The Moral Argument – Pluralism & Relativism

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I had an accident a week back. I recently ran into the unyielding wall of cultural pluralism with an intellectual and spiritual “thwack”. There was no way I was going to miss hitting it. You see, I’ve been cruising my baby-boom mind & body along for many years believing in cultural pluralism; or the allowance of the diversity of thought and action.

CULTURAL PLURALISM

What is cultural pluralism? Well, I noted one such attribute: diversity of thought and action. Dictionary.com recites a definition as follows:

“A condition in which many cultures coexist within a society and maintain their cultural differences; also called multiculturalism.”

(As a side, I would suggest that this attitude runs contradictory to the most fundamental philosophy of America as the “melting pot” of the world.)

More in the necessity of the past several decades, dictionary.com also defines cultural pluralism as:

“A condition in which minority groups participate fully in the dominant society, yet maintain their cultural differences.”

(Here again aside…. All citizens of America enjoy the same traditional rights, freedoms, and equalities. What this definition is implying is that it is not the individual that enjoys these things, but the groups. So instead of one person equals one vote, it implies one group equals one vote; regardless of the number of individuals within any one group. Think how that changes representation and the resultant loss of individual rights that our Constitution blessed us with.)

MINORITIES

Anyways…. This definition really hits home because it defines American culture as a collection of majorities and minorities in tension and not union.
We, of course, are talking about more than racial minorities.

  • There are race minorities.
  • There are linguistic minorities.
  • There are physical minorities.
  • There are sexual minorities.
  • There are philosophical minorities.
  • There are theological minorities.

I have noted enough here – there are more – to illustrate the broad plain of diversity that does exist in our American society. And there are tensions between perceived majorities and real minorities.

When I was in Spain for 40 days in 2013, I found discrimination in the fact that I could not converse in Spanish, as well as I would like, in order to promote my cause and existence for being there.

When I lived in St. Thomas & St. Croix for 3 years, I found that the color of my skin would, on occasion, prevent me from congenial relations or assistance with my needs and desires.

When I wanted to play football in 6th grade, I was sidelined due to my lack of body weight. I was a physical minority on the field of play, yet a physical majority off the field.

When I worked for 6 years in a large design firm in Miami, I was in the minority of heterosexuality. Everyone in the Residential Design division, other than myself and a soon-to-retire octogenarian, were homosexuals, or gays and lesbians. I was left out, at times, in the social clique of things.

I like apples more than I like pears.

As you can see, some discriminations are improper, some proper, and some benign. We pay little attention to many of the everyday choices we make, and we take comfort and feel a sense of well-being when our choices lead us successfully into and through our social interactions.

DISCRIMINATIONS

Few consider that fact that our choices are discriminations. To discriminate is to see the characteristics of two or more things, and to be able to understand the differences between them. This ability is vital to our existence, necessary for our survival, and can be enjoyable, as well as misery.

Most discriminations are good. Those that are good, they flow from a well that is constant and unchanging. What was good for man three-thousand years ago, is just as beneficial today. And some discriminations are evil. They flow from a disorder from within. They come from one’s disordered inclination to look to one’s needs over the needs of others. They come from a place within that denies that the greatest source of good for each one of us flows from the communion of mankind through the love of God, and the submission of ourselves for the good of others.

We have a hard time with faith. The unseen can be a fragile place for our ultimate strength; love, and it takes faith to know that only through the submission to others do we reap a joy, a peace, and a validation of who we are that no self-service could ever match.

So, I’ve touched on discrimination in race, language, physical attributes, sexuality; leaving philosophical and theological for the last two.

PHILOSOPHY

And as to philosophy, well, it has always been a matter of discrimination. As man’s culture has evolved, the philosophy that frames the culture, and thus shapes it, has likewise evolved; from one based in absolutes and the divine will, towards one that is increasingly relative to man and his perceived ascension to the divine. In the past century, this relative approach to thinking has increased rapidly towards an absolute relativity; that all things are relative or subjective to the individual or group.

