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Arguments in Favor of Relativism (Part 3)

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Our in-house-philosopher, Karlo Broussard, author of Prepare the Way: Overcoming obstacles to God, the Gospel and the Church, joins us for a three part conversation about relativism. Why are conversations about right and wrong so often labeled “hate speech?

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Prepare the Way: Overcoming Obstacles to God, the Gospel and the Church
Meeting the Protestant Challenge
Why God Still Matters
The Bible Blueprint for the Priesthood
The Bible Blueprint for the Mass

Cy Kellett: Why does it get called hate speech when it’s really just a discussion about right and wrong? Well, you’re probably a bigot just for asking. Hello and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. This week we wrap up our three part conversation with Karlo Broussard about arguments in favor of relativism. Relativism being that kind of cultural assumption, cultural, I don’t know, attitude that often mitigates us having actual, real conversations that get somewhere on issues involving all kinds of things, most particularly probably moral questions. They leave us with a less and less reasonable society, so addressing them is urgent business and Karlo is just the guy to help us do that urgent business. Hi Karlo, thanks for doing this again.

Karlo Broussard: Hey Cy, thanks for having me, buddy.

Cy Kellett: Number one was arguments for relativism. Number two was arguments to stop interference.

Karlo Broussard: Right.

Cy Kellett: Now we get to three, arguments that are what we call “mean-spirited arguments.”

Karlo Broussard: Right, it’s the assertion that, “Hey Karlo, if you say or do this, you’re just being mean.” It shuts down rational discussion and it takes on a variety of forms. It could be, “Well, you’re hateful if you say somebody’s belief is false or their behavior isn’t moral,” or “To do that, you’re being a bigot, Karlo,” or “You’re being intolerant,” or “You’re being judgmental.” The underlying theme of all of these cultural attacks, right, or assertions is just “You’re just flat out being mean.” Right? Then it’s parsed out in a variety of ways.

Cy Kellett: Different ways.

Karlo Broussard: Right? But I think that’s the general thrust, that “You’re being mean, Karlo, in making judgments about somebody’s belief and it being false and somebody’s behavior being immoral.”

Cy Kellett: All right, so let’s break them down. First one, hate speech.

Karlo Broussard: Yep, so the idea is, “Well Karlo, it’s hate speech to say that somebody’s belief is false or their behavior is immoral.” Now keep in mind, all of these, one way to respond if the person is a relativist, well then, the moment they make any of these assertions, they’re implying that there’s at least one absolute moral truth. Namely, that we ought not to be hateful. We ought not to be a bigot. We ought not to be intolerant. We ought not to be judgmental. Right?

Cy Kellett: Right.

Karlo Broussard: So if the person is indeed claiming to be a relativist, all of these assertions are self defeating for his relativistic world view. But, I could imagine somebody not being a relativist, right, who maybe is sort of touching the borders of relativism, so, “Yeah, there is some absolute truths,” and then make these assertions. How do we respond to the hate speech one? Well, I think the problem here, Cy, is that it confuses negative evaluation of a belief or behavior with hate speech. Hate speech is not “I have a negative view of this belief or that behavior.” Hate speech is a speech or a gesture that expresses the malicious desire for grave harm as an end in and of itself.

Cy Kellett: Okay, yes.

Karlo Broussard: That doesn’t constitute a negative evaluation of a belief or a behavior. Like, I can make a judgment, “That belief doesn’t conform to reality. That behavior is not good for you, man.” There’s nothing hateful in these judgments that I’m making about the way the world is and about practical matters. Right? Nor, does it express any desire for you to experience harm as an end in and of itself. In no way am I being hateful for having some negative evaluation for a particular belief or a behavior.

Karlo Broussard: Now, think about this. Here’s another way you can respond and say, “Well, wait a minute. If it’s hateful to make a negative evaluation of a belief or a behavior, well then, all negative evaluations of belief and behavior is going to be hateful. So if I make an evaluation that pedophilia is evil and bad and immoral, am I being hateful for making that judgment?” Of course not, that’s absurd.

Cy Kellett: Yeah, it is.

Karlo Broussard: Notice that it confuses negative evaluation of a belief or a behavior with hate speech. Then, of course, I mean, we talked about this in previous segments. If I’m trying to make you aware of what is true, what is good, what is beautiful, that’s the very opposite of hate. Indeed, that’s love because I’m willing your good, and to will the good of another is the essence of love.

Cy Kellett: Okay, but we don’t stop there, Karlo. We don’t stop with hate speech. What about the “bigotry argument?” This is different.

Karlo Broussard: This is different, but very similar and our responses are similar, because notice in this case …

Cy Kellett: If I may say, one of the qualities of this kind of relativistic thinking is it gets a little mushy. Things just overlap, and these phrases are not used precisely. They’re used more to have an effect than to make a point.

