Below is an excerpt from an article written by Dr. Stephen Bauer titled "Identity, Exclusivity, and Inclusivity." In this excerpt Dr. Bauer works with material from Francis Beckwith to demonstrate the fallacy behind religious and moral relativism. The content is so genius that I just had to share it. To read the artile in its entirety click here.
Identity, Exclusivity, and Inclusivity
(an excerpt) by Stephen Bauer, Phd.
Francis Beckwith states: “Many people see moral relativism as necessary for promoting tolerance, non-judgmentalism, and inclusiveness, for they think if one believes one’s moral position is correct and others’ incorrect, one is close-minded and intolerant. I will argue . . . that relativism itself cannot live up to its own reputation, for it is promoted by its proponents as the only correct view on morality. This is why relativists typically do not tolerate nonrelativist views, judge those as mistaken, and maintain that relativism is exclusively right.”12
Further, Beckwith observes that “the principle of tolerance is considered one of the key virtues of relativism.” He then reveals a paradox: “The moral relativist embraces the view that one should not judge other cultures and individuals, for to do so would be intolerant. . . . Ironically, the call to tolerance by relativists presupposes the existence of at least one nonrelative, universal, and objective norm: tolerance.”13
The fact that tolerance functions as an absolute moral value causes the relativist a problem. Thus, in another volume co-authored with Gregory Koukl, Beckwith levels the challenge that “if there are no objective moral rules, . . . there can be no rule that requires tolerance as a moral principle that applies equally to all.”14 Beckwith summarizes his complaints in three points. “First, the relativist says that if you believe in objective moral truth you are wrong. Hence relativism is judgmental. Second, it follows from this that relativism is excluding your beliefs from the realm of legitimate options. Thus relativism is exclusivist. And third, because relativism is exclusivist, all nonrelativists are automatically not members of the ‘correct thinking’ party. So relativism is partisan.”15
Beckwith concludes that the moral relativist is thus confronted with a dilemma: “Judging someone as wrong makes one intolerant, yet one must first think another is wrong in order to be tolerant.”16 Put another way, because relativism has an absolute moral standard—tolerance—while denying there are absolute moral standards and because tolerance acts judgmentally and intolerantly, Beckwith charges that “Ethical relativism is thus repudiated by itself.”17
In Shakespearian imagery, the moral relativist is “hoist[ed] with his own petard,” or, as expressed by Paul, “You who pass judgment on someone else, . . . are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things” (Rom. 2:1). This paradox, however, can work in reverse as well.
Beckwith explores the obverse side of the tolerance paradox by arguing that to be tolerant of others in moral debate, one must first be an absolutist. Arguing from a major dictionary definition of tolerance, Beckwith asserts, “tolerance, then involved permitting or allowing a conduct or point of view you think is wrong while respecting the person in the process. Notice that we cannot tolerate others unless we disagree with them. We don’t tolerate people who share our views. Instead, tolerance is reserved for those we think are wrong.”18
In his other volume, Beckwith refines his point: “Tolerance presupposes a moral judgment of another’s viewpoint. That is to say, I can only be tolerant of those ideas that I think are mistaken. I am not tolerant of that with which I agree; I embrace it. And I am not tolerant of that for which I have no interest (e.g., European professional soccer); I merely have benign neglect for it. (That is, I don’t care one way or another.)”19
The problem, then, is this. To be tolerant, I must first believe something is right or wrong, but to believe something is right or wrong implies some kind of definite standard that reveals the rightness or wrongness of the issue in question. On the basis of Beckwith’s observations, it seems that the moral relativist is, in reality, a closet moral absolutist, making moral judgments of others’ views based on fixed standards of good and evil as defined by moral relativism.
It thus seems impossible to avoid espousing fixed, absolute moral standards in some form or other, and hence the reversal is now complete. In order to be tolerant, one must first have clear, defined standards to know whom to tolerate. Relativism along with its moral norm of tolerance together become entrenched, fixed markers of identity, thus creating boundaries with which to determine who is included in the ranks of the faithful and who is not.
Similarly, when a proposed moral norm like inclusiveness or tolerance becomes the litmus test of identity, such an issue becomes invested, not only with the absolute of a fixed standard, but also with a quasi-political nature that, like medieval church power, seeks to oppress or eliminate dissidence. A crusade mentality is easily inculcated, fostering a fundamental exclusion of contradictory views, relegating them to inferior status. Therefore, for inclusiveness to achieve its stated purpose, there must be some other basis of identity that allows us to recognize who is not part of our “fold” so that we can reach out inclusively. The paradox, then, is that we must have a clear, exclusive identity based in something other than inclusiveness, in order to be inclusive.
__________12. Francis J. Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 3.
13. Ibid., p. 11.
14. Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl, Relativism: Feet Planted Firmly in Mid-Air (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1998), p. 69.
15. Beckwith, Defending Life, op cit., pp. 13, 14, italics in original.
16. Beckwith, Relativism, op cit., p. 149.
17. Beckwith, Defending Life, op cit., p. 14, italics in original.
18. Beckwith, Relativism, op cit., p. 149.
19. Beckwith, Defending Life, op cit., p. 12.
The Facebook dialogue over this article was pretty interesting. Sadly, it is a bit of a cliff hanger, but still worth sharing!