In a recent– well, as in I downloaded it recently– episode of Stuff You Should Know, Josh and Chuck run head-first into natural law theory– unscripted, unplanned. And what happens is one small instance of what’s called for here: the guys, for just a moment, take time off from talking about underwater tunnels, Black Friday, chocolate, and werewolves, and “strip the mask [of moral relativism], not just in private conversation and in the classroom, but in…the public square.” In a podcast that reaches approximately a bajillion people, they ask “the questions which everyone thinks but no one speaks,” and at least for a minute, engage in “a public moral apologetics that connects the dots of our nation’s moral consciousness and reminds people, absurdly, of what they know already.”
They also provided the occasion for me actually for the first time reading something by J. Budziszewski, instead of just running into other people’s asides about him. So they get double thanks.
Chuck: So, we’re talking about the Inca… people. Who, um… they had a habit– not a habit. They had a practice of–called–
Josh [snickering, being an Inca, with a habit]: “I can’t quit!”
Chuck [trying to stay on track]: — they had a practice, in their culture, of child sacrifice. Which sounds… horrific. And based in our modern-day culture, it is… But [conscientiously] we’ve long pointed out the tenets of cultural relativism…
Josh: I would like to say that I officially renounce cultural relativism, on the whole.
Chuck [with interest and surprise, suddenly much more awake]: Oh, really?
Josh: Yeah. I’ve since changed my viewpoint. I think there are absolutes that are universal. Or should be, and that a culture can be judged as…
Chuck: …barbaric, perhaps?
Josh: Yeah. For certain practices.
Chuck: Yeah. Cultural relativism– I know we’ve explained it before– but that’s basically, you can’t look back at some old culture that did these things and judge it by today’s standards…
Chuck: …and say, you know…but–
Josh: It’s a foundation of anthropology. You couldn’t have anthropology without cultural relativism.
Chuck: And, [garbled,] you really are–
Josh: –taught this. Oh yeah. It’s an absolute: there was nothing you could do that was out of bounds, as a culture, because you can only judge a culture by its own standards, therefore everything is self-justified, right?
Chuck: I still believe it… to a certain degree. But I think in certain cases maybe I could say, uh…’cause people could make an argument for a lot of things, saying, oh yeah, that’s just the culture of things.
Josh: I’m exactly where you are. I would say that…maybe 98 to 99 percent of things are bound by cultural relativism.
Josh: …but I do think that there are a handful of things… [he is groping, kind of amazed he’s saying this] …and I don’t even know, I haven’t fully explored yet, but I think there are a handful of things that …you just shouldn’t do, and if you do it, you’re not as great as cultures that don’t do that.
To find out, however, what the guys think falls under the category of “wrong for all men in all cultures at all times” and what doesn’t, you’ll have to listen to the episode. Hint: they decide that child sacrifice is OK. But I haven’t actually finished listening myself yet, so maybe things change later.
Baby steps, baby steps…