CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

You Can’t Have It Both Ways

Feb 1, 1997

Several recent newspaper articles underscore the intellectual confusion that is so rampant in our society. Writing in the Melbourne Herald Sun, for example, a staff writer, Ms Helen Elliott, offered an article entitled, “Men who die of shame”. One is left rather confused after reading the article.

Focusing on the recent suicide of Justice Yeldham, (who was accused of paedophilia in the Woods Royal Commission in NSW), she asks, “What is natural?” and notes that we should accept different sexualities just as we accept different nationalities. Indeed she goes on at length about how different we all are, and that we should therefore not judge another person’s sexuality.

She even pulls a number of names out of the historical hat, claiming everyone from Alexander the Great to Shakespeare was homosexual. She says that “sexual desire is fluid” and that “what is natural is a very narrowly defined thing, depending on time, place and culture.”

So far, so good. She is simply reflecting the intellectual and moral relativism that is the predominant feature of modern culture. This is the standard pap found in most universities today.

As Alan Bloom of the University of Chicago put it, “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student believes or says he believes, that truth is relative.”

This belief in relativism has its problems though, as G.K. Chesterton once noted: “An imbecile habit has arisen in modern controversy of saying that such and such a creed can be held in one age but cannot be held in another. You might as well say that a certain philosophy can be believed on Mondays, but cannot be believed on Tuesdays. What a man believes depends on his philosophy, not upon the clock or the century.”

Thus Ms Elliot’s dogged moral relativism is seriously undermined when she says that while homosexuality is fine, paedophilia is “entirely different moral territory”. But if there are no moral absolutes, and there is no normality in sex or anything else, then why not endorse paedophilia?

Indeed, there are many paedophile groups actively campaigning, using the very arguments Ms Elliot does. Many are saying it is normal, that they were born with this preference. By Ms Elliot’s own reasoning, there are no grounds for denying paedophiles what they regard as natural behaviour and desire.

Even more puzzling is her denunciation of religion as lacking a “rational, reasonable or compassionate foundation,” being the basis for “ignorance” and “prejudice”. In addition to offending millions of religious Australians, Ms Elliot continues to contradict herself.

How can a person who denies moral absolutes make such a morally absolutist claim? She reminds me again of the words of G.K. Chesterton, “All denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces; but the doctrine by which he denounces it.”

But such is the fuzzy thinking of the relativists: they proclaim with a passion equal to that of any religious fanatic that there are no moral standards, and then expect us to adopt their particular moral standards, against all others. Well, you can’t have it both ways.

But such apparent inconsistencies do not seem to bother the modern mind. After all, if there is no such thing as absolute truth, then there is no such thing as falsehood either, or for that matter, sound reason. In the end we are simply left with everyone’s opinion.

Well, for what it is worth then, I here offer my opinion. I leave it to readers to judge for themselves who is “right” – that is, if there is such a thing as right and wrong.

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