Monday, March 08, 2010

Christian Relativism and Glenn Beck's Call

Christians will often state that relativism is a bad thing. However, many believers have a very relativistic ethical code. For example, there have been a number of Christians picking apart the movie Avatar. I heard one Christian say of Avatar's message of environmental and corporate responsibility:

"Yeah, they try to portray it as good, but it is just paganism and they are trying to trick us."

Here the Christian states that something seems good, but because it is being portrayed by another belief system, that makes it bad.

This was also demonstrated today by Glenn Beck. He warns Christians to abandon churches that focus on "Social Justice". Glenn said:

"I beg you, look for the words 'social justice' or 'economic justice' on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!"

Social Justice would normally be a good thing. It sure was a biggie on Jesus' list. However, because "liberals" are for it, that makes it bad.

Religion can cause people to develop very dubious ethical systems. Good and bad become relative to who is doing it. Loving your neighbor becomes valuable if you are a Christian, but if the same behavior is exhibited by an atheist it becomes "nice" at best and deceitful at worst. God forbid we should think well of the Muslim who loves his neighbor.

Glenn knows this phenomenon personally. Many Christians are "rah-rah" Glenn. Go Glenn go!!

Then they find out he is a Mormon.

Suddenly Glenn doesn't sparkle so brightly.

Here are some other blogs I follow that have weighed-in on Mr. Beck's view of churches that work for social justice.


Unknown said...

Very observant post, Andy. It seems relativism can be found wherever one choses to find it... relatively speaking. :-)

I would posit, though, that in some cases, what seems on the surface to be 'relativism' could rather be 'discernment.' If I observe someone noted for doing evil, or say, that is narcissistic - then I become suspect of the motives of that person should they do, what appears on the surface, to be a "good deed." For example, is a donation of a few hundred thousand dollars to a 'green' charity by a corporation known for flouting environmental pollution a good deed? Certainly the charity could benefit by such a 'generous' contribution to their well-meaning cause. But a closer look reveals that this is a means by said corp to buy good PR via disinformation, and furthermore, is motivated by legal maneuvering that allows them to sidestep certain EPA regulations by "investing" a certain amount into "green" activities. Is it still a "good deed?"

I cannot claim to know the motives of men's hearts, but I am directed by scripture to be wise and discerning... which includes being circumspect about the doings of those with observable behavior that qualifies as "dubious" at best.

This has nothing to do, by the way, with either Avatar, or for that matter, Mr. Beck. :-)

Jon said...

Thanks for this one Andrew. This question is so closely related to the one about hell which you write about a lot in this blog. It comes down to this - are you one of us, or not? If you make us feel uncomfortable, or rattle our cage, we can label you as an "outsider" - a communist, a nazi, a humanist - and then we don't have to engage with you and listen carefully to what you say. Do you listen to Peter Gabriel? He has a great song about this called "Not One of Us" - check it out here

Anonymous said...

Life has a 'pick n choose' em' element in society filled with many choices. The vast amount of choices is not making people smarter - but in fact more weak minded. Must be something about having so much choice that can break down one's resolve.

I think relativism is kind of about that exact thing - we make sense of the huge amount of information we take in. We become relativists not because we want that - but we need it for sanity.

Unknown said...

Andrew, I agree with you on every point here however I might suggest that Ideology causes us to to develop dubious ethical systems. Religion merely enhances and compartmentalizes the thinking errors associated with a given ideology.

I know I am frequently guilty of dismissing good acts by competing ideologies. As a critical thinker it is not a trait that I consider virtuous.

I disagree with Societyvs' position that choice makes us more weak minded. I am suspicious of any effort to limit choice. Who, at the end of the day, gets to decide what choices are no longer on the table?

Andrew said...

Randy - I acknowledge that those circumstances exist, but I do not think that accounts for the day to day inconsistencies we generate. The simple fact is, we struggle with considering individual arguments and behaviors according to the direct scenario as opposed to the association. The Glenn Beck link I put at the end is a perfect example. Focus on the Family pulled Glenn Beck's interview from their magazine. Was it based on something he said? something he did? No, it was pulled because he is a Mormon and for no other reason. I think all groups can do this on one level or another, but I think Christians are particularly susceptible to this because of the convoluted way we can translate goodness. Goodness is belief based and so consciously or unconsciously, many Christians get a "Sneetches" like superiority over anyone outside the faith. I heard one Pastor declare in a sermon "The WORST Christian in the world is better than Gandhi." He practically got a standing ovation over that. I think this is why so many Christians get their undies in a bunch over the "social gospel". They see people who don't "know" Jesus doing a BETTER job living the life he called us to .... so they have to take them down a few notches by somehow redefining goodness into a way that puts Christians on top regardless of life lived. Out of that motivation we get belief-oriented evangelicalism.

Jon - Heh! Great song! It is true that once someone gets labeled, they can be ignored more easily. I know I am susceptible to this myself, which is why I listen to AM talk radio a few times a week, to try to find stuff I can give credence to. It is very easy for me to just dismiss something because a rabid right winger said it.

I am not sure that I am "one of us" anymore. :) I am still thinly attending an evangelical church, but I am decidedly no longer an evangelical. I get emails from angry Christians every now and again telling me to quit deceiving honest Christians and just declare my atheism. I have atheist friends who can testify that I am not an atheist. :) But that is the binary thinking that pervades right wing Christianity, if you do not subscribe to our faith, you have no faith.

Society - I definitely think relativism does not get an honest consideration. I believe pure objectivism is an unattainable ideal. We all bring our lived histories and circumstances to everything we believe and view. I happily accept the fact that I am a relativist. Hopefully, as we listen to each other's views and stories, we can see more clearly.

I am not sure if more choices makes one weaker, but perhaps there is a watering down that takes place. I know from teaching that I see people "freeze" sometimes when many options are presented. I'll have to think more on that.

Curmudgeon - Yep, it is the ideology. I just did what I sometimes point out with others speaking of religion, and that is mistaking symptom for cause. However, I think that some religions can spur this on more than others. Though not the actual fuel, it can be an air scoop on the engine. As I eluded to above, there are aspects to Christianity that when spun the wrong way, can be more damaging than most. Or it simply may be that, because I have come from an evangelical background, that I react to it more harshly than is fair.

Brook said...

isn't this what the parable of the Good Samaritan was all about? the idea of a "good Samaritan" alone would have been an oxymoron to those hearing this parable.

Don said...

The ole "us vs. them" idea rears its ugly head more and more frequently.

""The WORST Christian in the world is better than Gandhi."

"Focus on the Family pulled Glenn Beck's interview from their magazine. Was it based on something he said? something he did? No, it was pulled because he is a Mormon and for no other reason."

Prime examples!!
Good Post!

Hellmut said...

Another word that comes to mind is tribalism.

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