Relativism

Relativism is the belief that concepts such as right and wrong, goodness and badness, truth and falsehood are not absolute but change from culture to culture and situation to situation.

At a recent gathering of College professors, one teacher reported that at his school the most damaging charge one student can lodge against another is that the person is being “judgmental.” He found this pattern very upsetting.

“You can’t get a good argument going in class anymore,” he said. “As soon as somebody takes a stand on any important issue, someone else says that the person is being judgmental. And that’s it. End of discussion. Everyone is intimidated!”

In the name of being tolerant, we have become intolerant. At the Mass prior to the conclave, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger warned of the “dictatorship of relativism” that is threatening our society.

“To have a clear faith, according to the creed of the Church, is labeled fundamentalism. And this while relativism, that is, allowing oneself to be led here and there by any wind of doctrine, is seen as the only behavior abreast of the times,” he said. “The ultimate measure is only the measure of each one and his desires.” Relativism has gained despotic power in our society.

Everyone has a right – they say – to understand family, sexuality, maleness, femaleness, parenthood, and culture as he wants and thinks fit. You believe that abortion is right. I believe abortion is wrong. I respect you, you respect me! Who is right? Both of us!! I believe that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. You believe that a marriage is a union between a man and a man. Who is right? According to our society, both are correct!

Today’s 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.”

When a woman tried to defend heterosexuality against homosexuality on a Larry King show, she was ridiculed out of the show.

Obviously relativism is bankrupt in its very principles. You drive on the right. I drive on the left. Who is right? According to relativism, both of us are right. Try it on a busy road and you will see what will happen!

And yet, in the name of tolerance, there is no absolute truth except relativism!

This is the cultural tyranny we live in and which the present Pope denounced in such a strong way. This is understandable. “In his most formative years, Ratzinger heard Nazi propaganda shouting that there is no truth, no justice, there is only the will of the people (enunciated by its leader). As its necessary precondition, Nazism depended on the debunking of objective truth and objective morality. Truth had to be derided as irrelevant, and naked will had to be exalted.

To anybody who said: “But that’s false!” the Nazi shouted, “That’s just your opinion, and who are you, compared to Der Fuehrer? To anybody who said, “But what you are doing is unjust!” the Nazi shouted louder, “Says you, swine.” (Michael Novak on Cardinal Ratzinger on National Review Online)

Perhaps Alexander Solzhenitsyn was right when in his 1983 acceptance speech for the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, recalled the words he heard as a child, when his elders sought to explain the ruinous upheavals in Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

He added, “If I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: ‘men have forgotten God.'”

That is why the Pope sees clearly that if you want people to move the world it actually helps if you put some ground under their feet. This is one of the things that Christianity does. “Mature faith, he said, does not follow fashions and the latest novelty, but is profoundly rooted in friendship with Christ. This friendship opens us to all that is good and gives us the measure to discern between what is true and what is false, between deceit and truth.”

The story is told of a man who came to visit his old friend, a music teacher. As the man came in, he said, “What’s the good news today?” The old teacher was silent as he stood up and walked across the room. He picked up a small hammer and struck a tuning fork. As the note sounded throughout the room, he said, “That is the musical note ‘A.’ It is ‘A’ today; it was ‘A’ 5,000 years ago, and it will be ‘A’ 10,000 years from now. The soprano upstairs sings off-key, the tenor across the hall flats on his high notes, and the piano downstairs is out of tune.” He struck the note again and said, “That is ‘A,’ my friend, and that’s the good news for today!”

The only hope for a world out of tune is to know that Jesus is the truth: “Yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). That’s the good news of truth!


(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.