Sunday, March 5, 2006

Moral Relativism

Here's something I began to think about in Mass today so I thought it might be good to revisit it. It is partially from a talk given by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, and partially my own thoughts on the matter.

No great, inspiring culture of the future can be built upon the moral principle of relativism. For at its bottom such a culture holds that nothing is better than anything else, and that all things are in themselves equally meaningless. Except for the fragments of faith (in progress, in compassion, in conscience, in hope) to which it still clings, illegitimately, such a culture teaches every one of its children that life is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.

In other words, the new dictatorial impulse declares that the only view permissible among reasonable people is the view that all subjective choices are equally valid. It declares, further, that anyone who claims that there are objective truths and objective goods and evils is "intolerant." Such persons are to be expelled from the community, or at a minimum re- educated. That is to say, all Catholics and others like them must be converted to relativism or else sent into cultural re-training camps.

On the basis of relativism, however, no culture can long defend itself or justify its own values. If everything is relative, even tolerance is only a subjective choice, not an objective mandatory value. Ironically, though, what post-moderns call "tolerance" is actually radically intolerant of any view contrary to its own. Relativism, which is letting oneself be swept along by every wind of teaching, looks like the only attitude acceptable to today's standards. We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism, which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires. I would say that today relativism predominates. It seems that whoever is not a relativist is someone who is intolerant. To think that one can understand the essential truth is already seen as something intolerant.

However, in reality this exclusion of truth is a type of very grave intolerance and reduces essential things of human life to subjectivism. In this way, in essential things we no longer have a common view. Each one can and should decide as he can. So we lose the ethical foundations of our common life.

In America, people don't claim to be relativists. We use the term Spiritual. People say - "I'm Spiritual, rather than religious." Spiritual equals Relativist. In Europe it's Relativist, In America, it's Spiritual. Many Spiritual folks rail against religious people feeling that they are Dogmatists - who accept on faith any irrational teaching the Church expounds. Rather - religious people accept that there IS a determinable truth, and that dogma describes that truth. We believe that Real truth's acceptance requires a lot less faith than believing that NOTHING is absolutely determinable.