Dan O'Day says that the worldview of this site is postmodern relativism. Is it? Should it be?

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    What kind of meta question allows me to answer "no" because that is my belief and vote up an answer that says "yes" because it also seems to also match my belief? The existence of this question and its answers is both ironic and objectively wrong on so many levels. – Caleb Apr 17 '13 at 7:55
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    @Caleb Hahahaha... yeah, only someone who didn't believe that it was the worldview of the site could ask the question, right... – Kazark Apr 17 '13 at 14:04
  • @Kazark I know you are probably a bit sick of all the debates here on meta, but if you have a minute to at least skim and consider voting on this latest effort that would be appreciated. – Jack Douglas Oct 4 '13 at 17:35
  • @JackDouglas Yes sir I am, and yes sir I read and voted. Thanks for your efforts. I don't know if you've noticed but I've contributed again recently though who knows if this will be steady. – Kazark Oct 4 '13 at 19:49


The views represented in individual answers are those of their authors (or at least whatever their authors choose them to represent). The site itself should be worldview agnostic, not even endorsing neutrality. Answers are certainly bounded by certain limitations, but these limitations are imposed by the scope of the question and the discipline of hermeneutics, not the inclusion or exclusion of doctrine or philosophy.

  • Questions limit the scope of answers by posing a specific topic. In the case of exegesis questions, answers must stick to the issue raised in the question.

  • The discipline of hermeneutics limits answers to exegesis questions in that, rather than just giving conclusions, the answers themselves must be the show the work of interpretation.

I would go so far as to say what defines this site is the pretense presence of diverse doctrinal absolutism, not relativism.

  • Definatism? I'm not familiar with that word, nor any words spelled close to it, so I presume you wrote it correctly. – Dan Apr 16 '13 at 14:17
  • @DanO'Day: I made it up on the spot. If you can educate me on a good antonym for relativism I'd be happy to substitute. – Caleb Apr 16 '13 at 14:19
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    @DanO'Day: There how about that one? Amazing what a thesaurus is good for. – Caleb Apr 16 '13 at 14:20
  • that makes much more sense. I just wan't sure if it was some term I was unfamiliar with. – Dan Apr 16 '13 at 14:21
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    Accepting this answer is a great example of relativistic subjectivity :P – Dan Apr 16 '13 at 14:23
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    @DanO'Day: In other words by accepting my answer he proves yours correct? Meta for the win :) – Caleb Apr 16 '13 at 14:32
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    Haha no, I'm arguing that we're BOTH correct. Relativism, remember? If I argued that only I am correct, then I'd be an absolutist. This is the inherent flaw in postmodern thought in a nutshell. Hence why it is not my personal worldview. But the SE network is a purely subjective voting and accepting system. Thus accepting an answer does not determine 'truth,' it just determines what the OP subjectively likes best. – Dan Apr 16 '13 at 14:33
  • I have completely changed my answer – Dan Apr 16 '13 at 18:37


Our FAQ insists on pluralism:

We welcome Jewish, Christian, Atheist and other viewpoints as long as they take seriously the process of understanding the Biblical texts.

The state of the art way to implement a pluralistic society is to insist on relativist standards:

We agree to disagree on assumptions as basic as the content of the text. We only insist on a commitment to the process (or I perhaps I should have written, "a process") of understanding of the Bible.

...but you don't have to agree.

We are currently divided on whether or not we should apply a single set of community standards to answers (as we do with questions). As a practical matter, until we agree on a single standard, the only way we can judge answers is using a system of our own choosing. So if you want to apply a standard of truth when voting, there's no reason not to. (But be aware that others will apply their own standards when they vote.)

It's possible to build a pluralistic system that applies an objective standard and there is some hope such a site could work out. Skeptics has built an entire site around the father of all modern philosophies and insists on a single, rationalistic viewpoint. Answers differentiate themselves, not on different approaches to the questions, but on the way authors muster sources. It is a noble effort, but not, I think, a model for this site. (Though I'm personally willing to listen to proposals.)

In the meantime, the internet default seems to be postmodernism. Postmoderns, however sloppy that term can be, reject the notion of applying a single worldview their surroundings. Many are deeply suspicious of any attempt to declare truth. I propose a more radical postmodernism that applies that rejection to itself. Perhaps a better label is inclusionism: if you have a way of reading the text of the Bible, we'd like to hear it. We'd prefer you don't insist on your own way, but if that's part of your hermeneutics, just let us know.


Your answers are welcome here.

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    I do not believe that pluralism is the same as relativism. There is a difference between disagreeing with what someone says and disallowing them from saying it. I am comfortable with pluralism---everybody is welcome to state their views definitively, even when they are wrong. – Kazark Apr 16 '13 at 16:16
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    @Kazark: Cool. I think we actually are divided as a community on the issue of relativism which, as you say, is not the same thing as pluralism. One approach is to require certain universal standards to be applied to answers. That's the Skeptics model I mention. Another approach is to allow each answer to be judged by it's own standards. I think for that to work, answers would need to declare their framework. In my opinion, that would amount to relativism. But we are not yet settled on this as a site. – Jon Ericson Mod Apr 16 '13 at 16:43
  • Actually, from a purely philosophical purist position, I think I agree with you that the view of this site is actually postmodern pluralism, not relativism. – Dan Apr 16 '13 at 18:14
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    @JonEricson So it turns out I am using pluralism differently than Dan. He is using it epistemologically; I mean merely that the site permits a plurality of views to be expressed (without any sort of claims about equal validity of the views). – Kazark Apr 16 '13 at 22:52

DISCLAIMER: I have completely changed my answer.

Yes, I did make that assertion. I'm going to rescind part of it (relativism). But I still think we're postmodern. Allow me to elaborate.

