The debate between rival absolutes is one kind of debate, like the kind that happened at the battle of Tours. Obviously, when two contradictory claims of absolute truth collide, both can be wrong, but both cannot be right. The rules of engagement in this are of interest to those of us who believe there is an absolute and that we know what it is. We need to be prepared for the discussion (and the possible ensuing war) when we encounter those who worship another god who speaks a contradictory ultimate word. This is the kind of debate that exists between fundamentalist Islam and the Christian faith. But that is not the kind of debate we are engaged in here.
What we have here are relativists who say that there is no arche, no ultimate standard. Nevertheless, we can troubleshoot as we go, so the thinking does, working out what seems best to us. But advocates of this relativism almost never have the courage of their convictions — they consistently shrink back from the implications of their own position. My complaint is that however much they complain about the threat of conservative Christianity, relativists are far more afraid of their own position than they are of ours. This is because if relativism is the case, then anything goes, including the worst forms of absolutism. Consider this. Relativists are even, in principle, supporters of . . . mandatory modesty!
Susan says that my claim that the US Constitution could evolve to the point where lynching blacks became a civic duty was “way over the top.” What top? There is no top. What limit to the evolutionary process is there? Why? Who says? If there is a top that I can be way over, then tell us what it is, and why it is there. If there is no top, then stop telling people that they are way over it. Given your relativism, not mine, I can justify anything — wife abuse, child pornography, abortion, racism, you name it. If I can’t justify anything, then it is not relativism. There is a limit, apparently. Oh? Where did that limit come from and why is it binding on anyone? By what standard? This is how we discover that our relativists are not really relativists — they are surreptitious absolutists, but they don’t know or won’t admit what their ultimate values are, and they won’t acknowledge why or how they have them. They won’t even admit that they have a vast machinery for the inculcation of these values called the government schools that they make me pay for.
But no society can function without a standard. We are a relativistic culture, and yet we still execute people, still go to war, still launch cruise missiles, conduct moralistic crusades against faggot-bashers like Fred Phelps, and work ourselves into a high dudgeon over the troglodytes who managed to get on vision 20/20. What on earth for? If you have an ultimate standard you are defending, then tell us what it is, and we can have a debate between rival absolutes. But if there is no ultimate standard (as has been claimed), then why get upset over alternative choices? Some people go in for body piercings. Some go for green hair. And yet others in this splendid array of choices opt for that version of sexual kinkiness that makes their women dress up in prairie muffin dresses by day and submit to spousal rape by night. Why do you care? I care, of course, but I have this absolute standard that I keep appealing to. But why do you care? About anything?
And “common sense ethics” in this very pluralistic world of yours is a thin soup solution. The common sense ethical system you appeal to is provincial, not common. Try explaining it to Osama, Pol Pot, Atila, Stalin, or the Grand Inquisitor. The ethic found on the Cosby show is not the way the vast majority of the human race has lived. You need to be more careful — you are starting to believe your own propaganda.
“Apologetics in the Void” are repostings from an on-going electronic discussion and debate I had some time ago with members of our local community, whose names I have changed. The list serve is called Vision 20/20, and hence the name “visionaries.” Reading just these posts probably feels like listening to one half of a phone conversation, but I don’t feel at liberty to publish what others have written. But I have been editing these posts (lightly) with intelligibility in mind.