I was one of many social architects in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, who were responsible for heralding in cultural pluralism and relativism, or the inclusion of all minorities in the political realm of American equality. It sounds good, doesn’t it?…. The inclusion of all people into the equality and freedom of America through the conveyance of rights and entitlements.

THEOLOGY

And with the predominant theology of America, Christianity, we have witnessed a moralistic decline and a rapidly growing discrimination against anything Christian, and anything that embodies its principles. It’s unparalleled in history at this level. America was solely founded upon the Christian faith; both its principles & practices. To reject Christianity in America is to subject our entire social system of moral, legal, and governmental practices to a critique that offers no alternative that has ever succeeded in any culture of mankind.

Whereas, Christianity has clearly demonstrated a longevity in both principle & practice which has elevated many nations to a level of greatness and stability never witness before. I could say that we are out there on a “wing and a prayer”, but prayers are no longer permitted.

JUSTIFYING CULTURAL PLURALISM

Now, embracing the philosophy that I helped create, I, of course, had no room for the practice or belief in Christianity itself. I possessed similar morals in degree. I’d like to saw I committed no truly grave sins, but in truth I can say that when I went to my first confession two years ago, there were way too many sins to even remember, let alone confess. Instead, I simply went through the Ten Commandments, and confessed that I had broken every single one of them; every one. My creed: “If it felt good, and hurt no one, then have at it.” In truth, my actions hurt a lot of people; most of all my wife, Kathryn.

Now, God will forgive sin, but that doesn’t mean my old philosophies just wash away as easily as my sins do.

SOLVING DISCRIMINATION

Even after becoming a practicing, believing Christian, and ultimately a Roman Catholic, I had still kept to the premise that cultural pluralism was a workable solution to the American problem of improper discrimination, and the right of all people to proclaim and practice their personal destinies.

And here, what I am really talking about is something called Moral Relativism; so let’s head in that direction.

RELATIVISM

We have heard a lot about this new viewpoint of man’s….. It’s the culmination of the transformation of power and authority from God to man.

Relativism may be defined as:

“Any theory holding that the criteria to form judgment are solely relative; varying with individuals and their environments.”

A relative thing is something whose reality and quality lies in its relationship to another thing. What this means is that the elements and situations, which contribute to the formation of any judgment are, in fact, only relative, or important or valid, or real to the person making the judgment.

This sounds a lot like cultural pluralism, and it is. Some situations are naturally relative. For example:

There is a relative coordination between types and skills of a person with the results they produce. In other words:

  • Football players are almost always large and formidable.
  • Scientists have advanced abilities in mathematics and logic.
  • Musicians display talents in hearing & playing natural harmonies and melodies.
  • Fictional writers have a gift for the word & expressions that touch the heart.

And what about objects and animals in relation to people:

  • A horse is useful for labor, and docile of heart.
  • A dog is a good companion for man, and an excellent hunter.
  • Plants and animals are excellent sources for food.
  • Certain rocks convert well into concrete to build homes and roads.

These are relative matters according to the person, and they are perfectly proper and right for the good of the society.

  • It’s alright that one person likes chicken and another person doesn’t.
  • It’s alright to like classical music and not hip-hop.

These are all physical, material things that are relative by nature to man.

MORAL RELATIVISM

Now, there is another category of things – concepts of human behavior – and they can be categorized as relative also:

  • “Don’t lie if it will cause hurt to another person.”
  • “Treat people with dignity when you want something from them.”

These are relative rules for behavior, but I’m sure you’re thinking that there seems to be something wrong with my examples. There seems to be an allowance for a certain behavior that you know you are inwardly obligated to avoid. In fact, I am hard pressed to express a human behavior in a relative sense without it appearing to discriminate against someone else through an intentional act of either negligence to one’s dignity or an intent of actual harm to another.

Well, perhaps the examples can be rewritten:

  • “Don’t lie under any circumstances.”
  • “Treat all people, at all times, with dignity.”

There, they feel right, but now they’re no longer relative; they’re absolute; you can’t do it under any condition.