Karlo Broussard: Yeah, so you could ask a question with regard to first, “Well, what do you mean by hate speech?” Concerning this one, “Well, what do you mean by bigotry? Do you mean simply making a judgment that somebody’s belief is false or their behavior is immoral?” If that’s what you mean, well then the same line of response is similar to the first. Well, does that mean we can’t make any judgments whatsoever about this belief being false or that behavior being immoral? That’s absurd. What we want to try to point out to this person is, “Listen, bigotry is not about necessarily having a negative opinion about a belief or about a behavior. But, bigotry is having a negative opinion based on emotion rather than reason.”

Cy Kellett: Yes.

Karlo Broussard: Unwilling to give a fair hearing to the opposing views and engaging, bigotry is engaging in insulting, abusive, or highly critical language rather than reasoned debate. You might say, as Jimmy Akin has articulated, “It’s an unjust discrimination without taking account of the facts.”

Cy Kellett: That’s a …

Karlo Broussard: To discriminate good from bad, true from false, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you unjustly discriminate, right, if you just are going based on emotion, “You’re wrong,” and I haven’t given you a fair hearing, I’m going based solely on emotion and not engaging in reasoned, rational discussion, that’s bigotry. It is not bigotry to make a judgment, “This belief is false, that behavior is contrary to human good,” if I’m doing it with reason, if I’m doing it based upon evidence, and if I’m doing it in a way that I’m actually willing to hear the opposing view and the reasons why somebody else might think that belief is true or that behavior is moral when I think it’s immoral.

Karlo Broussard: So very often what we find, Cy, is that rather than us being the bigot for making judgments about atheism not conforming to reality or same sex-sexual activity being immoral, rather than us being the bigot, it’s often ones who are hollering at us saying we’re the bigots, who are being the bigots. Because, when we make a judgment that same-sex sexual activity is immoral, we give reasons for that. It’s contrary to our human good. It’s contrary to the nature of human sexuality. It violates our nature itself, and thus cannot contribute to human flourishing. We do that in a rational, calm, reasoned way. But very often when we’re critiqued for that, it’s based solely on emotion without reasoned argumentation. Thus, that’s the bigotry.

Cy Kellett: Is there an implied self-contradiction in the argument “You’re a bigot?”

Karlo Broussard: Yes, it’s inconsistent with itself. Right? Because the accuser, if they mean by bigotry “We shouldn’t make a negative evaluation of a belief,” if that’s what they mean by bigotry, well then, they would be inconsistent with the application of the principle, because in as much as you would tell me, “Karlo you’re being a bigot for making a negative evaluation of somebody’s belief or behavior,” well guess what? You’re making a negative evaluation of my belief that I can make judgments about people’s beliefs and behaviors.

Cy Kellett: Got it, okay. What about the … I missed one here. The hate speech argument, big- I did not miss one, I’m on the right, the “intolerance argument.”

Karlo Broussard: That’s right.

Cy Kellett: That’s the one I wanted to get to next.

Karlo Broussard: Yes.

Cy Kellett: I apologize, Karlo. The “intolerance argument.”

Karlo Broussard: Yeah, so once again, I would respond and say, “Okay, well, what do you mean by intolerance?” Normally what people mean when they make this claim is that I’m not being tolerant for accepting everyone’s beliefs and opinions as equal and valid. Right? Okay, first of all, there’s several ways in which we could go about doing this, but let’s just run with your belief that that’s what tolerance is. We should accept everyone’s beliefs as equal and valid. Okay, if that’s what you mean by tolerance Cy, well then, why don’t you tolerate my belief that we don’t have to accept everyone’s opinions as equal and valid?

Cy Kellett: Oops.

Karlo Broussard: Oops. You see how, in as much as you say, “Karlo, we need to tolerate everyone’s beliefs and opinions as equal and valid,” well, okay, including mine …

Cy Kellett: That we don’t.

Karlo Broussard: Well, we don’t have to accept everybody’s belief as equal and valid. Of course, you’re going to say, “No, you can’t do that, Karlo. You’re wrong for doing that. You have to accept everyone’s beliefs as …” Well, you’re not tolerating my beliefs so you’re being just as intolerant as you’re saying I’m being intolerant. Right?

Cy Kellett: Right, right, right.

Karlo Broussard: Secondly, if we concede your understanding of tolerance to be “Accept everybody’s beliefs as equal and valid,” I would say, well, I can’t do that, because in light of the principle of noncontradiction, I can’t accept two contradictory positions as being true at the same time. “God exists,” “God doesn’t exist.” Well, guess what? I can’t tolerate that both of those propositions are true.

Cy Kellett: Yes, right.

Karlo Broussard: Because, something cannot both be and not be in the same respect in the same place and time. Right? So I cannot accept everybody’s beliefs and opinions as equal and valid, because some beliefs and opinions contradict each other. Right?

Cy Kellett: Right, so they can’t all be true.

