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ISSUE 118 VOL 20 PUBLISHED 5/13/2005

Relavatism runs rampant

By John Giannini
Staff Writer

Friday, May 13, 2005

Since beginning school here nearly nine months ago, I've had a number of opportunities to talk with my fellow students about the views they hold. St. Olaf is a place to exchange ideas; you can trade in your old set (not that you get much for it) for a new and improved one, complete with all the latest features.

Certainly there are quite a few positions represented in the student body, but I've noticed a general pattern in the beliefs of my peers, a popular belief system that comes up again and again. Though St. Olaf is a "college of the Church," the pervasive view isn't Christian, or even very religious. Instead it's a sort of optimized amalgam: a one-size-fits-all combination of modern relativism and plain old fashioned "niceness," with a dash of Lutheranism for flavor.

I’ve come to have a deep appreciation of this worldview. It is finely crafted and provides an ideal, low-effort belief system for those who adhere to it. On one hand, it takes a strong relativistic stance on morals: what is wrong or right is a matter of personal decision. Sexual behavior is a perfect example of a topic strictly guarded from any moral imposition. People are free from external moral standards in taking actions – and any attempt to interject such standards is coldly met.

But, on the other hand sits the clear conviction that certain things are “bad” and others “good.”

A combination of inbred Minnesota niceness and leftover bits of Lutheran ethos provide the basis for an extensive system of these “goods” and “bads.” Mother Theresa is, to Lutherans, so obviously “good” that it is never questioned; and, in the same way, Nazi atrocities and slavery are considered unquestionably “bad” – even “evil.” Perhaps at some point there was more to all this than just a general sense of the “nice,” but why hold onto anachronisms like that when they may get in the way?

The true brilliance of this view lies in the combining of two seemingly contradictory positions. One ensures moral protection for one’s own actions: how could you tell a person they are in the wrong when wrong and right are subjective? The other protects against the logical outcome of the first, making certain that bigotry and genocide don’t become relative personal decisions as well.

The result is a system in which you are protected from any ethical judgment on yourself and yet can still pass such on others – a very convenient doctrine. It is the ideal union of two diametric opposites, a way to have the best of both worlds ... and the costs of neither: mores without morals – relativism without unpleasantness.

In fact, these opposing ideas has been carried out so well that it is comfortably invisible to many people. This is good, since the tension of contradiction would certainly detract from the otherwise attractive makeup of this dogma. But, as things stand, even if some disagreeable person tries to draw out the natural contradiction of these two tenets, they are so inextricably melded in the minds of many that the questioner is frustrated in his or her attempt and often earns some animosity for himself or herself in the process (Who likes a person so absorbed with logic that he or she cannot properly respect belief?).

In the end then, the students who have taken this stance must be lauded for choosing to believe as they do. What could be better than a system so constructed that it is both unfailingly “nice,” personally unrestrictive and immune from the perils of overzealous reasoning?

This system is unparalleled in many ways. Former generations may have been too hidebound by structured thought or too loyal to closely held theologies to accept such a system; but for us, the enlightened children of this modern era, it is a fitting doctrine.

Contributing writer John J. Giannini is a first year from Zumbrota, Minn. His major is undecided.

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