Examples of Cultural Relativism

An ethical relativist will consider the moral practices of another culture to be acceptable to them, even if their own culture considers it immoral. It is morality which is relative to the culture. As a Christian, this raises a lot of issues, but even if we look at it through the eyes of a cultural relativist, there are still some gray areas which require explaining. Consider the following examples:

Dog 21) Dog Eating—In the US this tends to disgust most people. In many Asian countries, people do, in fact, eat dog. A cultural relativist would have no problem with this, even if their own culture would consider this to be cruelty to animals and therefore immoral. This is ethically relative because dog eating in Asian countries has no impact on the person in the US who believes it is immoral.

2) International Slavery—Lets say you live in an African village in the 1600’s. Your tribe recognizes slavery as being an immoral practice. Another nation does not consider slavery to be immoral, so they come to your village and haul you off into slavery. This issue is most certainly not ethically relative since there is a negative impact on the African tribe from another society which does not consider the practice immoral.

As a Christian, it is difficult to look at morality relatively. Where most of us would not consider the dog eating to be immoral (except that it is illegal in the US), there are areas where an ethical relativist would differ greatly from Christians. One more example:

3) The Inuit live in the northern arctic regions. These are extremely small tribes, consisting of about one family. They live under such extreme conditions that they have difficulty sustaining life. It is so extreme that any member of the family who cannot perform a life sustaining duty has to die. Specifically, many of these tribes will send the “Grandfathers” out of the house into the wilderness to die when they are no longer strong enough to hunt. Similarly “Grandmothers” will be sent out if there are young girls old enough to perform her duties in the kitchen. It seems harsh to most westerners, but they believe it to be essential to their survival. An ethical relativist has no choice but to acknowledge it as moral, where any Christian should know otherwise.

Image Credits: jay_c, sxc.hu

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