Is conservative Protestantism concerned about relativism?


#1

The thread asking “Does relativism come from Protestantism” made me ask the above question. So whadaya think? Is relativism a concern to you guys or is it just an Orthodox/Catholic thing like the Filioque?


#2

Im stpid can you define relativism for me so I can answer you.:o


#3

I think the O.P. is referring to Moral Relativism or Situational Ethics.

The idea that whether something is evil or not depends on the situation you’re in, or depends on your point of view.

For example, ritual cannibalism is seen as evil to most of those posting on this board. However, from the perspective of those adherents to religions that practice such it is a great good. Even the so-called victims are joyful that they are selected to be the one sacrificed…

Thus, if something is good or evil depends on the situation or the perspective of the observer, it is impossible to discern which religion is correct. In fact they’re all correct.

Or, another example would be contraception. Decades ago, all Christian religions held contraception to be evil. Our situations changed and now many Christian denominations embrace contraception. So in 1910 it was evil, today it’s OK.

I suppose it could also be applied to matters of faith. Where the truthfulness of one particular tenet depends on your perspective, or opinion.


#4

relativism, as defined by dictionary.com

**A theory that conceptions of truth and moral values are not absolute but are relative to the persons or groups holding them. **


#5

Thanks–would another example be that sometimes it is ok to have an abortion–depending on the circumstances?

I think I get it.

I am a conservative born again evangelical christain and I believe relativism is bad and I believe that prostantism has let some of that creep into churches(just look at the episcopal church:eek: )

That may be why you see non-denom churches growing because they are more conservative in their views. We know that our world is going to hell in a hand basket(something my mom use to say;) ). The more people are getting fed up with society and how this seems to be infiltrating churches(mostly mainline protestants IMHO)I see people flocking to churches that hold a high biblical/moral/ethical standards and those are the ones that are growing.

Some people would say my church is strict because we follow what the bible says, but that is because many of the truths of the bible are completely opposite of the world tells us is ok. It is really hard to take a stand for Christ in this world.:frowning: But someones got to do it–right:thumbsup:

That post was longer then I expected–sorry:o


#6

Thank you:thumbsup:


#7

Thanks for clearing that up for me.


#8

I actually think that conservative Protestants are far more obsessed with relativism than most Catholics and Orthodox. Many forms of conservative Protestantism rests on a very “modernist” as opposed to “post-modernist” view of truth–that truth is perspicuous to any reasonable person and can be deduced from Scripture. (Not all Protestants think this, of course.) Try reading someone like Francis Schaeffer sometime (if you can handle it–I find him very annoying).

I think that the term “relativism” gets thrown around a lot on this board without careful definition or analysis. I reject true relativism (the view that there is no absolute truth). But postmodernism has been helpful insofar as it has pointed to the inescapably conditioned nature of our knowledge. We cannot escape our perspective. When I say “Christianity is true,” I am not saying something that is just true for me but not for you. But my reasons for thinking Christianity to be (absolutely) true are conditioned by my particular position in place and time. Postmodernists have rightly pointed out that truth claims make sense only in the context of a particular community’s narrative. They are wrong insofar as they claim that all truth is constructed by a particular community and has no reference to anything outside the community.

This modest postmodernism that I’m advocating is far more compatible with Catholicism than with conservative Protestantism. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that the thing known is known according to the mode of the knower, which is another way of saying what I said above–that while truth is absolute, our access to it is always conditioned by the kind of creatures we are. Catholics typically insist that Scripture only makes sense within the context of the Church, which again fits well with moderate versions of post-modernism.

Catholicism is ideally situated to oppose the falsehood of radical post-modernism while acknowledging its legitimate insights. That is one of the reasons why so many evangelical intellectuals are converting to Catholicism. Unfortunately, some people in this culture see Catholicism simply as the opposite of postmodernism and adopt the same simplistic view of our knowledge of the truth that characterizes conservative Protestantism.

I would therefore suggest that you have it exactly backwards. Conservative American Catholics are obsessed with the dangers of relativism because they are Enlightenment rationalists, not because they are orthodox Catholics. This obsession is more characteristic of conservative Protestants than of Catholics, and Catholics should free themselves from it. Yes, relativism is wrong. But old-fashioned Enlightenment modernism is just as wrong and twice as silly. Postmodernism is a jaded, cynical over-reaction to the follies of the Enlightenment, which in turn was a futile attempt to construct a version of truth that could exist independently of a community and a narrative, since the communal narrative called Western Christendom had been so radically disrupted by the Reformation and the rise of the nation-state.

