Relativism vs. Universality – Pope Benedict vs. Pope Francis

  • These two philosophies interplay in all religion.
  • The religious leaders of the Jewish people the Torah Scholars fought against Universality to protect the Jewish Nation from assimilation. 
  • It may be better to live with sex scandals in the church which Pope Benedict blames on liberalism of universality; than to start another crusades which may produce violence and terrorism. 

Relativism is the belief that there is no absolute truth, meaning that there is no absolute perfection in the universe.  Universality is the belief that there are universal facts which can be discovered through searching for truth.

These two philosophies interplay in Christianity and in Judaism.  Pope Benedict XVI who resigned in 2013 was known to be a Relativist.  Pope Francis who took his position has shown that he is a Universalist through his more liberal tendencies.  Pope Benedict became a priest in 1951 and in the beginning his beliefs were considered liberal.  He adopted conservative views after 1968.  In 2005 he became Pope.

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Francis

Today Pope Benedict is said to be living a secluded life on the monastery in the Vatican.   He recently made statements regarding the scandals in the church.  He blamed these scandals on trends in the church toward liberalism and away from relativism.

Relativists (sometimes called Fundamentalist) will not deny that there is also the way of Universality.  Universality will not deny that there is also the way of Relativism.  These two philosophies interplay in all religion. The difference between the two philosophies is that in relativism is believed that there is no absolute truth the only alternative is to accept the word of the prophet and his law strictly without any questions and to follow these doctrines with blind faith.  Relativist believe that introspection and searching for absolute truth and universal peace will only weaken the faith in their prophet and create reformed values in their religion.  Pope Benedict pointed at the movement in the Church toward Universality as part of the cause of scandals in the church. A true relativist will not look out of his sacred law.  This is the meaning of strictly Orthodox.

In Relativism it is not only important to follow the sacred law but also to try to find ways of strengthening its observance through adding additional stringencies. If there is no absolute truth, to incorporate new ideas in religion will only weaken the unity in the church.

In Judaism also interplays Relativism and Universality.  Moses gave to the people the Torah the five books of Moses which is very broad.  It is not only a book including in it the law of God; it is also a history book and is included within it esoteric teachings.  Relativism in Judaism looks almost only on the study of the law called the Oral Torah.  The Oral Torah was taught by Moses to the Jewish people in the wilderness before entering into the land.  It says in the ethics of the fathers, Moses received the Torah on Mount Sinai and gave it over to Joshua.  Joshua gave it over to the prophets who gave it over to the elders and then to the men of the great assembly.  It was handed over orally from generation to generation even until today. In the Oral Torah are the directions to the people how to practice the laws and commandments which are in the Written Torah the five books of Moses.  To follow these laws the people don’t need to learn the written text at all.  The learning of the written text in the times of the Biblical State became problematic and created a movement toward Universality.  This movement later became Christianity.  Christianity later became relativist when it became a religion. The Oral law in Judaism today has even been codified and written clearly in a book called Shulchan Aruch.  Judaism today cannot waiver away from the Shulcan Aruch.  If it leaves even a small commandment the whole religion can be damaged and become reformed Judaism.

The religious leaders of the Jewish people the Torah Scholars fought against Universality to protect the Jewish Nation from assimilation.  Those esoteric teaching which are in the Torah were suppressed throughout the generations for the sake of Jewish National Unity.  Only in the last eight hundred years began movements including Judaism with Universality based upon the discovery of esoteric scriptures called The Zohar, the Book of Splendor.  The movement toward universality in Judaism in the beginning was opposed by Torah Scholars.  The Zohar which is almost principally Universal was followed by another part of Kabballa which is principally relativistic called the Kabballa of the Arizal.

Both types of esoteric teaching are learned today in Judaism but Torah Scholars are still maintaining relativistic values following Jewish law strictly.  Torah scholars favor the learning of the Kabballa of the Arizal because it is more connected to specifically Jewish values and does not change the foundations of Judaism which are Relativist. Jewish law keeps the Jewish people separate from the rest of the world.  Torah Scholars consider Internet the greatest of dangers to the Jewish Nation.  Internet is universal.

Judaism today has in it both Relativism and Universality.  Chassidism a messianic movement which began in the beginning of the 18th century is more Universal than other types of Orthodox Judaism.  Lubavitch today centrally located in Crown Heights in Brooklyn is the most active Chassidic organization in Judaism.  They have spread out throughout America and the whole world.  Recently the terrorist attack on the synagogue in the vicinity of San Diego was in a Lubavitch temple.  Another Lubavitch temple in Kenya was damaged by hoodlums a few weeks back.  There was a terrorist attack on a Lubavitch center in Mumbai India in 2008.  Lubavitch Chassidism is considered by other Chassidic and Ultra-Orthodox groups to be more liberal like in dress even wavering away from traditional Judaism.  Lubavitch are not afraid of new technologies and employ these technologies in their outreach messianic work.  Besides Lubavitch Chabad there is also Modern Orthodox Judaism which still maintains the observance of the Shulcan Aruch.  In the Shulcan Aruch is compiled the laws and commandments of God to the Jewish people given through their prophet Moses. Freedom has weakened Orthodox Judaism because freedom connects to Universality. A strict relativist connects to the law of his religion with simple faith as a commandment without free choice. For a strict Universalist to believe in God is enough without religion. Not to believe in God is atheism. Those that are not sure are called agnostics. Those that are agnostic and believe in life, happiness and peace are called humanitarians. Atheists have no purpose in life at all.

Strict Relativism can become dangerous and cause violence.  Faith comes before religion. This could be a good reason why Pope Francis has liberalized the relativist Church of Pope Benedict.  He is attacked even for making prayers in Arabia.  Also the Lubavitch movement is constantly under attack by opponents to its liberalism.  Relativism and Universality are also called religion and faith.  Both are important.

The Koran also has in it relativism and universality.  The part of the Koran called Sharia is their law.  The Koran gives respect to other prophets of God including Adam, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jerimiah and Jesus but calls Mohammed the last prophet.  In this way it is universal.  Strict Relativist doctrine denies other religions and its prophets.  Judaism, Christianity, Muslim can become strict relativist by denying universality completely which can be dangerous.  It may be better to live with sex scandals in the church which Pope Benedict blames on liberalism of universality; than to start another crusades which may produce violence and terrorism.  In Judaism and Islam the two sides will find difficulty making peace in Israel as long as they remain firm on their strict relativism. The prophecy of Isaiah of the messianic era, “the wolf will live with the lamb, with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together and a little child will lead them” is a goal to achieve but in Relativism where there is no absolute truth these words are only metaphors.

Is there an absolute truth?  Is there an absolute peace?  The Arizal even though his Kabballa emphasizes more the belief in relativism points at a great portion to be received in the afterlife for universality seeking peace and truth.

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David Wexelman

Rabbi David Wexelman is the  author of five books on the topics of World Unity and Peace, and Progressive Jewish Spirituality. Rabbi Wexelman is a member of the American Friends of Maccabee, a charitable organization helping the poor in the United States and in Israel.  Donations are tax deductible in the USA.

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