Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Laying the Smack Down on Relativism...

...The second area of darkness – that which affects the mind – often goes unnoticed, and for this reason is particularly sinister. The manipulation of truth distorts our perception of reality, and tarnishes our imagination and aspirations. I have already mentioned the many liberties which you are fortunate enough to enjoy. The fundamental importance of freedom must be rigorously safeguarded. It is no surprise then that numerous individuals and groups vociferously claim their freedom in the public forum. Yet freedom is a delicate value. It can be misunderstood or misused so as to lead not to the happiness which we all expect it to yield, but to a dark arena of manipulation in which our understanding of self and the world becomes confused, or even distorted by those who have an ulterior agenda.
Have you noticed how often the call for freedom is made without ever referring to the truth of the human person?

Some today argue that respect for freedom of the individual makes it wrong to seek truth, including the truth about what is good. In some circles to speak of truth is seen as controversial or divisive, and consequently best kept in the private sphere. And in truth’s place – or better said its absence – an idea has spread which, in giving value to everything indiscriminately, claims to assure freedom and to liberate conscience. This we call relativism. But what purpose has a "freedom" which, in disregarding truth, pursues what is false or wrong?

How many young people have been offered a hand which in the name of freedom or experience has led them to addiction, to moral or intellectual confusion, to hurt, to a loss of self-respect, even to despair and so tragically and sadly to the taking of their own life? Dear friends, truth is not an imposition. Nor is it simply a set of rules. It is a discovery of the One who never fails us; the One whom we can always trust. In seeking truth we come to live by belief because ultimately truth is a person: Jesus Christ. That is why authentic freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in; nothing less than letting go of self and allowing oneself to be drawn into Christ’s very being for others (cf. Spe Salvi, 28).

I swear this would have been so much more effective if every kid in the crowd had been surgically detached from his ipod or her cell phone during the Pope's address...


  1. "In some circles to speak of truth is seen as controversial or divisive, and consequently best kept in the private sphere."

    Hubby and I had the odd experience of this mindset when we included a reference to our Creator in the mission statement of a company we acquired. We changed the language from “To celebrate the quality of life…” to “To honor our Creator and craft…”

    Turns out there were a few atheists in the company and you would have thought we threw holy water on the whole lot of them. They twisted and turned and howled and gnashed their teeth. Everything but scream “it burns” at the top of their lungs. It was quite disturbing really, and that wasn’t speaking of the truth in any great way or via any grand gesture, a simple reference to the Creator in a mission statement!

  2. This particular speech was the highpoint of his journey in my opinion. It was nothing short of a 'spectacular display of the Holy Spirit's power'. My brief remarks are here: http://tau-cross.blogspot.com/2008/04/what-is-god-whispering-to-you.html

    I look forward to your sharing more of your journey.

  3. Relativism is such an untenable position that I suspect most instances of it really amount to intellectual laziness. A few names of those who argue for a relativistic philosophy (Mackie, Fletcher) come to mind, but on the whole I don’t see relativism as a coherent worldview advanced in the market of ideas. I’ve read some books on the plague of relativism that fail to cite even one concrete example of a relativist. Instead the examples are statements such as “true-for-you-not-true-for-me” variety but without naming names.

    This is not to say that what the pope calls relativism doesn’t exist; it surely does, as is evidenced by listening to certain Catholic politicians talking about imposing “their” morality. But really, how many people out there are really tried-and-true relativists, espousing that there is no truth, that nothing is truly good or bad, etc?

  4. Greetings Kyle-

    I know you are one to lament 'relativism' so I'm not quite certain what to make of your comment. Whether 'relativism' is practiced by the intellectually sophisticated or the lazy laity, it's consequences are nearly the same. The Holy Fathers' pointing out its danger is highly apropos.

  5. Just curious about whether relativism is for most "relativists" a thought-out philosophy or something else. I'm not here making the distinction between the intellectually sophisticated and the lazy laity (I'm in the latter), but rather the nature of this phenomenon called relativism. With perhaps most thought-out philosophies at play in the world of ideas, one can point to originators and proponents of the philosophy. I can name you plenty of spokesman for progressivism, atheism, Marxism, anarchism, militarism, pacifism, and many other "isms." While I named a couple of thinkers who have developed ethics of moral relativism, I'm at a loss to find in today's society relativism's equivalent of atheism's Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris. Many of those who speak in relativistic tropes on some issues take absolutist stances on others, leading me to believe they are not relativists per se. The Catholic politician who refrains from imposing his morality on say, abortion, doesn’t shy away from imposing his morality on, say healthcare. His moral thinking is inconsistent: relativistic in one sense but not in others. Why? My guess is that in many case he hasn’t thought his ethical philosophy through. Maybe “intellectual laziness” isn’t the right description. In any case, you are right: its consequences are dangerous and the pope's smack down on it is apropos.


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