In Christ,

Edwin


#9

Modernism
Relativism
Post-modernism
Enlightenment rationalism
Enlightenment modernism
Radical post-modernism
Conservative American Catholics
Orthodox Catholics

You lost me…


#10

Modernism=the view that reality is accessible to the human mind in a manner unmediated by any tradition. Or, as Stanley Hauerwas would put it (using the term “liberalism”), the story that you have no story except the story you chose when you had no story!

Relativism=the view that nothing is true in and of itself, but that everything may be true or false depending on the context, so that to assert any universal truth is both irrational and arrogant. (We could argue about this definition, but I put it forward until someone gives me a better one.)

Post-modernism=the view that we can only know reality as constructed by some particular narrative. There is no neutral way to describe anything–at most, we can reach a consensus to some extent insofar as our rival narratives have points of contact. No one is unbiased, and anyone who claims to give you an objective description of anything is trying to pull one over on you (and perhaps also on themselves).

Enlightenment rationalism/Enlightenment modernism=see “modernism.” I use the term “Enlightenment” to mark the point (roughly late 17th-18th century) at which this way of thinking came to dominate Western culture (largely, in my opinion, because of the breakdown of the formerly dominant narrative of Western Catholicism at the Reformation).

Radical post-modernism=postmodernism (as above) without any qualification. I.e., the view that all reality is “constructed”–nothing exists except as a part of some narrative, and there is no standard by which to judge that one narrative is truer than another. See “relativism.”

I am advocating a more moderate version of postmodernism–moderated in large part by my belief in God. As I see it, all reality exists as part of a narrative, so that “objective” reality is simply the narrative constructed by God. Since none of us is God, none of us has unmediated access to that narrative. But we do have some access to that narrative, and we can try to bring our particular narratives closer to it–which will also give us points of contact between one human narrative and another. God has given us a particular form of access to His narrative in divine revelation, which is free from the errors of merely human narratives. However, revelation still exists “after the mode of the knower”–i.e., receiving divine revelation does not give us complete, unmediated access to the True Narrative. That is one of the reasons why there is room for doctrinal development in Christian theology. Even the divinely revealed narrative always needs to be understood more fully.

Conservative American Catholics=Catholics who pride themselves in being orthodox (see below), but whose definition of orthodoxy is deeply influenced by the narratives of the conservative wing of American culture. Thus, CACs use the Catechism in ways approximating the ways in which CAPs (Conservative American Protestants) use Scripture. They tend to disregard any expression of church authority that is not infallible, particularly when it goes against the norms of “conservative” American culture (war, the death penalty, immigration, etc.). They construct their own parochial version of orthodoxy and condemn other Catholics as “not really Catholic” if they don’t conform to it. Most broadly, they are deeply influenced by the narrative of Enlightenment rationalism, and they see Catholicism as a bulwark against postmodernism/relativism. At the same time, their notion of authority is unwittingly influenced by postmodernism, in the sense that they see the failure of the CAP appeal to Scripture as perspicuous and therefore tend to be skeptical about any claim of truth not validated by an infallible authority.

Orthodox Catholics=Catholics who are faithful to the teaching of the Church. Of course, there is a lot of debate about just what that is. But there are some things that are clearly not orthodox.

These definitions are, of course, intended to be provocative and somewhat obnoxious!

Edwin


#11

applauds Contarini

:clapping: :clapping:


#12

This modest postmodernism that I’m advocating is far more compatible with Catholicism than with conservative Protestantism. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that the thing known is known according to the mode of the knower, which is another way of saying what I said above–that while truth is absolute, our access to it is always conditioned by the kind of creatures we are. Catholics typically insist that Scripture only makes sense within the context of the Church, which again fits well with moderate versions of post-modernism.

I think that is a spot on analysis. Well-said.


#13

Edwin,

OK. I think I’m getting you.

Let’s put your words into the story of the blind men discerning the elephant. Are you familiar with that story? Where several blind men approached an elephant. One felt its trunk and determined that it was a hose, another felt its leg and determined that it was a tree, the third felt it’s rough side and determined it to be a brick wall. They all began to fight over who was right…

Now… Modernism would say that these blind men are incumbered because at some point before going blind they learned about hoses, trees, and brick walls. Had they not been “contaminated” with these idea they perhaps would have pegged the truth?

Relativism would say that the elephant is all three, a tree, a hose, and a brick wall. The elephant doesn’t exist. Just stop fighting! Please!

