The Pope Is A Moral And Cultural Relativist

January 28, 2007 at 5:08 pm (feminism, LGBT, politics, proclamations, racism, sexism)

I was just reading this post at Pandagon, in which the Pope is a jerk just like usual. Nothing new there. But one line got me thinking. Let’s quote Spaulding quoting:

The Pope warned against what he said was a “cultural context marked by relativism” and against any views of marriage as merely a legal union “that human will could manipulate as it pleases, even depriving it of its heterosexual nature.”

This charge of moral and cultural relativism is one that conservatives like to throw around a lot. It’s always bugged me, and here’s why: it’s bullshit, and, like almost everything else conservatives say about the left, it has nothing to do with liberals’ failings and everything to do with their own.

I’m well aware that moral relativism is “the position that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect absolute and universal moral truths, but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances.” But the thing that always catches me, whenever I see it, is the word itself. R-e-l-a-t-i-v-i-s-m. A system of belief based on… Relativity. It’s meant to mean relativity of truth, of justice, of ethical behavior, across social and temporal lines. But I want to think of it a little differently for a moment, as a relativity of worth, from one human being to another. Because people like the Pope think that some people are worth more than others. White people are more valuable than people of color, fetuses are more valuable than girls and women. People like Pam Spaulding, who believe in freedom and equality for everyone, are moral absolutists. They’re not willing to compromise a principle (like, say, “People are entitled to health care” or “People are entitled to equal protection under the law”) based on arbitrary qualifiers like sex and race and ability and class and sexual orientation. They have values, dammit. We have values.

And going back to the regular sense of moral and cultural relativism, people liken the Pope really are relativists. Hardcore relativists with absolutely no real morals, as far as I can tell. How can you spout all that shit about marriage being between one man and one woman without deeply disapproving of Jacob and Abraham?

Huh? What’s that you say? It was a different time? A different place? That was the norm then?

This is something Emily talks about a lot: it’s time for us to stand the fuck up and claim to be right. We need to claim to have a monopoly on truth, on morality. We as liberals need to have the guts to tell everybody that we’re right, they’re wrong, unequivocally, irrevocably, and forever. Let’s start telling everyone that we are the forces of good, and conservatives the forces of evil. We’re not wishy-washy, we’re correct. We’re not relativists, we have real values. We have the best values. We need to find the venom to call our conservative counterparts all the ugly things they’ve called us: amoral, anti-family, anti-G-d, sacrilegious, baby-hating, child-killing, world-ruining monsters. Because it’s time. Because it’s necessary. Because it’s true.



  1. David Schleicher said,

    This Pope is a moron…I miss John Paul II…you knew where he stood but you respected him for it because he still had compassion for everyone.

    Very well said…I like how you turn relativism on its head.

  2. Daisy said,

    Thanks David!

  3. surreul said,


  4. mommasteph said,

    I get bugged by the whole “That’s relativism!” thing, too. It bugs that people pretend that, while there is such a thing as right and wrong, which camp this or that action belongs to can be mitigated by circumstances. The whole man stealing the medicine for the sick baby thing.

    BUT I have a few qualms about your post, which I’ll spout here, not particularly coherently, but it’s late…

    1. What are conservatives, in your post? Does Andrew Sullivan count? He calls himself a conservative, writes books about conservatism, but he’s hardly a venom-spewing, anti-equality, baby hater. He’s a thoughtful, pro gay-marriage, small government, “conservative of doubt” without knee-jerk political affiliations. You may need to define the enemy more precisely.

    2. JMO, but spewing venom doesn’t work. What works for long-term change, I believe, is really getting into the head and heart of your opposition, really finding out what makes them tick (and more than likely, they’re driven by fear). And then…well, I’m not sure what. Sometimes I ask myself, WWGD (what would Gandi do?) but then I get distracted and don’t look for the answer. I guess I’m not saying don’t claim to be right, but I’d do it differently – “I’m right, you’re wrong, but I want to understand you.”

    Not always appropriate, but I think it’s a better weapon for change.

  5. spaceemily said,

    I made a cookie shaped like the pope over the holidays. I made an icing pope hat for it him and an icing robe. I admired my work with fondness and then BIT HIS HEAD OFF! AT least the cookie pope can ‘t spew irrational anti cookie morals anymore!

  6. Daisy said,

    Hi Stephanie! I need to find a better term than “conservatives.” I’m calling them that because I think they’d call me a liberal, so there’s a symmetery to it, even if it’s unfair to some very thoughtful, reasonable people who also claim the title (i.e. Andrew Sullivan)… The people I’m talking about are those at the intersection of Christian fundamentalism and the right wing. I’m talking about everyone who is against reproductive justice and/or same-sex marriage and/or adoption by same-sex couples and/or values corporations over people and the planet and/or has no interest in combatting global warming and/or doesn’t support social programs and/or wants only the rich to have access to education and health care, etc., etc. Is there any one word that means that more nearly than “conservatives”? I certainly hope so, but I haven’t found it yet.

    My thought regarding spewing venom is this: language is powerful, and much as I might like to believe differently, there is, evidently, a percentage of the population that is easily swayed by rhetoric, as opposed to action or values or anything else. We need to be doing good work, but we need to be on top of the talking game, too. And maybe “venom” wasn’t a good word choice, because I don’t think anything I’m saying is unfairly cruel, just accurate. Negative, sure, but accurate.

    As for, “I’m right, you’re wrong, but I want to understand you”… Only reasonable people with reasonable ideas are worth the time and energy, I think. And not supporting same-sex marriage or even freaking condoms, as is the Pope’s custom, is, from my perspective, so ridiculously unreasonable that it should just be denounced, not addressed or considered. But maybe you’re more patient than me.

  7. mommasteph said,

    More patient? I wish. Just more of an age to start worrying about blood pressure (my own, that is).

    We do need a better term than conservatives. Mr. Sullivan has been trying to popularize “Christianist”, for those (Christians) who try to generalize their religious beliefs into the political sphere. That won’t wouldn’t do for the Pope, I guess (would it?).

    Be on top of the talking game, yes, very good point.

    I still think that trying to understand the “enemy” is the surest route to winning one’s cause, even if the enemy is unreasonable, superficial, prejudiced, stubborn, naive, or whatever, because when you know what’s driving them (and as I said I think it’s often fear) you have a better shot at disarming them, either for their own “enlightenment” or simply to expose their positions for what they are to the general public.

    But I’m one to talk – ya don’t see me doing much of it.

  8. Daisy said,

    You know, I think you’re right about understanding the enemy being the real best route. Right now I’m too angry and disgusted to do much of it, but hopefully, eventually, I’ll calm down, and be able to do that more completely.

  9. Daisy said,

    Ha! I just realized that I already found the word I’d been looking for: Christofascist. Which could be used for the Pope, since “Christo-” still applies to Catholics. So just mentally replace “conservative” with “Christofascist” and “venom” with “truth,” and the post should read much better.

  10. mommasteph said,

    Spew truth!

    But I think you still need a better term for the opposition, though, to encompass more than just Christians who want to rule the world.

    I’m giving this some thought.

  11. Daisy said,

    Please do! I’d appreciate any suggestions.

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