Why I Don’t Care pt. 2 or The Birth of Relativism

Why I Don’t Care pt. 2 or The Birth of Relativism May 18, 2012

Thank you so much for the comments on my last post. They helped me realize two things:

1. The evil of the modern world is ripped out of the realm of abstraction and into reality by the fact of parenthood. Everyone who was truly concerned about the Culture Wars — and thus could not understand my quiz — spoke of concern for their children. Such an attitude makes complete sense: The fact of a child under your protection forces the abstraction (the pro-choice movement) to be realized at the level of the human person (this abstraction could harm my child) and thus it is made real.

2. I need to make it absolutely clear that I do not advocate the burning of cars. (Actually, if you want to burn your own car, I sincerely advocate it, if and only if I get a YouTube video of it immediately afterwards.) But the marvelous Mr. Wright was — well — right: We should not be burning cars “because and only because that would not accomplish the goal.”

But I only used the “burning cars” phrase to point out how the vast majority of us marching for life are only representing an abstraction. Regardless of whether it would be effective or not, surely real rebellion should be a temptation? Surely, if we are truly embodying the fact that thousands of innocents are being murdered every day, it should take everything within us to resist rushing the White House? We are some half a million strong, after all.

Mr. Wright claims that the only reason we don’t burn cars is because such an action wouldn’t help achieve The Goal. This seems to imply that we are suppressing our incendiary urges for the greater good. I’d hardly deny that it is better to work for the greater good — I simply deny that we are suppressing any urges.

And that’s the darkness of the modern age that we must brave, the Scary Thought that hitherto has been pushed aside in my mind.

I suppose it is possible that the remarkably good behavior of the Catholic — and the equally good behavior of his enemies — is the result of wise, effective reflection on the best way to achieve their respective goals. It is possible that the reason so many of us feel more nauseated than joyful with the idea of defending marriage, morality and all the rest, is that we know an excess of emotion will hinder our victory. It is possible that we are comfortable with our slogans, lobbies, merchandise, and the dichotomies of pro-life vs. pro-choice, pro-marriage vs. pro-equality, etc. because we know it’s the best way things are achieved in a functioning democracy.

But surely it is equally possible that we are following abstractions?

Surely it’s equally possible that what Kierkegaard said of his age is true of our own, that:

“the present age is one of understanding, of reflection, devoid of passion, an age which flies into enthusiasm for a moment only to decline back into indolence…”

(i.e. KONY2012)

“a Revolutionary Age is an age of action; the present age is an age of advertisement, or an age of publicity: nothing happens, but there is instant publicity about it. A revolt in the present age is the most unthinkable act of all; such a display of strength would confuse the calculating cleverness of the times…”

and that

“no person wishes to abandon Christian terminology, but they can secretly change it so that it doesn’t require decision or action…”

(I can hardly count the number of times I’ve cleverly manipulated that St. Francis misquote, “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary use words,” in order to not do anything at all; how many times I’ve read Christ’s words, “give away everything you own”, and happily abstracted his demand to some spiritual plane.)

I’m not claiming that there aren’t people truly living out there, men and women who have been saved from the age by the power of religion, as Kierkegaard said. I simply realize that I am not one of those people. Not yet, anyways.

I’ll close with this: Where did relativism come from? There is a tendency in the Catholic world to speak of it as the root source of all the modern age’s various evils, and there’s some truth to that. But relativism is the natural conclusion of a world that serves abstractions instead of the human person. The foolish but widely prevalent phrase, “What’s true for you isn’t true for me,” seems frightfully sensible if the you’re considering the pro-life and pro-choice movements as just that — movements, equal and opposite abstractions, badges to pin on our arms (you see good sirs, I am a Christian, and thus I have my pro-life badge, my pro-family badge, my support-of-traditional-values badge…) rather than authentic cries of the human heart. If support for assisted suicide becomes a lobby, it can be accepted as easily as any lobby. The argument “let people choose for themselves whether euthanasia is good, don’t force your morality on them” makes an insane sort of sense if the world is picking and choosing it’s abstractions.

Now don’t worry about sharing this, unless you think it’s worth it — I’m afraid to say I’m working this out as I go. Once I’ve come to something resembling a conclusion, I’ll write a big-super-fantastic post pulling everything together. And I understand that a lot of folks are upset by this idea. I am too. But don’t worry: The world is currently in the habit of using philosophy to justify pre-existing ideas, rather than letting philosophy kick their asses and force them to change. And, I promise you, the light at the end of this is brilliant. Suffer me to spend a little time getting to it.

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