Some time ago, some Muslims were hired to drive trucks. The whole purpose of hiring them was to ship goods across the country. That was their job. Soon after, they refused to work, so the company fired them. This is what normally happens to those who refuse to work. If one party in a business agreement fails to uphold their end of the bargain, the other party has the right to terminate the agreement. If the shipping company had refused to pay the truckers, the truckers would have had the right to quit. The alternative is slavery.
The story should have ended there, but the Muslims then claimed that since some of the trucks were carrying alcoholic beverages, forcing them to drive violated their first-amendment religious rights. The Obama administration agreed, stepping in to argue on their behalf.
Strangely, the Obama administration was the same one who went after a Catholic charity for refusing to pay employees’ health insurance policies if they covered abortion, also citing first-amendment religious rights.
The problem here isn’t merely the hypocrisy of politicians who unfairly apply the principles of freedom of religion. The problem is that cultural relativism is inherently nonsensical.
The problem is that there is no agreement on the boundaries between cultures. One can argue that Saudi Arabia should be free to conduct its internal affairs in accordance with Arab culture without Western interference, but then by the same logic women in Saudi Arabia should be allowed to drive vehicles in accordance with their personal preferences without interference from the neighbors or from government. If it is wrong to tell the Arabs they are doing wrong in the way they treat women, then it is also wrong for the Arabs to tell the women they are doing wrong by driving.
There are pragmatic reasons why people in one geographical region should not interfere with those in another, not even to protect the innocent, but it is different when people live together. When people live in the same city, shop at the same stores, travel the same roads, use the same currency, and speak the same language, they are part of the same culture and must necessarily be bound by the same laws. In that case, cultural relativism simply doesn’t apply.
Culture is invented by people. It is not a preexisting, physically measurable thing such as mass or electric charge. It is whatever people say it is. It does not matter how long a practice has been in effect or how many people follow it. If a new cult pops up that believes in sacrificing their first-born children, then that is their culture. Stopping them from carrying out the murders infringes on their freedom of religion. By the same logic, the cult members are infringing on their children’s freedom of religion, since it is hard to worship the way you want if you are dead. By the same logic, if vigilantes decided to arrest the cult members, stopping the vigilantes would infringe on their culture. By the same logic, any murderers not in the cult could simply claim upon arrest that they were part of yet another cult, no matter what their true motives.
Taken to its logical conclusion, a community with cultural relativism would have no enforceable laws while simultaneously enforcing laws consistent with the culture of the enforcers. Thus, we have a paradox. Cultural relativism is nonsense. Logic.