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The New Hidden Relativism

With the strident morality of modern movements such as “Me Too,” it would seem that relativism has been replaced with moralism. Well, maybe not, says Karlo Broussard in his latest book, “The New Relativism.” In this episode, he explains how moral outrage is often a cover for an entrenched relativism.


Cy Kellett:

Hello and welcome to Focus, the Catholic Answers Podcast for living, understanding and defending your Catholic faith. I am Cy Kellett, your host, and Karlo Broussard is our guest. He’s got a brand new book out that you can get over at shop.catholic.com or wherever you get your good Catholic books. It’s called The New Relativism: Unmasking the Philosophy of Today’s Woke Moralists. Karlo, thanks for being here with us to talk about the book.

Karlo Broussard:

Cy, thanks for having me man.

Cy Kellett:

It seems like we’re constantly fighting a moving target as Catholics. The intellectual challenges or the emotional challenges presented as intellectual challenges are all around constantly changing.

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah.

Cy Kellett:

It’s hard to know where to address your fire, so to speak.

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah.

Cy Kellett:

Where to aim.

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah, absolutely. It’s always a changing landscape, at least on the surface. But as-

Cy Kellett:

I see what you’re saying, yeah.

Karlo Broussard:

But as I’m arguing in my new book, the New Relativism, it’s only appearing to be changing on the surface, but whenever you start probing deeper, it’s actually sort of the same stuff lurking underneath.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah. And I’ve started to read it. I have not finished reading it, but it’s very exciting. It’s a really cool book. And one of the things you do address early on is it almost seems like fighting against relativism is fighting last decade’s battle because everybody is so sure about morality now.

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah.

Cy Kellett:

They know this is sexist and this is racist, and this is transphobic, and this is homophobic, and there’s all these lines that you’re not allowed to cross and it just seems so… I mean, it’s almost like a kind of sexual revolution patriotism. It’s like a reverse patriotism.

Karlo Broussard:

Some have put it a new moral absolutism.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah, A new moral absolutism.

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah, it does. So why are you fighting against relativism, Karlo. Get with the times.

Karlo Broussard:

That’s right. Well, in fact, that is what I feared when I started writing this book. So I set out to write a book on relativism. I got all these great arguments to refute total relativism, moral relativism, cultural relativism, the old-fashioned relativism stuff.

But then I began encountering these claims that relativism was passé. That’s old stuff, man, that’s old news. That’s 2005 apologetics. There’s really no need for a relativism book. So I would be talking to an empty stadium here and shooting at a non-existing target, basically. And so I began to kind of panic. I was like, “Well, man, am I going to have to scrap this whole relativism book project?” And so I began to consider the claims that I was encountering. So for example, a political commentator in the New York Times piece had wrote that on college campuses it used to be a wash and moral relativism, but that’s not the case anymore.

What we find on college campuses now is what some have called the shame culture where there’s these absolutes, these cultural absolutes that, as you said, if you cross the line, man, you’re going to get canceled. You’re going to get shamed.

You are not towing the moral line here. And it’s not just outside of Christianity. Also within the Christian realm, there are some who are claiming that relativism is dead and that we are experiencing something new here. So in a Christianity Today piece, one by the name of Ted Olson, he wrote that, “Christians need to come to terms with the passing of the moral relativists. Today we live in an era of constant moral indignation”. You can’t have moral relativism if you have moral indignation. Which is one thing, one more thing.

Cy Kellett:

Yes.

Karlo Broussard:

Which is manifest in many of these moral absolutes that I’m going through in the book. “Thy shall not be a white supremacist, thy shall not impose, thy shall not be intolerant, thy shall not be a judgmental, hateful bigot”. And on down the line. Even within Catholic ranks, I was listening to an episode for Exodus 90, it was an Exodus 90 episode, and there was one lady talking on there who used to be a focus missionary, and she was talking about the new moral absolutism which was a phrase coined by some other guys on another podcast, which I document in the book. And so the idea was that there’s no more relativism here because you got to get on board with what these people are proposing, and if you don’t, you’re going to get shut down. And so I began thinking to myself, “well, it seems as if relativism is dead, and this whole book project is done and over”.

