Are you absolutely sure there are no absolutes?
A while ago, David Samuels wrote in New York Times magazine—and I quote—”It is a shared if unspoken premise of the world that most of us inhabit that absolutes do not exist and that people who claim to have found them are crazy.”
Being the “crazy” person that I am, I honestly don’t understand the following tenants of the truly tolerant like Mr. Samuels.
“There is no such thing as absolute truth.”
Help me understand this. You’re saying it’s absolutely true that there’s no absolute truth. And if that’s true, how can you be sure your statement is truth?
“I only believe what I can perceive with my five senses.”
Hmmm? Can you prove that statement by sight, smell, hearing, touch, or taste? I don’t think so.
“What is right and wrong are for the individual to decide.”
Okay, so rapper R. Kelly, who allegedly had child pornography on his computer, shouldn’t be harassed by intolerant authorities because pictures of naked 12-year-olds are “right” for him? And that wacky Iraqi, Saddam Hussein, is simply expressing his individuality by using chemical weapons on his own people and taking his sons out for a night of torturing political prisoners.
Aren’t there some things that are always wrong for everyone? And if you say “yes,” aren’t you admitting to a “moral absolute”? If you say “no,” I’m assuming it’s okay with you if I steal your wallet.
“Well, right and wrong is what a society decides it is.”
Hmmm? So slavery was right for thousands of years until society recently decided it wasn’t? How about segregation? Was that just fine until a majority in Congress decided it wasn’t in 1964? And why are we hassling societies of China, North Korea, and Sudan for the torture and murder of religious minorities?
“No, something is wrong if it hurts other people.”
Wait a minute. I thought you said there were no moral absolutes? Is that always true for all cultures? Aren’t suicide bombers in the Middle East idolized as moral heroes by a part of society?
And how ’bout the person in a mask who comes up to you, knocks you unconscious, slashes open your chest, and takes all your money? Of course I’m talking about a cardiologist. So, isn’t some pain good for us? Isn’t “hurt” an absolute concept? And what about sado-masochism?
“Well, you shouldn’t try to change other people’s beliefs.”
But what if I disagree with that statement? Aren’t you trying to change my beliefs?
Let me get this straight, it’s “right” for you to try to convince me of your ideas about “no absolute truth” and “individual morality,” but it’s “wrong” for me to try to take my beliefs out into the arena of public debate?
“You’re just intolerant!
So, you’re saying I’m “intolerant” for voicing my beliefs, but you’re “tolerant” for rejecting my views as “intolerant”?
Hmmm? Are you absolutely sure about that?!
Copyright © 2003 James N. Watkins. All rights reserved.
Related post and video
Yep. I’m intolerant
“No one is actually a real relativist, including the contemporary secular liberal. Secularists today make a whole host of moral judgments, and they do so unhesitantly. They invoke relativism when arguing against Christians and other cultural conservatives. But they treat their own beliefs and moral principles as objective, absolute, and universal truths.” Brad Stetson and Joseph Conti in The Truth about Tolerance (InterVarsity Press)