Friday, July 16, 2010

Why I am [Almost] a Relativist

Claims to absolute knowledge are nearly as plentiful as there are people. The religious person is the expert of claiming that there is absolute knowledge, and that they have that knowledge. The latter part of that claim bothers me much more than the former.

There are numerous religions, and numerous factions within every religion. There are numerous people within every religion, and there have been disagreements from the start of the world, precisely because no two people see things the same.

Why then, do we spend our time trying to convince other people that we are correct? Do we believe we have special wisdom no one else has? Do we believe we are God's gift to the world?

I've listened to Christians for years go on about absolute truth and how we have to save people by convincing them to intellectually acknowledge their beliefs, and frankly I'm tired of it. When I say I don't try to convince people to believe in God how I do, I am told it's because I want them to go to Hell. Typically, how I want to respond is "no, I want you to go to Hell." And then, when I explain to them my view of God, I am disagreed with, mostly because I don't find there to be very many imperatives to how God wants us to live.

I don't believe God is pissed off about people having premarital sex or gay marriage. I don't think God wants everyone to be straight, everyone to be a particular brand of religion, or have particular political views. So why do we think that?

The God I know is the only thing keeping me from being a relativist, and I still don't believe in very many absolutes, for one simple reason: I listen to other people and evaluate all of my beliefs as honestly as I can. In doing so, my beliefs have been kicked out from under me far too often, and I am simply tired of blindly committing myself to a set of beliefs and then realizing what kind of a person that's made me, and what exactly I have allowed my mind to be enslaved to.

Morally, I find what does harm to others or to ourselves to be reprehensible, but that tends to vary wildly with very few exceptions. Even killing as an act can be acceptable based on situation. For example, presuming I am married sometime in the future, if I find a man in the process of raping my wife, I will kill him, and I find that to be justified.

That is a far cry from drugs, casual sex, drunkenness, and any other vice that the Christians I've spoken to about morality tend to get uptight about. I find those things to be harmful to me, and I imagine they have more implications for life than a lot of people realize. However, I do not find them to be morally wrong.

People all see God a different way, but the only things I have found common to all people, regardless of how they live and their faith, is that people are of value, and should be treated as such. Even if it is simply in the inner recognition that leads to defending oneself, people do believe this. And I believe that value comes from God, the one that created us, that gives things value.

That does not mean that we must align with a church, tell people how not to go to hell (as if we even know the exact machinations of how God relates to humanity), or push what we believe on others. It means we're free, and it means that respect and love are the right way to treat people, regardless of the specifics.

Morally, religiously, and intellectually, when speaking of specifics, I believe that what is true for me may not be true for you. Even when it comes to larger things like religious affiliation, sex orientation, lifestyle choices, and how you see God, I don't think there is any totally right answer. I believe this precisely because God and reality are larger and more creative than anything we can possibly imagine, and we each have a bit of it in us.

A true relativist doesn't believe in any sort of Truth, and as much as I want to put myself in that camp, I can not do so. However, what I can do is suspend my beliefs at will whenever a conversation happens, for the sake of allowing myself to be wrong. I believe what I believe because I think it is right, but I do not hold myself to be on the high pedestal of knowing absolute truth. It's simply arrogant to do so.

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