Monday, March 12, 2007

Relativism Gets Us Nowhere--or to Chaos

Here are a few excerpts from an essay on the topic of 'Relativism,' now the leading intellectual disease of the West. This was written for Zenit by Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (and a very smart guy.) Update: At the very end of this will be a link to a First Things essay, in which Solzhenitsyn is quoted on the very same topic, (albeit using different names.) Funny thing, those great

And, Rick, this is for you--the "breathing" Constitution is debunked herein--at least philosophically.

Public reason is human reason that believes it can attain, through dialogue and research, certain truths about man and, in particular, about man in society. Public reason is certainly a critical reason, but is also a constructive reason that is not only capable of achieving the "consensus" of opinions, but can also attain the truth and the good of man in society for which it has a cognitive and an arguing ability.

...Public reason is not possible in a culture that is dominated by the "dictatorship of relativism,"[1] for a very simple reason: Relativism is a dogma and therefore it a priori rejects rational argumentation, even toward itself. Those with a taste for paradox could say that relativism is a fundamentalism.

The 'relativism' is the "I'm OK, You're OK" which shows up in discussions of theology.

The "dictatorial" character -- in the cultural sense -- of relativism, prevents the use of public reason because it prevents the public use of reason.

...For Kant, reason has a public use that serves a critical purpose. To illustrate this public use, Kant especially dwells on the rational critique of religion, i.e. the complete freedom of citizens, indeed even the calling, "to impart to the public all of his carefully considered and well-intentioned thoughts concerning mistaken aspects of that symbol, as well as his suggestions for the better arrangement of religious and church matters."[3]

Reason, with its own categories, claims to be the testing ground and the measure of faith and religion too. Why is a public reason to which Kant assigned such challenging tasks now reduced to relativism, which is incapable of critiquing not just religion, but even itself?

The reason lies in the "self-limitation" of reason, as Benedict XVI has suggested many times.[4] This self-limitation underpins the dogmatically blind assumption of relativism and its inability to play any kind of critical role. The faith in relativism can exist only when the scope of reason has been drastically limited.

...relativism can only either be "implicit" -- lived and not justified -- or dogmatically "assumed" -- accepted, for example, by an act of faith. In this sense then, the "dictatorship of relativism" is the necessary conclusion of the "self-limitation" of reason. However, with relativism, the public role of reason fails.

...In 2004, Cardinal Ratzinger participated in a debate with philosopher Jurgen Habermas in Munich that focused exactly on the public role of reason.[6] On that occasion, he argued that if terrorism that is fuelled by religious fundamentalism is the symptom of a pathology of religion that must be corrected by reason, then in the same way the technical-scientific capability of producing human beings is the symptom of a pathology of reason that needs to be corrected by religion.

This is his conclusion: "There are extremely dangerous pathologies in religion that require us to consider the divine light of reason as a control mechanism ... there are also pathologies of reason that are not less dangerous … therefore reason has to accept warning as to its limits and must be willing to listen to the great religious traditions of mankind."[7]

Relativism is a de facto attack on religion (and the religious, of course):

Relativism, unfoundedly dogmatic, views religions as unjustified beliefs. Because it does so in an unfounded manner, it cannot demonstrate it, hence it simply "believes it." Relativism "believes" that religions are unfounded, thus they cannot be compared. In other words, it believes that religions have nothing to do with reason and truth. Then all religions are dogmatic, in the trivial sense of the word, i.e. in the sense of "accepted without evidence" (just like relativism, but relativism does not seem to be aware of that).

Where does that lead?

In this way, all religions are reduced to myth, i.e. to a way of exorcizing mysterious, bizarre and irrational forces. If religions are unfounded, it means that the divine forces they refer to are irrational and that arbitrariness rules the word. If the primordial forces are arbitrary, religion is a form of insurance against the repercussions of this imponderableness. Therefore religious relativism regresses to a kind of religious primitivism: religion is a way of exorcizing irrational forces.

Jean-Paul Sartre, call home!

To consider religion as something irrational, according to Benedict XVI, is entirely inconsistent with our whole Western and Christian history. In fact, both Greek thought and the Jewish religion, as well as Christianity, of course, rejected the vision of religion as myth and conceived religion as knowledge and God as Logos.[8]

For the Greeks,

...the path had been opened by Socrates and will be ratified by Plato: "The gods are not magicians who transform themselves, neither do they deceive mankind in any way" ("The Republic," II, 376 c). Therefore Greek philosophy detaches itself from myth and definitely turns to God as Logos. For Aristotle, the supersensible Substance is Intelligence that eternally grasps itself. The world has an order that is transparent to reason and reason can know it because the gods are rational and act according to truth, as Plato's Demiurge, who does not mould and shape things at random, but drawing inspiration from the truth of eternal forms.