But then I began to think through these so-called modern moral absolutes, and I began to discover, Cy that relativism, in fact is not dead. It’s as alive as it ever was. It’s just masked behind these moral absolutes, at least the verbiage of these, they seem to be absolute in the verbiage. But when you take the mask off and you begin asking the questions, well, what’s really being said here? You come to discover it’s just flat out relativism, whether it’s like total relativism, whether there is no truth whatsoever. Philosophers call that total relativism or moral relativism. There’s no absolute truth when it comes to lifestyle choices or morality or human behavior or cultural relativism. There’s no absolute truth independent of what the collective group says is true. And it was fascinating. So finally I realized, I was like, “Wow, I actually have a book now”.

Cy Kellett:

And it’s a really good book because it’s a great insight that in a certain sense, moral outrage is a great tool for hitting people over the head with to make them accept relativism. It’s a weird little mix. You wouldn’t think they go together, but hitting you with “you’re transphobia” over your head.

Karlo Broussard:

You’re intolerant. You’re a bigot. You’re judgmental. You’re just a hateful person. You’re a bad guy. But here’s the key to affirm objective truth, whether about reality as a whole or about lifestyle choices and morality, you’re a bad guy. That’s the bottom line. And it’s an ingenious plan.

Cy Kellett:

That’s right.

Karlo Broussard:

Whether it’s intentional of those who are touting these more absolutes. I doubt it, I don’t think so. But I do know as a Christian that the evil intelligent beings who are offspring of the one that Jesus called the father of lies, for them it is intentional.

Cy Kellett:

Oh, sure. They know what they’re doing.

Karlo Broussard:

What better way to get people to not adhere to objective truth than to say, “You’re a bad person for doing so.” Because nobody… That appeals to our emotions and our ultimate desires. We all fundamentally we’re like, we don’t wake up in the morning and say, “I’m going to be a bad guy today.” We don’t desire evil in and of itself. We don’t desire to be a bad person, but if our mind starts to think that saying same sex sexual activity is immoral and then by saying that I’m a bad person, well, that’s an ingenious plan to get you away from criticizing same sex sexual activity, or by saying that I know the truth, and I believe that what I am saying is true, and this is reality and what you’re saying about reality is false.

What better way to get somebody to deny that or to get away from saying those things, by getting them to think that if I say that I’m somehow a bad guy, I’m just a hateful person, or I’m just a bigot. And so it’s actually an ingenious plan here, ultimately by the evil one. And whether people out there are intentionally doing it, I’ll leave that up to God for God to judge. But it’s a fascinating thing, and it’s actually more sinister here, Cy, because as in the past, relativism was just blatant. It’s like, “There is no truth. You have your truth, I have mine.”

Cy Kellett:

And then we just go, is that true?

Karlo Broussard:

That’s right. Let’s just agree to disagree. And it was manifest, it was blatant. But here, and ultimately what happened is many people were like, “Nah, that doesn’t make sense. I mean, are you going to say the Nazis are okay and doing what they did?”

No.

So people were less inclined to swallow relativism if we could put it like that when it was blatant and manifests but in this way, it’s masked behind these modern moral absolutes, which ultimately people who were not thinking about these things carefully are going to say, “Yeah, I don’t want to be a white supremacist.”

Cy Kellett:

No.

Karlo Broussard:

Right, but whenever you start asking, “Well, what does white supremacy mean in these more modern moral absolutes?” It means affirming objectivity. That’s white supremacy. Well, then the person now is buying into the relativistic thinking. They’re going to swallow the relatively.

Cy Kellett:

And you didn’t make that one up.