Post-modernism would say that because the first blind man saw a hose before he went blind, he cannot conclude anything except that it is a hose - even if the first blind man had felt the leg - he would still have concluded it was a hose.

Radical Post-modernism would say that the object is indeed a hose BECAUSE that’s what the first blind man said it was. And the object is a tree because the second blind man said so.

The problem with the whole notion is that we’ve forgotton how to “proof” things.

Two seamen can sit and argue the merits of nautical architechure of a ship on land until they are blue in the face. But after that ship has sailed around the world, and survived many a gail, the captain then KNOWS that it is seaworthy.

Unfortunately, the only way to KNOW a ship is seaworthy is to put your sorry butt on board. And it will really stink to find out that it isn’t seaworthy once you’re beyond sight of shore.

So it is with so many religions. Now, there’s a number of them out there that have already survived many a tempest. But the question that matters most to us, is which religion will survive the next hurricane…


#14

That’s a pretty good analogy–I didn’t think so at first but the more I think about it, the better it works.

Post-modernism would say that because the first blind man saw a hose before he went blind, he cannot conclude anything except that it is a hose - even if the first blind man had felt the leg - he would still have concluded it was a hose.

Radical Post-modernism would say that the object is indeed a hose BECAUSE that’s what the first blind man said it was. And the object is a tree because the second blind man said so.

Postmodernism would say that linguistically the only way they can describe the elephant is in terms of a narrative they already know, yes. So if someone else comes along and says “no, this is actually an animal called an elephant,” well, that’s another narrative. Radical postmodernism, as I’m defining it, would say that this person is also simply constructing a narrative for his own purposes, and that if he says that he can see this is simply a power ploy to impose his narrative on the blind guys. I disagree–I think that there is Someone who sees the whole elephant and can tell us about it, but we still have to interpret that revelation in terms of what our minds can understand.

The problem with the whole notion is that we’ve forgotton how to “proof” things.

In a sense that’s what my “moderate postmodernism” is saying–narratives really can be tested. However, you never get away from narrative. There is no “objective” test. A perfect example is the question of whether Catholicism has really proven itself to be “seaworthy.” It depends on what narrative you inscribe it in. In a Whig narrative, for instance, Catholicism is (unless you are a Whig Catholic like Lord Acton) an obstacle to the progress of reason and liberty.

But you’re right–in the end the only way to know for sure is to et your sorry butt on board. WRT Catholicism, I’ve never made it more than half way down the gangplank before getting seasick!

Edwin


#15

This is kinda eerie… :eek: I’m responding to “mark a”, and I just changed my last name some two years ago from “Andersen”…eerm, sorry, off topic :wink:

It is most definately a “concern”.
In Denmark, the state church is nominally Lutheran, but Martin Luther himself would turn over in his grave if he knew what is being said in his name.

I do not consider the relativists Christians. No Christian, Lutheran or otherwise, can call our Lord a liar, which those who denounces Scripture do.

Sola Scriptura!

Mark P :thumbsup:


#16

There is no “objective” test. A perfect example is the question of whether Catholicism has really proven itself to be “seaworthy.” It depends on what narrative you inscribe it in. In a Whig narrative, for instance, Catholicism is (unless you are a Whig Catholic like Lord Acton) an obstacle to the progress of reason and liberty.

But you’re right–in the end the only way to know for sure is to et your sorry butt on board. WRT Catholicism, I’ve never made it more than half way down the gangplank before getting seasick!

Ahh. But there is a test. Time. It’s just that for most of us, our brief little narratives will be over with before the test is complete.

The Whigs see Catholicism as an obstacle. Catholics disagree. In time, the correct one will win out.

Ahhh. You’re a landlubber! You’ll never get out of port that way. Interestingly, this seaworthy analogy can be taken a bit further. Some of the more seaworthy vessels do not provide a smooth ride. This is true - if you ask anyone who knows about boats. There is primary stability and there is secondary stability. A boat with good primary stability will be very comfortable in calm water - like a pontoon boat. But a boat with good secondary stability might be tip easily, but won’t tip over entirely. They can be counterintuitive to the uneducated. There are boats that are meant for sailing only in nice weather, and there are boats that are mean for going 'round the world and get you there safely no matter the weather.

Catholicism is exactly like that. Catholicism is the boat for all weather. It’s not a luxury liner - but luxury liners don’t go 'round the Horn.


#17

Is conservative Protestantism concerned about relativism?

Depends!:smiley:

Come on folks, where’s the sense of humor?


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