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On relativism and fundamentalism

Peter Berger has some interesting comments on relativism and fundamentalism and the way they interact in modern (and perhaps postmodern) culture.

There are some fields of study, and missiology is one of them, in which one becomes aware of how much our worldview is culturally conditioned. In electronic discussion forums, especially international ones, one also becomes aware of how different people’s perceptions are, when they come from different cultures.

“Fundamentalists”, in Berger’s sense, appear to be those who reject relativism, and believe that the values and worldview of their culture are universal and equally applicable to all people everywhere.

I find this difficult, because it makes any kind of communication between different cultures and worldviews impossible. So I sometimes find the phenomenologists’ “bracketing” can be useful — when examining a particular phenomenon or culture or worldview — accept it as valid in its own terms in order to try to understand it.

Another way of deescribing the “relativist” and “fundamentalist” views that Berger describes is as “subjective” and “objective”. For relativists, all truth is subjective. The existentialist philosopher Kierkegaard coined the slogan that subjectivivity is truth. For fundamentalists (with a small “f”), truth is objective. They believe that there is objective truth out there, that it can be known, and they know it.

The trouble is that when one tries to look at things objectively, one sees that fundamentalists are actually very subjective, and fail to realise that objectivity is an unattainable ideal.

For myself, I believe that there is objective truth out there, and that it can be known, but it is primarily known subjectively. So I suppose that makes me a relativist fundamentalist, but not a fundamentalist relativist. Fundamentalist relativists believe that everything is relative and that there are no absolute truths, except one: the propoistion that everything is relative is absolute truth, and may not be questioned.


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One thought on “On relativism and fundamentalism

  1. Rmj on said:

    Tedious correction, but Kierkegaard said “Truth is subjective,” a quite different statement from “Subjectivity is truth” (which is mere solipsism).

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