Is that fun or just boring? Answer that question in your heart, and you’ll know where you are on the Relative Scale of thinking and acting.

ABSOLUTISM

Absolutism can be defined as:

“Any theory which holds that truth or moral or aesthetic value is absolute and universal and not relative to individual or social differences.”

  • It is not relative to time, so it doesn’t change.
  • It is not relative to place or nation or class or culture or race or gender or any group—it’s universal.
  • It is not relative to opinion or thought or belief or desire or feeling or any subjective consciousness.

And absolutism sees the world as a place with certain absolutes and many relatives. Few would argue with physical facts and realities. We know and accept gravity, and we know and accept that two plus two equals four. We also know that football players are large and formidable. Absolutism is just like relativism when it comes to matters of physical realities and practices.

OUR INCLINATIONS

But when we get into non-physical conditions, like human behavior and the immaterial or non-material, then disagreements rise quickly as people struggle to verify what is being said and done when there is nothing to be perceived by the physical senses.

Personal, relative motive and intent enters this game then, and people immediately employ it in order to render judgments. Why? Because, at times they have nothing else at that moment – nothing outside their body that they can see as absolute authoritative knowledge – by which to assist them in their judgment. Other times, it is a matter of choosing to either ignore or reject absolute authoritative knowledge in favor of one’s own opinion or philosophy.

This is where things get very dangerous. God is an absolute, and the primal authority for all of creation. This means He is the absolute authority of all knowledge. When a person begins to reject that truth, then there is no ground upon which to stand securely. What is today’s absolute is tomorrow’s relative, and the next day’s trash.

What was yesterday’s truth of the unity of a man and a woman as a sacred bond of procreation – referred to as “marriage” – is today’s bond of companionship between two or more consenting adults. If this can be truth, then what prevents a future truth that expands itself into forms we cannot even rationalize today? The relativist, unfortunately for them, cannot accept within their thinking the concepts of a stationary form of anything. In the end, the relativist must concede that there are no moral or behavioral absolutes at all.

MY DILEMMA

And so I hit the wall, as I mentioned at the beginning, when I tried to write out why I believed in cultural pluralism. Everything was going along fine, but then a single word crept to the front of my mind – abortion.

Now, how was I going to state that those people – who believe abortion is a proper, relative process for advancing one’s will or desires over one’s condition – how was I to make the case that they should be able to abort a child; to kill it. I mean, I believe abortion is murder. And so I started to rationalize, and imagine, a diverse society that lived within the means and not the extremes; in other words a society that could do what it pleased, while working within the boundaries of some higher group of laws; my laws.

Well, that’s nothing more than what I just pitched out; Moral Relativism. My set of higher laws would soon crumble.

Thwack! I hit the wall. It wasn’t going to work. I’m not a Moral Relativist.

REDEFINITION

I began to see what was going on. I began to see that for any revolution to take place, those who embrace the revolution must redefine absolute concepts of what is good, so that they embrace what they want to be good; their own relative good to their own circumstances. I began to see what cultural pluralism and moral relativism creates as it redefines. And here it is….

In the application of relativism into our society, and its natural evolution – that being what is good will always be expressed by those in power – then there appears to be no social means by which to limit its harm to what would become “new minorities”, or groups of people who do not have an equal representation within government, nor equal rights under the domination of a pluralistic society. What we cannot see in this delight of an expanded definition of freedom and equality, is that we were creating “new minorities” that, because they had not earned entitlements brought about through their petition and effort, they do not meet the standards of “human” or “personhood”.

Staying with abortion for the moment:

Fetuses, or unborn babies, are one such “new minority”. Moral Relativism redefined the unborn – the very meaning of life – so that they were not considered human anymore until their birth; thereby establishing a new class of thing that was not a legitimate person yet. Until children are born from a womb, they has few rights, and one of them is not a right to life. What was largely an unthinkable premise – that a child’s very life was subject to a mother’s personal desire not to be impeded or obligated by the child’s presence – became a given necessity if women were to be able to participate in the redefined freedom and equality of being an American citizen.

