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Speaker explores relativism with panelists

| Wednesday, February 25, 2015

“Relativism isn’t only a problem because it’s false — but it is.”

Saint Mary’s Christ Lights Club invited Kristi Haas of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies to explore how people of faith may live in truth despite contemporary society’s relativistic tendencies.

Haas said human beings understand simple truths as cause and effects, but that she was arguing for greater truths.

“I’m talking about a different kind of truth,” Haas said. “Truth that governs our actions.”

“How do we act as the leaven in a society that needs it?” she asked.

Haas discussion, entitled “Relativism: Living in a Society where Truth is Obscured,” and the five students that participated, identified three different dimensions of people’s lives into which relativism pervades as well as examples of each.


After the discussion participants concluded that relativism is prevalent in issues concerning church versus state. Haas said relativity appears on an institutional level, too, and is prevalent in politics.

Relativity may take the form of the American Civil Liberties Union preaching tolerance through secularism, she said.

Haas said relativity arises on an interpersonal level every time someone responds, “That’s what you think,” after another person has expressed his or her beliefs. The claim that everything is relative does not hold if the claim itself is considered relative as well, she said.

“Relativism defeats itself as a philosophical position,” Haas said.

Junior and club president Sofia Piecuch said she found this dimension of relativity to run rampant in YouTube comments, where everyone tears one another apart.

Haas agreed and said YouTube is a forum in which truth is regularly deconstructed.

The most intimate level of a person’s life in which relativity may appear is “in our own hearts,” Haas said.

Haas said human beings have a tendency to put themselves in an “in-group” as they perceive morality. She said these personal, structural and internal appearances of relativity can be addressed through faith.

“There is an objective standard of truth in revelation,” Haas said.

Haas said theologians have identified relativism as technocratic utilitarianism, moralistic therapeutic deism and a commodification of culture.

“Technocratic utilitarianism refers to greater pleasure, less pleasure, through technology,” Haas said.

Haas said Christian Smith, professor of sociology and director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society and the Center for Social Research at Notre Dame, examined how American youth identify religiously and concluded that the common belief was in moralistic therapeutic deism — a vaguely moral entity.

“Jesus is not reduced to reason but is accessible to reason,” Haas said. “Likewise, God is accessible to reason but cannot be fully comprehend with reason.”

Haas said the commodification of culture occurs when people separate cultural objects from their complete story.

“Cultural objects used for profit are divorced from our system of meaning till they become meaningless except with reference to our own desires,” she said. “We want them because we think they will satisfy something with in us not because they are truth.”

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