've heard so far I'm beginning to seriously question your ability to lecture me on "Christian principles". You clearly have some knowledge of the Bible, but knowledge without faith means nothing. The bible says, "even demons know the name of the Lord".

2:01 PM, May 02, 2005  
Blogger Bill said...

Mike. I am what you might call a "born again Christian" who attended and was a member of a fundamentalist church for years until finally I realized my own self-righteousness that existed in me because of my association with a church that looked for the demons and the evil of those who didn't see things our way. We did that in such a subtle way that we didn't see it happening. We thought we were normal decent folks who followed the Lord. But whenever someone challenged our pride and our legalistic belief in the Bible, we just assumed that they didn't know the Lord and that their spiritual source was demonic, although we didn't use that word.
I have come to realize, in large part because of my experience in that church, that faith in the Lord and faith in the Bible is something we as individuals choose to do. It isn't something that God, the Lord, or the Holy Spirit do to us. And since it is something we do by choice, then we can be in error. We can falsely believe. Our beliefs can be relative to ourselves instead of being sourced in absolute truth.
You clearly show distrust when faced with truths you don't understand. I'm not surprised. But when you go around pointing that finger of yours at all those you consider to be lesser than you who are puffed up with your Christian American pride, fingers will point back at you and many of those fingers will be bearers of the truth.
I have asked before, if truth that is relative to one's beliefs isn't relativism, then what is that called? You base your truths on what you believe and then stand by them as absolute, as superior to all other truth. If you are wrong in your beliefs, you may very well be the last person to discover it because you are content to live in your own bubble of beliefs, your own reality, a reality that may very well lie outside of God's Reality. You may well be a Pharisee ready to condemn and execute the next bearer of truth.
Do that if that's what you enjoy doing, but if that's how you choose to lead your life, don't expect others to think of you as a beacon of light in the world.

8:47 AM, May 03, 2005  
Blogger Mike said...

Ok, somehow I've given you the impression I think I'm better than everyone else. Not the case. I'm a sinner too. Big time. I can see how you would think that though, because I speak so strongly about my beliefs.

But what you are suggesting is that all religions are equal and none is better than any other. That is relativism. I think you are trying to say that my beliefs are relative to my faith so therefore I am a practicing relativist. That I do not believe. My definition of relativism is refusing to look at things in terms of right and wrong, good and evil, not whose beliefs are correct. Most religions are centered on a single God. And that God has morals we are commanded to live by. Relativists discard those morals and say, "that's just your belief." I think you are suggesting I should discard my belief because how do I know it is correct? My answer, is faith. I have faith in my belief. And I cannot have faith in my belief in Christ and not follow his teachings. If the Bible, which I believe to be the word of God, says homosexuality is wrong, I must believe that, and I must speak out against it. Does it mean I have to go kill gays or walk around with a sigh that says "Send the Sodomites to Canada"? No. I still work with them and interact with them, but if I got invited to a gay wedding, I would not go because I cannot support that type of relationship. Am I being judgemental, yes. But I base my judgement on the principles of my God, not on the laws and teachings of man.
As far as your bad experience with your church, it sounds like you copped out. You doubted your faith and saw the people of your church as hypocrites and took your chance to bail. You can attend a church without condemning people who sin. Why didn't you just find a new church? Why speak out against your faith?

11:22 AM, May 03, 2005  
Blogger Mike said...

Geez Bill, do I have to spell it out for you? Your comment was deleted because you called me a "self-righteous jerk".

It was not deleted because you refuse to call a fetus a human life. And I did not call you a demon.

Look dude, if my blog offends you, no problem. Get out. I'm not going to play your stupid name calling finger pointing games.

I'm tired of your bullshit and I'm done commenting on your blog and responding to your comments on my blog. Your comments will be deleted without a response. If that makes you puff out your chest and think you've won, whatever. I could care less. Just leave me the f*ck alone.

Before I go forever, let me just say my sense of righteousness comes from the book of God. Yours comes from yourself. So maybe you should think again about who the self-righteous one is.

8:26 AM, May 06, 2005  
Blogger Bill said...

Oh my!! Pardon me!!
Conversing with right-wing Christians is a very educational experience for me, but they have such a low threshold of tolerance, I can't engage them for very long. It's too bad. I really do get a good perspective about how I don't wish to think when I see them expose their inner selves.

8:37 AM, May 06, 2005  

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