Karlo Broussard: They can’t all be true.

Cy Kellett: Now you’re just making, it’s kind of arbitrary, then.

Karlo Broussard: That’s right, that’s right. I would wrap it up in saying, “Listen Cy, tolerance is not accepting everybody’s beliefs as equal and valid. Tolerance is ‘I’m going to allow you to express your belief and your opinion. I’m going to tolerate that without the threat of physical coercion. I’m going to respect your right to do that, your dignity as a human being and being a free individual, a rational creature to make your judgments about reality, and I’m going to allow you to do that without the threat of physical coercion, even though I disagree with you, even though I think your judgment is false and my judgment is true.'” So notice, we’re slapped with the label or intolerance for saying somebody’s belief is wrong, right, but yet, saying somebody’s belief is wrong necessarily belongs to the essence of tolerance. Because, you cannot tolerate somebody that you don’t disagree with.

Cy Kellett: Oh, right.

Karlo Broussard: If we’re both relativists, I don’t tolerate your relativism. I don’t tolerate people’s beliefs I agree with. I tolerate people’s beliefs I disagree with. But, disagreement necessarily involves a judgment that their belief doesn’t conform to reality, but my belief does. Once we expose the absurdity of their understanding of tolerance, then we can follow up with the true understanding of tolerance. I think that might settle their emotional response, right, because they no longer have to fear, right, because they immediately think, “Well, if you make a truth claim then that means you’re going to physically coerce me to believe what you believe.”

Cy Kellett: Yeah, no.

Karlo Broussard: No. There’s a difference between making a truth claim about reality or even practical matters, such as an ethical claim, and coercing somebody to conform to that claim. We can draw a distinction between those two things.

Cy Kellett: What about this one, though, because I do think this is the big one, maybe, in this category, is “It’s just judgmental. You’re being judgmental.”

Karlo Broussard: Right. This is the one we get often. Here’s the insight here. If we make a claim, “Well, that behavior, Cy, what you’re doing, you need to stop. It’s not good for you, brother. It’s a sin. It’s immoral. It offends God. It’s not good and healthy for you as a human being.” You say, “Well, don’t judge me. You don’t know me.” Right?

Cy Kellett: Right.

Karlo Broussard: Notice that statement. Notice the assumption you’re working on there is that you perceive me to be judging your soul.

Cy Kellett: Your person, right.

Karlo Broussard: Your person. “You’re a bad guy,” and you perceive me to be judging your soul to be condemned. Right? But notice, we can draw a distinction between making judgments about a belief not conforming to reality or a behavior not conforming to the good of the human being, and judging the character of the person believing those things or doing those things, and judging the soul. Right? As theists and as Christians, particularly, we do not claim that we have a right to judge a person’s soul. Only God has access to the subjective dimension, whether or not the person has full knowledge and full deliberate consent in what he or she is doing. Right?

Cy Kellett: Right.

Karlo Broussard: So we draw a distinction between the act itself and the person’s culpability for the act. When I say, “Cy, what you’re doing is not good for you. It’s wrong,” that’s not a judgment about your culpability.

Cy Kellett: Yeah, that’s a hard distinction for people to make, I think.

Karlo Broussard: That’s a judgment about the behavior and whether or not it’s good for you to do as a human being. Only God knows whether you’re really culpable for that, and thus are guilty or not. That’s not our place to judge. That’s God’s place to judge. The common phrase, right, that we’ve always heard, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.”

Cy Kellett: Yeah.

Karlo Broussard: That embodies the distinction, that expresses very well the distinction, between recognizing an act to be wrong or a belief to be false, right, an act to be immoral and a belief to be false, and the person’s culpability for that false belief or for that immoral action. Only God has access to the heart and the inner workings of the mind, so only God knows if you’re truly guilty or not. That’s not our place to judge. We judge the external. We leave God to be the judge of the internal movements of the heart. I think if we can express that to people and articulate that to people, well then, they may be more inclined to allow us, without the emotional response, to make a critical judgment about a belief or a behavior, while at the same time recognizing, “Hey, we can all still get along in a civilized society.”

Cy Kellett: Amen, amen. Karlo Broussard, really enjoyed these three conversations with you.

Karlo Broussard: I think I enjoyed it more, Cy.

Cy Kellett: Just for the listener, if you want to know more or hear more from Karlo on relativism and helping you keep pondering these things to know how to address them, whether they arise in your own thinking or in the thinking of people you are in conversation with, Your Truth, My Truth: How to Understand and Refute Relativistic Thinking is Karlo’s CD on the topic. You can get that at shop.catholic.com. His book is Prepare the Way: Overcoming Obstacles to God, the Gospel, and the Church. Did you have something? You look like you want to say another thing, Karlo.

Karlo Broussard: I was just going to say thank you, Cy.

Cy Kellett: Well, thank you Karlo, and we’ll see you next time on Catholic Answers Focus.


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