When relativism causes debate
April 12, 2011
A Buddhist legend tells how one day a king from Northern India summoned a group of blind people that did not know what an elephant was. Some of them were asked to touch the animal’s head, and were told: “that is an elephant”. The others were told the same, except they were touching the animal’s tail instead of its head. The king then asked them to explain what an elephant was. They all shared their version. The blind began to disagree, and the discussion turned into a violent argument which lead to a fight. The scene amused the king, just the way he was expecting.

This legend represents an example of what relativism can be: for having touched a part of the truth, your side of it is put to the test of judgment by others and their own version of the truth. The problem lays on the intention of one’s conscience in relation to the truth; a mechanism which manifests itself in all spheres of life. In a democracy, relativism could turn the truth into something, well, relative. For example, during elections a citizen votes for a candidate based on what they believe is true or not. The number of votes will determine the Congress’ composition.

Some relativists assert that a way to achieve happiness in life is by evading the problems that truth may create. We are living in a period of hope where the future is much more promising than it used to be. Those who search for truth should know how to live out a complete and much more humane life, instead of being overtaken by the fight against relativism itself. This is a challenge, for example, for those who choose to live their life contributing to the Christian faith in the world.

Pope Benedict XVI explains that the relation between truth and liberty is essential. Today, we find ourselves being challenged by relativism, which may seem to extend the concept of liberty, however, it instead places it at risk for destruction by proposing itself as a type of dictatorship.

Commentary by Clemente Ferrer of Spain (Translated by Gianna A. Sanchez-Moretti)

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