Why do I say that?

IDEOLOGY

Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy from 1925 to 1943, once noted that:

” the modern relativist infers that everybody has the right to create for himself his own ideology and to attempt to enforce it with all the energy of which he is capable.”

In this example, a certain ideology or assertion or belief found within what is called “feminism”, has found it necessary to redefine what was known since the beginning of mankind as human life – the unborn – into something not quite human; not quite a person just yet.

Cultural Pluralism and Moral Relativism sounds good, and in their promotion, our American culture has found it necessary to redefine two words critical to their success, and I referred to them just a moment ago:

FREEDOM & EQUALITY

“Freedom” and “Equality”.

These are absolute & traditional rights of our society of man, which, in order for Cultural Pluralism and Moral Relativism to succeed, their definitions would have to be revised in order to be inclusive of a generation of new rights, brought about by personal desires.

Using the example of abortion again…. We now believe that for women to have true freedom and true equality, then they must be able to have complete authority over their own body; under all circumstances. Here, it means the freedom to kill their own child, and the equality with men to not have a child found within them.

In truth, these are only temporary desires that are beyond the absolute rights that have flowed from the spiritual well of God’s will and provision since the beginning of time. You see, freedom and equality had always been defined from a fixed belief that humanity is imbued with a set of fixed moral absolutes that guide men and women to the knowledge of right and wrong, good and evil.

But for there to be right and wrong, good and evil, there is a condition that must exist and be absolute in itself. Within the framework of freedom and equality there must reside submission; limitations to one’s personal behavior and a person’s behavior in relationship with others.

MORALS

We talk about moral behavior and immoral behavior all the time, as if there is a fixed or absolute definition and not a relative one. Morals have been present in all societies since the beginning of man as a social animal. No one knows, as a fact, where morals came from, but the vast majority of people, both present and past, consider morals to be a fundamental part of their spiritual nature; in others words, an attribute given to us by a divine source. Christianity agrees with this assertion.

Morals focus around the unseen obligation of one person’s thoughts, words, and actions in relationships with others.

Morals have always been known to be beneficial or good for mankind in its quest towards commonality and peace.

Morals always unify simply because they are common to all and are always for the common good.

Morals are the framework for the traditions that have developed within a society.

Morals have proven themselves through observation, measurement, and experimentation as absolute or unchanging in nature. There are really no exceptions to any moral, just degrees of variance from one culture’s practice to the next. And those practices that clearly violate absolute morals are always found within cultures that prove to be unsuccessful on any long-term basis.

You can take man out of the society, but you cannot take morals out of the man. They remain unchanged. Morals are the foundation upon what we call freedom and equality.

REVOLUTION

So, in order to promote Cultural Pluralism and Moral Relativism, ideas that reject any moral absolutes, one is left with only one course: redefinition, and this is what today’s relativists and pluralists are attempting to do. Freedom and equality, the foundation of our democracy, must be redefined if Moral Relativism and Cultural Pluralism are to succeed, in a traditional society, and thus create a single-minded, human nature. For them to succeed, the new freedom and the new equality needs to be exclusive of moral absolutes from without. Now, they must only be the relative morals from within.

And with freedom and equality redefined, under the rules of relativism, as the ability and right to implement one’s own free will as they choose, then it follows that there can be no law that refrains a person from their own will.

INWARD OBLIGATION

Now, what’s wrong with personal desires and their fulfillment? Nothing, when they are in harmony with moral absolutes. There is conflict, however, when they are only expressions of personal gain. This goes back to what I said earlier about concepts of human behavior being expressed in relative terms. There is inevitable conflict with the inward obligation – the morals given to us by God – and we find ourselves facing the guilt of separating oneself from God’s treasured gift of His will. And from guilt comes shame.

Moral absolutes are the divine expression of a common good; not a personal good. Individual, selfish desire, by its very definition, is a separation from the communion of all mankind. It dissolves the harmonies between us all, and contributes to the tensions between us, and to the apathy of seeing human dignity as the first right of all men and women.