As for the Hebrews,

If we look at the Jewish religion, we find the same path.[10] The "God of the Fathers" Israel looks to is not a local or a political god, he is not Baal nor Moloch. He is "he who is," he who existed before all powers and will continue to exist even after them.

St. Paul's success with the Greeks did not happen because he was selling a bill of goods which was "New!" Christianity was compatible with Greek philosophy, and (obviously) with Hebrew thought and knowledge.

So we have synthesis:

We believe that at the beginning of everything is the eternal Word, with Reason and not Unreason.[13] Justin (second century) believed that the Word had sown its seeds in Greek philosophy because what is true for reason comes always from the Word. Clement of Alexandria even thought that Greek philosophy had been a natural revelation of the Christian God.

Ockham was wrong:

This is precisely what Ockham thought: To say that God cannot produce something that is intrinsically impossible would be to limit the divine freedom and omnipotence. Then came St. Thomas. His opinion is the following: "Whatever implies contradiction does not come within the scope of divine omnipotence, because it cannot have the aspect of possibility. Hence it is better to say that such things cannot be done, than that God cannot do them." Divine omnipotence is wise, not arbitrary and capricious.

But Ockham retains devotees--and he is the father of Western Relativism.

The "Regensburg Speech" is only part of the conversation.

Christian faith confirms and supports the rational search for truth and calls for a public role of reason that will also include the critique of religions. In fact, we cannot say that all religions relate to truth and reason in the same way as Christianity. They relate to truth and reason in a different manner, which is the same as saying that they are more or less rational and that they can more or less adequately support the public role of reason. This was the theme touched upon by the Holy Father at Regensburg.

And here's the exercise in logic which shows how the hand plays out:

If a religion teaches a way of life that is not righteous, it cannot be a true religion. Only when man has lost sight of the ability to know what is good and what is true, then all offers of salvation become the same. If we do not have any standards of right living, then all religions are the same. If the standards for right living are relativized, man remains trapped inside religions. Again, this demonstrates that religious relativism is founded on philosophical relativism. Cardinal Ratzinger points out that St. Paul (Romans 2:14ff) does not say that non-Christians will be saved by following their religion, but by following natural religion.

As for the democracies--there is a danger:

Of course, if the political power is based on the relativistic democracy, it will not feel any obligation in this regard. Relativism, in fact, can only express a procedural public reason. When the truth is replaced by the decision of the majority, culture is set against truth. The relativistic presumption leads to the tearing up of people's spiritual roots and the destruction of the network of social relationships.[17]

That "procedural reason" is precisely what is behind such concepts as "Gay Marriage."

The State which relies on relativism is on its way to internal turmoil (at best...):

All this happens when a society is no longer able to use public reason to criticize religions that proclaim polygamy, that incorporate the rite of physical mutilation, that do not respect the dignity of women, that preach violence or offer religious paths that depersonalize and hamper human reason and knowledge. How will our public reason be able to discern between religions if it loses sight of authentic humanity?

According to the declaration "Dignitatis humanae" of the Second Vatican Council, the right to religious freedom "leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ."[19]

The onus of the State lies in understanding the common good--which calls for the ability to use "public reason."

Now, from where does the state, which is secular, derive these obligations to the true religion? Not from being a "Christian" state, but from reason, that is from the natural ability to see truths about man in society, from the ability to understand the common good. This also founds the ability to see that one religion consolidates and helps pursue humanization objectives while another contributes to the degradation of man. Christian religion has this claim, the claim of preaching a "God with a human face."[20]

As a consequence, "relativism" cannot be tolerated (other than as a curiosity) if order is to prevail.

HT: Cosmos-Liturgy-Sex

Also see: First Things :

Solzhenitsyn reiterated a claim that was central to his controversial commencement address at Harvard University in 1978: “if there are neither true or false judgments, man is no longer held [accountable] for anything. Without universal foundations, morality is not possible.”


Philosopher Scott said...

Relativism may get us nowhere, but that's part of philosophy. Philosophy tends not to get us anywhere. We need to find the truth, not find what meets our goals of getting somewhere.

You might like the Philosophy Forums

Dad29 said...

Well, PS, that depends entirely on where one wants to get.

I think you missed the point.