Karlo Broussard:

I didn’t make that one up, no.

Cy Kellett:

There are actually people who said that if you say there’s objective truth, that’s white supremacy, that’s your way of oppressing other people.

Karlo Broussard:

That’s right. So, for example, as I point out in the book, and here in California Pomona College, there was a planned speech of an individual to come and speak against the Black Lives Matter movement and organization. This individual was critical of it, but the student body rose up and protested, shut the speech down. It did not happen. And so the president of Pomona College, David Oxtoby, actually responded in an email saying how this is not in harmony with the mission of the college, which is “the discovery of truth and the collaborative development of knowledge.” In response to that email, a group of students responded, claiming “the idea that there is a single truth is a myth and white supremacy.” It goes on. “Historically, white supremacy has venerated the idea of objectivity as a means of silencing oppressed peoples.” So in this case…

Cy Kellett:

That is insane.

Karlo Broussard:

… Thy shall not be white supremacist means thy shall not affirm objective truth. That’s total relativism there.

Cy Kellett:

Exactly. That’s right. So what they did was, you took the old relativism and you gave it the label white supremacy or…

Karlo Broussard:

And nobody…

Cy Kellett:

Excuse me, the old moral absolutism and said, “Well, then that’s white supremacy.” Therefore, the only conclusion is, I don’t want to be a rights white supremacist. I got to be a relativist.

Karlo Broussard:

That’s right. Absolutely. And this is not just a fringe group. So for example, take the mathematics curricula, a pathway to equitable math instruction, dismantling racism and mathematics instruction. This was a mathematical curriculum that was adopted by many educational organizations in Oregon, here in California and other places. And in this manual, it lists toxic characteristics of white supremacy culture. What are one of those characteristics? What is one of those characteristics? “Getting the right answer.”

And then it goes on to say, upholding the idea that there are always right and wrong answers, perpetuates objectivity, and remember objectivity, that is a characteristic of white culture. So to affirm the right answer and to say there are right and wrong answers is to be guilty of being a white supremacist and to be oppressive of non-white people. That my friend is total relativism.

Cy Kellett:

It is relativism.

Karlo Broussard:

You have the mask of the modern moral absolute. “White supremacy is bad. You shouldn’t be a white supremacist, “but if interpreted correctly, we say, “Amen.” Because no matter what color your skin is, that doesn’t make you superior to some other person who has a different color of skin.

Cy Kellett:

So we agree. Yeah, you shouldn’t be a white supremacist.

Karlo Broussard:

But what do you mean?

Trent Horn has done a great job here at Catholic Answers in getting our listeners and getting folks to use the Socratic method and always ask that question. Well, what do you mean? Because before we begin to have any sort of dialogue, we have to define our terms. We have to be on the same page. We have to know what we’re talking about so that we’re not talking past each other. So that shall not be a white supremacist. Well, what do you mean by white supremacy?

Affirming objective truth.

“That’s what you mean.”

Well, then we’re going to have to have a conversation here. This is something that we cannot agree on because we would argue that you must affirm objective truth.

Cy Kellett:

I think you’re so onto something, but when you think about this, it’s the most childish trick in the world. It’s just labeling. If I said to someone, “If you don’t give me a thousand dollars, you’re a white supremacist.” Well, no one’s going to go, “Oh, here’s a thousand dollars.”

“If you believe in objective truth, then you’re a white…”

“I don’t believe in object…”

Well, why do we fall for it? It seems so childish?

Karlo Broussard:

It is childish, objectively speaking. But it’s appealing to wounds in our hearts and in our consciousness as a people because we know that racism is so bad, and it’s something that we just can’t touch with a hundred-foot pole, not necessarily nevertheless [inaudible 00:14:13].

Cy Kellett:

We’re so scared of being labeled.