Postmodern relativism, pluralism, and diverse doctrinal absolutism, oh my!

I think we're using different terms in various discussions to effectively say the same thing, and this is causing confusion. I figured I'd clarify these terms.

Definitions of Terms

  • Postmodernism: Defining this term is like nailing Jello to the wall, but I'll give it a shot. Essentially postmodernism just refers to what follows Modernism, and it is critical of the foundational assumptions and universalizing tendency of Western philosophy. Within religious traditions, this generally involves deconstruction as well. "Postmodern religious systems of thought view realities as plural and subjective and dependent on the individual's worldview. Postmodern interpretations of religion acknowledge and value a multiplicity of diverse interpretations of truth, being and ways of seeing. There is a rejection of sharp distinctions and global or dominant metanarratives in postmodern religion and this reflects one of the core principles of postmodern philosophy. A postmodern interpretation of religion emphasises the key point that religious truth is highly individualistic, subjective and resides within the individual" (Source). Having a site like Stack Exchange with no central authority on 'truth' is in many ways a postmodern endeavor.

  • Relativism: "Relativism is the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration" (source). This is how accepting answers works here at BH.SE. Each OP makes a subjective decision to accept a given answer, and each site participant subjectively votes on answers for various (and purely subjective) reasons. Accepting an answer does not mean that that answer is true - answers only have relative value. Relativism is in and of itself a philosophical fallacy, for the assertion that there is no absolute truth is itself a statement of absolute truth.

  • Pluralism: In general this means that there are multiple ways to arrive at truth, but some clarifications need to be made here as well. No one really agrees on a definition of religious pluralism, but being consistent with its philosophical definition would mean that multiple religions lead towards God/truth, no specific one is correct. Value pluralism (a term from philosophical ethics) means that differing values "may be equally correct and fundamental, and yet in conflict with each other" (source). Technically speaking, relativism is a philosophical subset of pluralism, and a much more mature way of thinking (in my opinion). Pluralism is integral to postmodern thought. The main difference between pluralism and relativism is that pluralism doesn't necessarily equate all answers on SE as having equal value (while relativism does).

  • Absolutism: Also known as universality in philosophy, "universalism is a doctrine or school claiming universal facts can be discovered and is therefore understood as being in opposition to relativism" (source).

With that being said, I think we can pretty much all agree that this site is an outgrowth of postmodernism. Whether that is your personal way of viewing the world (I hesitate to say worldview, because postmodernism is tolerant of a diversity of worldviews and is thus not a worldview in and of itself, and yet at the same time it is. Remember: nailing Jello to a wall...) is irrelevant. The site simply is.

Concerning relativism and pluralism, it doesn't really matter. Relativism is actually a subset of pluralism, anyways. This site welcomes "Jewish, Christian, Atheist and other viewpoints as long as they take seriously the process of understanding the Biblical texts" (FAQ). This is pluralism - like it or not.

UPDATE: Please also see the latter half of this meta post where Grace Note, a community coordinator at SE, states:

...outright stating another religion to be "false", no matter how much it is the case in your own perspective, that's rather a case of defamation and insult to that faith. That's not allowed for reasons not having to do with doctrine. Something belonging to one's truth does not override our network policy.... In a site like this, however, differing takes on a question's solution may be the result of actual different truths. There are multiple truths that different users will follow, and this is a slightly different beast than matters of opinion. Opinion is about personal stances, but truths are about worldly absolutes. The nature of this site means that this kind of conflict is rather inevitable, and difficult to manage.

For this reason, I would suggest that the matter of doctrinal respect, how much value we put in others to follow their truths, be something that should be discussed separately from the general etiquette of editing answers. All other aspects of this discussion here fall within the lines of the natural essence of editing, the goal of the site and the network as a whole in improving content and readability and accessibility. Doctrine, however, touches beyond the matter of just editing but indeed on how answers as a whole should be presented.

That's relativism, straight from the mouth of a community coordinator here at SE.

But the beautiful part is that participants do not have to adopt this worldview (nor any other, that's the beauty of postmodernism). The only absolute value here at BH.SE is that you "take seriously the process of understanding the Biblical texts" (and "be nice to each other" while doing it, along with some other specific guidelines). If you can do that, you and your answers are welcome here.

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    +1 for giving me a reason not to become Amish. – Caleb Apr 16 '13 at 14:48
  • The sense I am using the word "pluralism" is not epistemologically but practically: i.e., many views should be permitted to exist; when they are in conflict, only one at most can be correct. Pluralism as you have defined it is equally repugnant as relativism. – Kazark Apr 16 '13 at 22:51
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    Removed +1 for editing out my reason not to be Amish. – Caleb Apr 17 '13 at 7:49
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    +1 restored for a valiant attempt at nailing jello to the wall (defining terms) and the conclusion that this site is not a place to stick peoples faces in it (forcing relativism on individual answerers). – Caleb Apr 17 '13 at 7:51
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    @Kazark this is how philosophy defines it. Relativism is a type of pluralism. My point is that you don't have to adopt either worldview to participate here. You can reject both and still be welcome. – Dan Apr 17 '13 at 14:08
  • @DanO'Day Yeah, I understand; I just wanted to clarify that I was using it in a political rather than epistemic sense (e.g. the Christian political view of principled pluralism) when I commented on Jon Ericson's answer. – Kazark Apr 17 '13 at 14:14
  • @Kazark aha gotcha. Thanks for the clarification. – Dan Apr 17 '13 at 14:16
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    @Kazark also be sure to read the latter half of this post from Grace Note, a community coordinator here at SE: meta.hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/433/423 – Dan Apr 22 '13 at 19:52

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