This is what I get for talking about religion on my blog...
I don't mind healthy debate. I really enjoy discussing issues related to my faith, and hearing your responses on my thoughts. And I have a few more things I wanted to add to the current discussion, for which I even drew diagrams, which will be included below.
But just like eating the same thing every day gets old, so does discussing the same topic constantly. So if I seem to abruptly drop the subject and start talking about the weather again, please take no hard feelings. I'll still be thinking about it, but I will have set it to a back burner for a while until I feel like I have something to say again. Until then...
This isn't the first time I have been accused of being a relativist, and I completely understand what Earthenforge was saying when she suggested that I was verging on relativity. So, here's what I think about relativism:
When most people think of relativism, they think of the philosophy that basically states that there is no absolute truth. Truth for you is whatever your truth happens to be. Enter badly drawn diagram number one:
See how all the little blue people have their own little truth that is equally true for each of them? I don't buy this.
But just because "relativism" has the same root as "relative" and "relativity" doesn't mean that those concepts rise or fall on the validity of relativism. I might not buy into philosophical relativism, but I have no reason to doubt that E=mc² and I'm pretty sure that I still have relatives. I will come back to badly drawn diagram one momentarily, but first, let's look at badly drawn diagram number two:
See how all the little blue people are all in different locations all around one, big, universal Truth? This, I believe. The truth doesn't change, but it is relative to us in the same way that the sun goes around the earth. And of course, the sun doesn't actually go around the earth; it only looks like it does because of our perspective.
There is an old Hindu fable that was converted into a humorous little poem in the 19th century by John Godfrey Saxe. It's a cute poem about six blind men who go to "see" an elephant, and each one, having touched a different part of the elephant, imagines the elephant to be something entirely different. (Read the poem here.)
This parable is often used in support of the philosophy of relativism. The moral of the story, relativists say, is that your truth might be Christianity, but someone else's truth might be Hinduism, or Islam, or Mysticism, or Pastafarianism. They're all just parts of the same elephant, right?
I don't believe they are. But I do think the elephant analogy is apt, and I would like to claim it, in part, for Christianity. What if there were a whole bunch of other blind men who went to "see" the elephant? Sure, six of them actually touched the elephant, and came away with their varying conclusions about what the elephant looked like. But one of them thinks the elephant is fluffy, because he actually touched a rabbit. And one of them thinks the elephant is wet, because he fell into the river. And one of them thinks the elephant is squishy because he stepped in a pile of the elephant's dung. And one of them thinks the elephant is an angry, angry person, because he accidentally grabbed the zookeeper in an unwelcome manner.
This is where I give up as a philosopher, and tear my hair. How am I supposed to know who has found the real "Truth" and who has just stepped in a pile of dung? This is where I seriously contemplate deleting this entire post and talking about the weather instead.
I'm humble enough to admit that I don't have all the answers. But in the midst of all this, some things do make sense. If I was a doctor, and I had one patient who was a compulsive overeater, I would advise her to eat less. And if I had another patient who was anorexic, I would advise her to eat more. Does that make me a relativist?
One of my friends recently wrote about her conversion to Orthodox on her blog. She discusses the protestant fascination with the concept of "faith alone", and how she discovered, through reading James, that works are necessary, too. (I'm not doing her arguments justice, though, you should read it for yourself.) I appreciated what she had to say, and I think she is right, but I also think she is on the other side of the elephant from me. I grew up in constant fear that I would die in the middle of a sin and go to Hell. I always worried that I wasn't good enough, and that I wasn't a good enough Christian. I even had a Sunday School teacher tell me once that I could never be sure that I was saved, so I should pray the "sinner's prayer" every day, just in case. Can you imagine my relief when I discovered that forgiveness was FREE? That I could never do anything to earn my salvation, and that ALL of my sins were paid for, not just the ones I had committed before I prayed the sinner's prayer?
But this is where my friend and I agree: It's not enough to just "believe". (Even the demons believe in God, and shudder, James 2:19.) If I truly believe something, I will act upon it. That's the nature of true belief. So, as James explains, if we say we believe, but we don't do good works, then we don't really believe, do we? It's like a slave owner saying he believes that slavery is wrong, but refusing to free his slaves. If he REALLY believed that it was wrong, his actions would reflect his words.
Some people tend to get lazy in their faith, thinking that just being "converted" is enough, and it doesn't really have to affect their daily lives. Those people need to hear Nicki's message, get off their butts, and live what they say they believe. Others spend their lives in fear that they aren't living good enough lives (like I did), or, weigh themselves against their neighbours on an imaginary "goodness" scale and decide they are good enough on their own without being redeemed through Christ. This latter group need to hear the message of Ephesians 2:8-9, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast."
Does that make me a relativist? If it does, then the Biblical writers were relativists, too. The very next verse of Ephesians goes on to make Nicki's point, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." We are saved through faith, to do good works. Both messages are present in the Bible, and I don't want to devalue one or the other. But, going back to my badly drawn diagram number two, if I'm off to the right of the big T, and you want me to find the T, you'll have to tell me to go to the left. That same instruction, given to the little blue dude on the left of the big T, will lead him astray.
Maybe I'm a micro-relativist?