Karlo Broussard:

That’s right. We’re so scared of being a racist that any inclination of our cultural perspective of racism, we want to avoid it. And here where what we have here is this movement in our modern culture of affirming objectivity as being a form of racism. And so for many people who aren’t thinking clearly, their desire is to not be a racist, and so it’s a touching on something that’s very sensitive to them, and so they’re more inclined to embrace that line of thinking and say, “Well, I guess I can’t affirm objectivity.”

Cy Kellett:

Well, so you go through, as you said already, you have three parts, total relativism and total relativism you would define as everything’s. There’s just no truth.

Karlo Broussard:

There’s no truth whatsoever.

Cy Kellett:

Moral relativism, there’s no absolute good or evil.

Karlo Broussard:

There might be objective truth when it comes to mathematics or scientific truths, but when it comes to morality, like what’s appropriate or inappropriate human behavior and wrong behavior, good and bad behavior, no objective truth for that. It’s relative to the individual’s perspective or judgment. That’s moral relativism.

Cy Kellett:

The third section is cultural. What’s cultural relativism?

Karlo Broussard:

Cultural relativism is total relativism, but rather than being restricted to an individual, what I say is real or true, it’s what the collective group says is true.

Cy Kellett:

Oh, so in your culture, you believe in, I don’t know inoculations but in my culture, we don’t believe in that.

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah. And whether it be total like truth in general or just moral, like human behavior, that would be cultural relativism. And so what I do in the book size, the 10 modern absolutes, what I saw, I saw a pattern there that these absolutes can be grouped into one of these three categories of relativism. So some of them are categorized into total relativism, and that would be the, thy shall not be a white supremacist. That was pretty evident. That was an easy one there as I just illustrated. Thy shall not impose, which when interpreted means you shouldn’t persuade anybody of your belief that your belief is true. Well, as I think through that, I expose that and show that there’s total relativism lurking behind that mask there. If I go around telling people, Cy, you can’t be persuading people about your belief that it’s true, the implication there is that there is no belief that’s more truer than another.

And then, thy shall not say he or she. And so I have a chapter that deals with contemporary gender ideology and how that is a manifestation of total relativism within our culture, which one would not think it is. Some people will say, oh yeah, absolutely, transgenderism is relativism. But when you think about it, you might be inclined to think, “Well, wait a minute, maybe it’s not.” Because a lot of these people, they don’t just wake up one morning and say, a man wakes up one morning and says, “I want to be a woman now. And what I say goes.” A lot of people have been struggling with their identity for some time. For some people, they didn’t just wake up and choose and say, “Hey, I want to be a woman.” They think I’ve always been a woman. And so if they’re not determining reality, they’re just discovering reality.

And what’s more…

Cy Kellett:

That would seem not to be relativism.

Karlo Broussard:

That’s right. And what’s more objective than just discovering who you are?

Cy Kellett:

Right.

Karlo Broussard:

So you would think it’s not relativism, but as I push it a little further, and I think through it, I expose the relativism that’s actually embedded in contemporary gender ideology. Because what’s relative is the truth about what it means to be a woman. Because if a man says, “I have this inner censor filling of being a woman,” would notice, you might discover it. “Yeah. I feel that and I’ve always felt that.” But the judgment that the feeling is of the kind being woman, that’s where the relativism lies, because the meaning of woman is now dependent on and relative to the judgment of the individual, that this feeling is of the kind being woman. And that’s entirely subjective, and that’s just total relativism. And the reason why I say it’s initially is gender relativism but I argue that it ends up in total relativism because if what it means to be a woman can be dependent upon the individual’s judgment, then what it means to be a man can be dependent upon the individual’s judgment. And that’s fair game and transgenderism. But if the meaning of man and woman can be dependent upon the individual’s judgment, then what about age? What about race? What about biological conditions? What about anything in reality?

If these things are dependent on the individual’s judgment, then everything else is going to be in principle, dependent upon the individual’s judgment. So if you give relativism an inch, man, you crack that door open just a little bit with regard to gender well, then relativism is going to come in and just rip the whole door down, and then you end up with total relativism. So that’s section one.