A splendid example of this can be seen in our world news and how modern men and women engage their concerns with it:

MORAL RELATIVE MURDER

Our relative-based media will heavily publicize an act of murder – like the terrorist killings of twelve people in France recently – and incite hundreds of thousands of individuals, around the modern, relativist world, to take to the streets as a sign of unity; demanding various forms of justice.

We all are outraged, of course, with these murders.

On the same day, in Nigeria, and elsewhere in Africa, hundreds of people were murdered by similar terrorists, and practically no one cared in our modern, relativist world, and few in our modern, relativist world took to the streets demanding justice. These stories barely made it into print.

We were not universally outraged. What’s happening here?

Well, it is because Christian citizens, living in third-world countries, have been redefined as another “new minority”, lacking basic human rights to human dignity and rescue from conditions that threaten their very existence. The interesting thing here is that Christianity is a quantitative majority, not a minority. This goes back to what I noted at the beginning of this lecture.

Moral Relativism has redefined the concept of one person, one vote, into the concept of one group, one vote. This renders individual representation in our political field as disputable.

Moral Relativism has turned murder into a relative sin; only worth attention if those murdered have some common trait to a moral relativist’s own culture, in this case atheism, rather than to all of mankind, regardless of condition and belief, as humans deserving respect and dignity.

DISCRIMINATION

Coming full circle, Moral Relativism has likewise redefined the word “discrimination”. What was once a set of collective absolutes on how to demonstrate dignity for all of mankind, Relativism, by its very nature of individual empowerment, requires individual discrimination. Our society must now be based now upon one’s own individual experience over that of the collective, communal experience of the length, breadth, and depth of humanity before it. Relativity demands that we throw out the baby with the bath water. And it empowers us to cry out that what it is that we desire is superior to all other considerations. It has turned “love” on its head.

THE DEGRADATION OF HUMAN DIGNITY

One sure sign of this is what is currently so popular on American television; the degradation and humiliation of our fellow man. It’s most evident in reality TV and situation comedies. Reality TV is little more than the intentional effort to degrade the human experience. And in the comedies, vile insults are the substance of every word that comes from the actors’ mouths. And it’s passed off as humor. Somehow we think that this hurts no one.

Think of the problems societies have had with discriminations that violate our instinctual sense of common dignity. It all starts, and always does so, with an individual assertion of the self as somehow being more important than another; that somehow, and for some good reason, I am more deserving than the next, more needful than the next. And it all starts with a thought in our head that violates one or more of God’s absolutes.

THE HABIT OF VICE

We somehow find ourselves tempted to just cross that line. “Oh. Just this once we say”, but soon we cross it again and then again. You see, when you crossed that line and claimed what was not yours, you probably were not challenged. You got away with it, so why not do it again? Why not make it a habit. The fruit you stole tasted good, and it filled your belly; at least for the moment. So you go back; again and again.

The guilty almost always justifies their sins through the conveyance to others of their righteousness, and thus their superiority. One such form of that is called bullying.

THE TENT

I could paint this story from many different angles; taking on many different subjects. It’s all going to come out the same. Look…. Every single person who has ever lived on this satellite of God’s love is in a relationship with God whether he or she acknowledges it or even knows it. It is in the very DNA of each one of us – both physical and, more important, spiritual – that we seek God. With every breath…. we are in contemplation of life.

In a recent conversation with my wife, Kathryn, she talked of humanity and its physical realm as that which is inside a great tent. Now think about that…. a tent is temporary. And beyond that tent, in all directions, is the spiritual realm. And when the Holy Spirit breathes, the walls of the tent undulates like the sea. Interesting thought.

We are not meant for the tent, we are meant for the realm – of God – beyond. The hope of every person is to be able to lift the flap of the tent and experience the spirit; to transcend “reason and self-consciousness and personal, moral responsibility”. To be unencumbered – to have the yoke removed from one’s shoulders – of our worldly-bound responsibilities, the vast consumerism of the world, and its entangled ideologies.

