Relative moralism and pseudo-tolerance rhetoric

When debating with folks over the truth of Messiah and Torah, I've noticed a pattern among the arguments of each opposing group, whether Muslim, Christian, atheist, agnostic, or Jewish.

In particular, the most common arguments I encounter are the Pseudo-tolerance argument, Relativist Fallacy, and the Hagelian Fallacy.

The Pseudo-Tolerance argument, a favorite among atheists and humanists, is structured like this:

1. "I must respect all opinions" (or some variation is presented).
2. Therefore I cannot say which opinions are better or worse.

An example is,

Me: I don't believe humans are reincarnated as lesser animals if we misbehave, I am not a Hindu. I do not believe Allah wants to kill all infidels, I am not a Muslim.

Antagonist: Well, I respect everybody's beliefs. Look, all paths lead to the same destination. Who's to say Jesus is the only way to God?

Or alternately,

Me: Homosexuality is a sin, as defined by Torah. If a Christian or Jew claims otherwise, he is ignorantly defying God's commandments.

Antagonist: Hey, I'm a [Jew/Christian] and I tolerate all beliefs, so why can't you? Who are you to say what's right and wrong? Certainly not bigots like you!

It is elementarily simple to understand why such an argument is flawed: not all arguments are equally true. To dismiss all arguments under the veil of tolerance is a flawed favorite of humanists who revel in today's politically correct culture. In essence, it gives them license to dismiss any view that is not universally accepted, regardless of whether it's true.

Regarding the argument that "Jesus is the only way to God", I point you to atheist Jew-turned-Jewish-believer-in-Messiah Art Katz's excellent teaching:

Have you heard of pluralism? The whole modern western world is pluralistic. That is to say, "many paths to God." There's no single truth.

Jesus made a remarkable statement: "If you see me, you see the Father, I and the Father are one. No man comes to the Father but by me. If any man comes any other way, that man is a thief and a robber." You guys realize what a scandal the gospel is? You realize how abrasive the gospel is? Do you realize that God has chose the foolish things? That there's nothing about the gospel that's intellectually credible? God has given us something calculatingly foolish, compared to the wisdom of the world. The world that is pluralistic and likes to consider many paths to truth has got to contend with a gospel that insists upon itself, and the Jesus of that gospel, as the only truth. It is uncompromising in its insistence. It is absolute in its expression. And the very question of absoluteness and singularity itself runs right across the whole tenet and grain of the modern world. You understand that? Do you understand how pluralistic the whole mindset of the world is, how many options -- I don't know's, the maybe's, the grey's, who's to say's -- and into that whole mucky world of vagaries, and choices, and nuances, comes one statement out of the heart of God: "I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no man comes to the Father but by me."

If I hear anything from my Jewish kinsmen in conversations I have been involved with my people, invariably they bring up, "What about the other people of the world? What about Buddhists, what about Muslims, what about Hindus? Don't they have a religion, isn't it a world faith? Aren't there redemptive elements in these religions? And you feel a blush coming up to the roots of your being, when you have to insist and say, "No, these are satanic deceptions and false alternatives that lead unto death." To insist on the singularity of the gospel, to insist on the absoluteness of it: this is not just an issue of religion, it's hitting the world head-on in a confrontation of wisdoms, of moral systems, of mentalities.

Indeed, to the world, there are many ways to God. Or at least, many ways to a moral and ethical life. Each with beauty and advantage. Yet the reality remains there is but one truth. Many ways, but only one that leads to truth. That lends many ways to be false and leading to death.

Another common argument I encounter is the Relativist Fallacy. This one I've found to be surprisingly popular with religious folk, Christians in particular. That said, I've encountered it a number of times when speaking to leftist humanists, especially those specializing in humanistic ethics. It follows this structure:

Claim X is presented.
Person A asserts that X may be true for others but is not true for him/her.
Therefore A is justified in rejecting X.

An example is,

Me: Torah is for today, for Jews and Christians. God tells us it's an eternal and everlasting covenant with Israel. Because Christians are grafted into Israel through the Messiah of Israel, this applies even to gentile Christians.

Christian: The Law is fine for you Jews, but we Christians don't have to follow that; Jesus set us free from that bondage. Therefore, we are excused in our ignorance.

This is a fallacy because the assertion made is an objective one. If a similar statement was made of the world, "The world is large, and spherical in shape.", it would be a fallacy to reply, "Gee, that might be true for you, but for us, the world is small and flat." Likewise, objective statements must be either true or false, they cannot be true for some and false for others. In essence, this fallacy is used to excuse ignorance or rejection of an idea whilst still being polite and politically correct, thus making it a favorite among the modern PC culture, both religious and secular.

The last common flawed argument I encounter is the good old Hegelian Fallacy. It's the most common flawed argument spewed by agnostics. It's structured like this:

Position A and B are two extreme positions.
C is a position that rests in the middle between A and B.
Therefore C is the correct position.

An example is:

Atheist: Jesus is a myth; there's no evidence for him outside your bible. Even your bible wasn't written until 70 some years after the supposed events took place, leaving much room for hearsay and exaggeration. Even if Jesus did exist, it is absolute madness to claim he's the son of God or that he somehow rose from the dead. Humans don't come to life after dying. Period.

Me: Jesus most certainly existed; not only did the gospels record him, but many writings outside the New Testament wrote of him, including apocryphal writings, the secular historian Josephus, and even Jesus' enemies write about him in the Talmud. If the man didn't exist, why would so many people --friends, enemies, and neutral secular parties -- write about him?

Agnostic: Look, Jesus probably did exist. He had some great teachings and taught a lot about peace and love. But these "son of God", messianic claims are just exaggerations of his over-zealous followers. He was a great human teacher, and nothing more.

You like that? It's smug, cozy middle ground that doesn't step on anyone too harshly. It's also false: one cannot logically assume that an argument is correct simply because it's in the middle of two extremes. If that weren't true, then one could say the moon is made of cheese, and another say it's made of soil, only to take a correct middle ground that the moon is made of orange, moldy, milk-chunk soil. When presented in this light, it becomes apparent that the Hegelian argument is foolish nonsense.

In regards to the specific argument about Jesus being a great moral teacher but nothing more, the great atheist-turned-Christian C.S. Lewis had this to say,

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -- on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

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  1. Interesting site you pulled the data from. I'll have to check that out more.

  2. Yeah, I found that site through the free StumbleUpon extension for Firefox and IE. If you've never used it, give it a shot, really cool.

    That site has some excellent articles and some lighthearted Jewish jokes as well, worth checking out. :)