Consider this assertion, made in relation to the way the Russian government spreads misinformation and conspiracy theories:
…[A]ll this chimes closely with the idea, familiar in the West, that any and every perspective can be legitimised as a matter of individual opinion. On the basis of this lazy philosophy, the idea that one view is right and another wrong can be made to sound like some unwarranted imposition of authority. You can already hear the objection to the assertion of truth: ‘Who is to say who is right?’
The author of the piece calls this “weaponised relativism”, a memorable phrase. You can read the entire article here, and it is well worth reading. One is struck by the equivalence between “weaponised relativism” and the “dictatorship of relativism” of which Benedict XVI warned us.
What the Guardian editorial makes clear is that dictatorship builds its foundations on the ruins of truth. The Nazis built their regime on their lies about the Jews and the November criminals being responsible for all Germany’s woes. Putin does the same with his myth about the way Russia is being encircled by the West, and other barefaced lies: there were no Russian troops in Crimea; it was the Ukrainians who shot down the Malaysian airliner, to make Russia look bad; and the latest false trails about the murder of Boris Nemtsov, which closely resemble the lines spun about earlier murders of government critics.
None of these untruths are credible or even plausible; but they carry force because of the power behind them. In the end it is hopeless even to try and debunk the myths, because those who repeat the lies (which they must know to be lies) wish to uphold the dictatorship at all costs. Lies are the foundation of every dictatorial system. Nothing is true, and everything is possible, as the title of a recent book about Russia so aptly puts it.
The same is true of ISIS. Every statement that comes out of ISIS is at variance with the truth, or comes from a world where objective truth is so disregarded, that it seems to be a parallel universe.
The cardinal lies of ISIS are many, and here one can only point to a few of them. The first and perhaps most glaring is that the world stands in need of a caliphate. This is self-evidently untrue. Not only do we not need a caliphate now, we have never needed a caliphate. The caliphate of the Ottomans was a grim tyranny for its subject peoples, who loathed it. That’s a historical fact, proven by the numerous rebellions of the subject peoples.
The second lie is that the West, and its local allies (the far enemy and the near enemy, as they are called) are worthy of destruction, while the caliphate is some sort of paradise on earth. In fact this is a complete inversion of the truth: it is America that everyone wants to go to, and ISIS people want to flee from. But the sad fact is, as following any ISIS ideologue on Twitter even for a few moments (if you can bear it) will show, that such reasoning is useless, given that the ideologues of ISIS reject our commonly shared model of reason and truth. For ISIS, there are no objective facts, all is relative, all is to be moulded by the Koran, which alone of all things in the world is not to be subjected to any kind of enquiry or scholarly investigation. The ideologues of ISIS are deeply sinister in that they produce an anti-reason that has only the appearance of argument; and at the same time they are absurd, because the disguising of their irrationality is so thin.
How can one oppose “weaponised relativism”? The truth is out there as the Guardian rightly points out. And one day, the truth will out, but that will come too late for many. To bring the day of truth closer we need to be steadfast in holding to what Benedict XVI taught about the dictatorship of relativism, and link that teaching to his other great teaching, that of the Regensburg speech, which dealt with the necessary connection between faith and reason. Both were highly contested at the time, but both now seem more relevant than ever. There is no reason without faith, and there is no faith without reason. The separation of one from another is a disaster.
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