And then the others are grouped into moral relativism. That would be, thy shall not be intolerant, judgmental, hateful, bigot. Thy shall not kill, thy shall not harm. And then cultural relativism being thy shall not coerce, thy shall not misinformed, and thy shall not be anti-science.

Cy Kellett:

Well, help me with one of them, because I think that as a person who engages in presenting and defending the Catholic faith, the one that I would guess I am most likely to be accused of is thou shalt not be intolerant. So work me through that one so that I have answer to that. This is completely self serving. This has nothing to do with this program. I just want to know, how do I deal with the person who says I’m intolerant because I hold belief?

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah. So I deal with this in chapter four. We have to ask, well, what do you mean by do mean by tolerance? So you say, we can’t be tolerant so that implies we must be…

Cy Kellett:

Intolerant.

Karlo Broussard:

We can’t be intolerant that implies we must be tolerant. Well, what do you mean by tolerant? Well, whenever you unmask this modern absolute sigh, which you discover is that the modern cultural meaning of tolerance is to accept every, in this case, lifestyle choices, to accept everyone’s lifestyle choices as equal and valid. That there is no lifestyle choice that is good or bad, just different because they’re all equal and valid. I cannot say my lifestyle choice is superior than yours with regard to its goodness or badness. That’s what they mean with thy shall be tolerant. We got to tolerate everybody’s opinions. What they mean by that is we got to tolerate everybody’s lifestyle choices.

You can’t go around, Cy saying that the lifestyle choice to engage in same sex sexual activity, and for a man to be “married to another man,” that lifestyle, you can’t say that’s bad. You can’t say that’s wrong. You got to tolerate that behavior, which means you got to accept that behavior as equal and valid to your choice to marry a woman and to engage in sexual activity with a woman within the context of marriage. But if all lifestyle choices are equal and valid and one is not good over and above the other, which is bad, but then that entails, there’s no objective morality, there is no objective, good for human behavior. There’s no absolute truth about human behavior, whether it’s good or bad or wrong, which is the essence of moral relativism.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah. But, okay would it be fair to say that if we fall into this moral relativism, even if we don’t see it as moral relativism, even if we’re one of those people who sincerely sees this as a kind of trying to vindicate goods, say, well, it’s bad to be intolerant. What we do because of the undergirding of all of this with moral relativism is now we’re just subject to our feelings to tell us what’s right and what’s wrong. Because you said, “Well, same sex relationship.” But now if I say to that same person who’s making the argument you just made, “You’re intolerant because…” And if I say, “Well, I actually agree with you, and that’s why I think that men should be able to have sex with children.” No. Okay immediately that, and what’s the difference? It’s not based on reasoning it through. It’s based on, I don’t feel comfortable with that. So, now I’m just a victim of my feelings.

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah, because the intellect and the analysis of these behaviors is entirely out of the picture. And so all we’re left with is our feelings and what’s comfortable or what we like or what we dislike according to modern sensibilities. Well, listen, a few years, not many years ago, the modern sensibility was that same sex sexual activity was bad and we don’t do that. But that modern sensibility has gone, it’s passe, and now it’s accepted culturally as, okay. So if that’s the basis of our moral analysis, then these other sorts of behaviors, pedophilia, like currently the modern sensibility is against that, but there is a push.

Cy Kellett:

There’s like an erosion. You feel this erosion.

Karlo Broussard:

That’s right.

Cy Kellett:

And they’re not equally, I wouldn’t say, oh, these are equally evil things. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m just saying, once you say you got to tolerate everything, somebody’s going to push your boundaries, and you got nothing but feelings or social conventions to go with.

