Archive for the ‘Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’ Tag

the dangers of moral relativism

On April 18, 2005, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, delivered the homily at the Mass for the Election of the Supreme Pontiff.  In his concise yet poignant homily, he warned against what he calls the “dictatorship of relativism.”  The following is an excerpt from his homily:

Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine’, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.

We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An ‘adult’ faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.

We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith – only faith – that creates unity and is fulfilled in love.”

Each morning as I peruse my usual news outlets, I cannot help but think that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was right. As a society, as a world, even, we are indeed “building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”  There is a loud clamor of voices urging relativism; to speak out against these voices garners one intense criticism–one is labeled a fundamentalist, bigot, or is dismissed as “not with the times.”

Yet where does moral relativism lead us?  The dictatorship of relativism leads us to a Catholic university under threat of suit because of a student-run group distributing condoms on campus.  Relativism leads us to a Planned Parenthood official arguing that if a child survives an abortion, the decision on whether or not to kill the child is a “patient-doctor issue,” not a legal one. Moral relativism leads  a federal judge to allow the morning after pill to be sold over the counter to women of all ages.  Is the right to life an objective truth? Is life itself relative?

C.S. Lewis, in his book The Abolition of Man, talks about the necessity of objective truth in the face of relativism.  He argues that if we fail to pass along specific standards of right and wrong, rooted in objective truth, then we necessarily must accept responsibility for the moral bankruptcy that we ourselves have created.  At the end of Chapter 1, entitled, “Men without Chests,”  C.S. Lewis explains,

“And all the time—such is the tragicomedy of our situation—we continue to clamor for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” 

Today, we lament the loss of life, yet we pass legislation that makes life “a patient-doctor” issue, or worse, an over-the counter issue.  We try to teach our young people about the sanctity of life, but insist that they be allowed access to condoms and over-the-counter abortifacients for “protection.”  How can we expect people to honor the dignity and sanctity of life–of every person, regardless of age– when we are willing to discard it when it is too inconvenient?

To borrow from C.S. Lewis, “such is the tragicomedy of our situation.”

Bob Rice

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