Religious relativism, as a theory, holds that religion can be true for one person or culture, yet not for another. Therefore, no single religion is universally true. This is because belief in religion is simply an accident of one’s culture and birth. For instance, if a person lives in India, then chances are that he or she will be Hindu. Similarly, if they were born in a Christian country then they are more likely to be Christian.
According to relativists if what one believes is the product of historical occurrence, then the argument no single religion or religious belief can be objectively or universally true (Perry, 1917, p. 383). The problem with religious relativism is that if one or more religions considers itself as sacred, whereas the rest are considered curiosities or cults, then all religions are cast into doubt (Smith 1994, p 661). Thus when one religion will be found to be as irrational as the rest when it is put under scrutiny.
Absolutism in religion on the other hand posits that God as omnipotent; having absolute power to rule (Saenger, 1996, 55). Thus absolute rulers claimed that God had made them king. Absolutism and Relativism are extreme approaches to reality. Though they are true and backed by facts, their views are contrasting. This essay describes what absolutism in religion is, and outlines our support for it and opposition to relativism in religion.
The problem with religious relativism is that it allows people to adopt whatever they find convenient. This is contrary to religion itself. According to its derived meaning from Latin, religion binds up people in rules and regulations and patterns of ritualistic devotion. Relativists believe that any religion is a form of divine spiritual life.
This cannot possibly be true as some religions condone barbaric and unethical practices and acts. However according to relativism this would be alright even if it bothers or is harmful to the rest.
Relativists essentially regard religion as idolatry by (Smith 72). They argue that religion is man-made; to fit their needs and urges. As a result, men worship these formations and structures. With time ideological idols forms the basis of their inflexible minds. They defend this supposition by claiming that when Paul the Apostle went to Athens, he saw their idols and cried out that men of Athens were religious in all mannerisms (Acts 17:22).
Absolutism claims that everything is certain. It supports the view that there is only one God who should be revered equally by everyone at all times (Saenger 64). Some absolutists point to the inherent morality in all humanity as proof of the existence of one God (Kant, 1781). They argue that if only one God is worshipped and one system of belief is imposed on everyone then there will be no cases of arguments, opposition and conflicts. There would be peaceful unity and coexistence.
The growth of religious relativism matches with a growth of religious tolerance. This is because tolerance upholds the right to freedom of religious beliefs and practice, and may even respect and appreciate religions other than any other person’s own beliefs. However, tolerance does not entail the belief that all religions and all claims and practices of religion are equally valid or true. Therefore, all religious relativists may be tolerant, but not all religiously tolerant persons are relativists (Smith, 68). Respect and appreciation for religions other than one’s own are increasingly seen as a virtue.
It is not clear if relativists truly respect religious which are different from the or how they would react to a challenge to their religion. Moreover, true relativism entails casualness and indifference toward different beliefs. The argument is that nothing can threaten or challenge the beliefs which are after all a matter of private opinion. Thus, relativism rarely leads one to engage differing religious orientations seriously (Perry, 52).
Another challenge to relativism is that religious beliefs rarely change when one grows into adulthood. If everything religious were only a matter of opinion there would be more changes based on personal beliefs. Rather those who switch religions do so based on the underlying conviction that in doing so they are getting closer to some truth or value.
On the other hand the problem with absolutism occurs when people believe that they have found the complete understanding of God and set out to impose it on others. This would be absolutism in religion.
It is the natural tendency of man, to desire to acquire more knowledge than already exists (Perry 54). Men do not like antimonies or dialectics much. Men cannot acknowledge that the inestimable God is bigger than his limited capabilities to comprehend. As a result they will set out to reduce the absolutism of God to fit their rationalistic and intellectual reasoning; finally claiming that they have it all figured out. Religion therefore advocates for the absolutism of specific beliefs. To do this it formulates the doctrines of theology and demands complete affirmation since allowing these thoughts would show that one does not believe it entirely.
Absolutism in religion uses a certain closed system of ethics and moral law. These laws include theological, judicial, and sociological rules, regulations, and code of conducts; the thou shalt and thou shalt not’s. They are applied legally with inflexible and strict expectations (Perry 68).
Today, especially the Catholic Church applies religion absolutism. The Pope claimed that relativism should not interfere with the importance of religion and beliefs. Certain countries, mainly from the West, have little respect for religion; especially Christianity. Even so contemporary global issues are caused by the relativists denial of the social importance of religion. (Smith, 82). They for instance do so by slandering the religion, making anti-Christian comments. These views are a threat to the church, since if relativism is considered as a necessary element, then one risks comprehending secularity exclusively in terms of eliminating or refuting the importance of religion. Such an approach would only bring about confrontation and division among the people but also disturb the peace and hurt coexistence.
Relativism reduces the meaning of what is correct and acceptable. For example certain cultures have in the past believed in child to be cleansed and purified. The act is obviously wrong, barbaric and a crime against humanity. However since for relativists this is the right thing to do, then it would be acceptable. In all honesty, this is where absolutism should apply to all people (Smith 84). These sacrifices would be deemed as wrong and punishable; therefore, the babies would be saved from such crimes.
Absolutism would ensure only beliefs that are universally beneficial are upheld. Religious absolutism maintains that some things are right, whereas others are wrong. For instance when two people argue about what is evil and what is not, only one of them is right and the other wrong.
Absolutes who are Christians firmly believe in the Bible as a result of their pure conviction and passion. As a direct result they uphold the Bible as infallible. They jealously guard it as though God fearing anything would hide the truth from all the rest or the secrets that could be used to kill God if they fell into the wrong hands (Saenger, 78).
The longing desire for absolutes is evident how they memorize chapters and verses of the Bible. It also shows in the wall that comes up, whenever someone comes challenges the Bible as an infallible absolute. This is also true for absolutes of Islam and other religion.
Non-relativism was by and largely motivated by the crises and tragedies of the sixteenth and seventeenth century. The reformation at that time had led to a sequence of cruel and violent religious wars. States blew up into civil wars, causing the deaths of thousands of innocent men, in the name of the national religions (Saenger 82). Consequently, absolute Monarchies were proposed to curb the violent disorders. Europeans were willing to have the local religious freedom abolished in favor of safety and peace. This idea worked and stability was achieved.
However, such forceful imposition of non-relativism in belief and behavior, leads to exclusive absolutism. Thus, religion starts to use the ejective tests, which stipulate the acknowledgement of their system of belief (Smith 86). Absolutes do not allow freedom and individualistic thoughts. Any variations are met by ‘condemnatory judgmentalism’ and manipulation of guilt until one conforms.
Overall, whether a relativist or an absolute, currently everyone is free to choose what they believe in and stand up for it. I still support absolutism as a way to limitcontroversies, doubts and conflicts and achieve peace, oneness and stability.