THE WAY

When I walked the Christian pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago or The Way, back in 2013, I walked with a backpack and nothing else. I slept, bathed, and washed my clothes in hostels or pilgrim “albergues”, and con vents. I prayed and attended Mass in churches that were nearly one-thousand years old. I had a bare minimum map and guide that put me on my way each morning. I ate food where offered, and took water from public fountains. I walked alone, except for those days when God placed someone by me for a purpose; a learning, you might say.

I had taken the yoke from my shoulders for forty days, and walked a path devoid of worldly temptation. I had lifted the tent flap and walked amongst things of the spirit, where the clutter of this world dissolved slowly into the enlightenment of God’s true light.

I learned a lesson from my career in design; that less can be so much more. And one more lesson, for sure: That to get to the end of the pilgrimage, I had to put my right foot in front of my left, and then my left foot in front of my right.

THE MYSTICAL

A person who does not know God, or does not acknowledge God, or even rejects Him, is a person who must substitute something else as a goal for the reality of their search for God. Now, in that substitute search, we identify with certain goals that appear as a facsimile – an equivalent – for God’s love, His will upon us, and His purpose for us; the communion of love with others and Himself. Such a person is looking for what “the saints have in heaven and that mystics have for brief moments on earth”.

These substitute goals have many names; but a few are: consumerism, sexual preoccupation, intellectualism, religiosity, death, alcoholism, and relativism. These goals are mystical, by the way in which God made us, because they offer us a substitute goal for that right relationship with God. These substitutes offer us the transcendence of “reason, self-consciousness, and personal, moral responsibility”, but they are nothing more than a person’s search for his true purpose “in some of the very worst places”.

Such a person “is wrong to demand it now”, by his will, and such a person is wrong to not seek it through what God gave him; a natural state of being that is open to God’s will, and not just to one’s own.

SUBMISSION

I want to end this with a quote from Isa Ben Adam. I do not know whether it originated from him, but he’s my source:

“Morality is the road to mysticism. Submission is the way to ecstasy.”

Mysticism is the experience of the spiritual in its true form. The kingdom of God is a mystical destination, and it is through God’s will within us – our absolute morality – that we know the road – The Way.

The Way is a road bounded on both sides by man’s disregard for God’s call to His path.

Our submission to His road is the ecstasy of the fulfillment of our journey through this life.

When I reached the city of Santiago de Compostela, the end of the pilgrimage; forty days and five-hundred miles had taught me much about morality and submission. It taught me that morality is not about human, right behavior, but rather about finding a path for my spirit within to follow. Morality is more than a set of rules, it is the air in our lungs, the food in our bellies, the blood in our veins, and our spirits in perfect communion with God’s Spirit.

It is the form, the perfection by which all physical things are rendered as good for mankind.

SEEK GOD

The Way, the one Jesus Christ talked about, is the only way that man will be able to put right the calamity of immoral and unlawful discrimination. This perversion of God’s will, by man, will never be defeated by the “isms” of man’s intellect and imagination.

Cultural Pluralism and Moral Relativism are only discordant substitutes by men and women who have blinded themselves to God, in the corrupted thinking that they might see man all the better.

What comes from that desire is what has comes from similar desires since the days in the Garden; misery, pain, and hopelessness.

Seek God.

Reese Cumming


 

I wish to thank Isa Ben Adam, Liberty Rawls, and Peter Kreeft for much of my content in this essay. Their teachings to me came courtesy of the book, The Refutation of Moral Relativism, published by Ignatius Press, in 1999.

Sentences or phrases that have been framed by quotation marks are direct quotations from this book, and can be attributed to either Isa Ben Adam or Liberty Rawls, unless otherwise noted.

All “quoted” definitions are from: http://dictionary.reference.com.


 

One thought on “The Moral Argument – Pluralism & Relativism

  1. We hear more and more about “Secular Humanism”. Would you comment on that in relation to your blog post above? Thanks. Bill

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