Karlo Broussard:

As is manifest in contemporary gender ideology. How is a woman defined? It is defined as one who has the inner sense or feeling of being a woman, who has the gender identity of being a woman. That’s what gender identity is, the inner sense or feeling of being a woman. Well, if the inner sense or feeling determines what a woman is, then it can determine what a man is and determine age. It can determine what behavior is right or wrong for you, et cetera. And so the moral relativism that’s present here, as you said, it’s actually going to exclude those behaviors that we all intuitively recognize to be wrong. You mentioned one of them, and that’s a price that they’re going to have to pay if they want to be logically consistent with the thinking that’s involved in contemporary moral absolutes from these woke absolutes.

Cy Kellett:

And I think that we are subject, especially in a very media saturated environment, to actually having our feelings manipulated so that something we once knew was wrong, we can, over time, you make enough TV shows about it, and you make enough…

Karlo Broussard:

Put enough smiling pretty faces associated with it.

Cy Kellett:

You make enough bumper stickers that go with it. And eventually I start to think I was probably wrong. It’s not that bad. Sex with children not that bad. Eventually we’ll get there.

Karlo Broussard:

And that’s why it’s important to have a moral analysis of behaviors rooted in fundamental principles that we can come to know about what is good and bad. And for us as human beings, what is good and bad behavior so that the fillings may come and go, but we can still know the truth about good human behavior and bad human behavior relative to our human nature. So human good, human behavior is relative, but it’s relative to our human nature. It’s relative to what we are as human beings. That’s the standard that determines what’s going to be good or bad for us.

Cy Kellett:

And one of the nice things in this book is that in each of the three sections at the end of the section, you do show, well, here’s how you refute that. And so…

Karlo Broussard:

Total relativism, more relativism, cultural relativism. The good old-fashioned stuff.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah, and that’s the helpful stuff. That’s…

Karlo Broussard:

The work that I did starting the project didn’t go to the scrapyard.

Cy Kellett:

You were still able to use it.

Karlo Broussard:

… Salvage it. Because there’s still those diehard relativists out there who are going to blatantly tout, there is no truth, there is no moral truth there. Truth is dependent upon your culture and what your culture says determines what’s right or wrong or true or false. So at the end of each of these sections, I provide refutations of those forms of relativism, like in the old days whereas with these modern absolutes, the primary focus is to expose the relativism and then refute the relativistic thinking as it’s embedded in the moral absolute.

Cy Kellett:

It’s a really, a fantastic book, very well written, edited. Beautifully done. Congratulations on it.

Karlo Broussard:

Thank you.

Cy Kellett:

It’s The New Relativism: Unmasking the philosophy of today’s woke moralists. It is a striking feature of the modern world that the person with the greatest moral outrage on Twitter is probably a relativist.

Karlo Broussard:

A relativist.

Cy Kellett:

That’s quite an insight to have, Karlo, very well done.

Karlo Broussard:

Thank you. I appreciate it, Cy.

Cy Kellett:

And I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. At the end of this show I always say the email address. Well, here’s the deal. You probably have some great idea for a Focus episode. You’re like, “They should do this episode,” but you don’t email us. focus@catholic.com is our email address, but I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. Whoever sends me the best, it’s got to be in the next seven days.

The next seven days from the day that this drops, whoever emails me the best idea for a focus episode, I’m going to give them a free copy of The New Relativism: Unmasking, the philosophy of today’s woke moralist. So stop sitting on those great ideas and send them to focus@catholic.com.

And if you have piles of money, stop sitting on the piles of money send some of that to givecatholic.com to help us continue to do what we’re doing. And by the way, if you’re sitting on piles of money, congratulations, that’s a good place to be sitting. givecatholic.com is where you can support us. And if you would be kind enough to give us that five star review, maybe a few nice words wherever you listen to this podcast that will help us grow the podcast.

I’m Cy Kellett. Our guest is Karlo Broussard. The book is The New Relativism. Get it at shop.catholic.com and we’ll see you next time, God willing, right here on Catholic Answers Focus.

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