The political and journalistic implications of that article by Jack Beatty are somewhat stunning, if you stop and think about it.
This makes me think of a similar, worldview-revealing statement in a New York Times article back in March of 1999. It was in a magazine profile of an anti-abortion activist who had veered far outside the mainstream pro-life movement and, apparently, out into the foreign territory of lethal violence. As he concluded his article, writer David Samuels made the following observation about issues of right and wrong, truth and error:
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. … Perhaps sacrifice in the name of a higher good — God, Marx, freedom or whatever the good of the moment happens to be — is admirable only as long as you support the cause. Or perhaps, in the absence of absolutes, we must judge beliefs not by their inherent righteousness but by their visible consequences.
Now am I reading that right? Is the point that Samuels is making this: For normal people, like New York Times reporters and our friends, the only objective truth is that there are no objective truths? Thus, anyone who believes otherwise — be they academics, artists, clerics, journalists or even holders of high office — is, well, “crazy.” They are probably dangerous.
So take that, Pope John Paul II. And all the rest of you revelation- and even creed-hugging lunatics out there. Oh, but note that this would not remove more mystical and personal forms of revelation through experience and, obviously, reason. Truth is OK, as long as it is pluriform.
This raises another question: How should we treat these crazy people’s viewpoints when they show up in newspaper stories? Shouldn’t the public be warned?
P.S. Lots of heavy stuff coming on in the comments section of this post. Check it out. To which I offer this update.
I really am not interested in a debate about metaphysics at this point. I am trying to write for a journalism blog. I cited the ancient New York Times piece for several reasons. Almost all of the major media-bias studies hinge on abortion coverage (and now, homosexuality issues). Having the Bible of elite journalism run a news-feature in which people who believe in moral absolutes are called “crazy” strikes me as important. And out of line.
I have known Unitarian agnostics who were perfectly capable of writing fair news stories that accurately quoted both sides of moral and religious issues, without feeling the need of calling moral conservatives “crazy.” I have even known some that would say they were agnostic on that issue, as well. Good for them.
And I have known some fire-breathing, big-C Charismatic Christians who were capable of doing the same kind of accurate, fair reporting. Good for them, too. In this context, I am more interested in the journalism of this issue than I am the theology.
Oh, what the heck: I know that we are all, in daily life, prone to relativism. That’s why my Church has Confession.