Our church, the Catholic Church, agrees with Canadian culture on many things: helping the poor, respecting God’s creation, respecting people of different races and cultures, etc. Praise God! But we disagree on things like abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia, changing genders, etc.
When we have discussions about these topics, we often get shut down with the following lines: “You have your truth and I have mine,” or “Don’t impose your religious values on other people,” or “You should be more tolerant,” or “Who are you to say?” Some of us may even ask ourselves these questions: Are we imposing our values on other people? Are we being intolerant?
St. Peter famously wrote to the early Christians in the second reading, “Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet 3:15-16). Through this exhortation, Jesus is calling us today to understand better our faith and know how to defend our beliefs.
So let’s do this today with one of the most fundamental topics: moral relativism. Relativism basically says there is no absolute truth and no right or wrong. When people say, “Who are you to tell me what to do?” , or “You should be more tolerant,” or that morality is just what a society agrees is right or wrong, they’re all favouring relativism. We need to answer this idea first, because if we can’t, we’ll never get into any discussion about any other moral topic. So let’s start answering:
1) The first problem with relativism is that it contradicts itself.
There’s a pro-life speaker named Jojo Ruba, who was once interrupted by a loud group of pro-choice people, who said pro-lifers shouldn’t impose their beliefs on others. Jojo then asked simply, “Well, why not?” They said, “Because it’s wrong to impose one’s beliefs.” He then calmly said, “Is that your belief? If so, then why are you imposing that belief on me, if it’s wrong to impose beliefs?” They’re contradicting themselves: They’re doing the very thing they’re telling us not to do.
In the same way, every time people say Catholics are judging people, they are in fact judging us. There are endless varieties to this self-contradiction. I once heard Piers Morgan say to Ryan Anderson, who was defending true marriage, “Who are you to say gay marriage is wrong?” Of course, he’s just saying that Ryan was wrong. Well, who’s Piers Morgan to say Ryan’s wrong? If people want us to be tolerant, then why aren’t they tolerant of our views? The answer is: No one can be tolerant of everything.
2) This brings us to the second problem with relativism: Many Canadians might preach tolerance, but Canada is an intolerant country. We are intolerant about child abuse, child pornography, rape, slavery, and racism. Canada is intolerant to smokers, is it not? I can’t smoke wherever I want to. Canada is intolerant with speeding. They don’t give us the choice to go as fast as we want
Tolerance sounds good and it is, but only when understood rightly. It means we should treat people with respect and kindness, and listen to their opinions, but no one should be tolerant of all ideas and ways of life. Why? Because some ideas are wrong.
Think about this. All of us believe some ideas are wrong, including people who say there’s no right or wrong. Racism, for example, is an evil idea. In the same way, we should be intolerant of bullying at school and misogyny. Intolerance in certain cases is the right thing to do. No one should tolerate everything.
Notice also that tolerance implies something is bad. “You don’t have to tolerate things that are good, do you? You don’t sit down to a great meal and say, ‘What a fabulous meal! I’ll tolerate it.’ You don’t come back from a great vacation and say, ‘Oh, we had a fabulous vacation. I tolerated it for ten days, I just tolerated it.’ You don’t have to tolerate good things” (Matthew Kelly, The Jesus Question, Track 3). Tolerance implies that we think something is bad, that we’re making a moral judgement and that means there’s right and wrong. So Canadians who preach tolerance are making judgments all the time, it’s just that theirs are more politically correct.
3) People may say they believe in moral relativism, but there’s no single person who actually lives by it in reality. If we’re talking to someone who says there’s no right or wrong, do something they don’t like and see how they react.
Ken and Bob had a good friendship. Ken was Catholic while Bob was an atheist at the time who believed morality was derived from evolution. Because of their good friendship, Ken would joke with him by cutting in line in front of him. When Bob complained, “What are you doing? That’s not right,” Ken would say, “What are you talking about? Survival of the fittest. You’re 5’2”, I’m 5’10”.” Bob obviously believed in moral truth even though he said he didn’t (Ken Hensley, Answering Atheism, Track 5, 4:19).
Every time someone uses the words, ‘should,’ ‘fair/unfair,’ ‘just/unjust,’ or ‘right/wrong,’ they’re admitting they’re not relativists.
4) Some people say there is no morality because it’s all based on culture. Our culture, for instance, used to say abortion is bad, but now we say it’s good. So it’s just relative to culture.
If this is the case, then how can our culture say Hitler was wrong in killing six million Jews? You can’t. Likewise, slavery isn’t wrong because Western culture in recent years says it’s wrong. It’s wrong because it’s against human dignity. If we don’t say that, then slavery could come back if the majority agrees to it. So relativism means we can’t call evil actions ‘evil.’
74% of Millennials agree with the statement: “Whatever is right for your life or works best for you is the only truth you can know.” So, if slavery of black people in the US worked best for slave owners, then it’s okay? Child abuse works well for many abusers—that’s okay? Water boarding prisoners was best for some American law enforcement agencies, but it was still wrong.
Relativism dodges questions and hard thinking, and, in my opinion, is lazy. Relativism argues that because people have different opinions means there’s no right or wrong. Pro-abortionists, for example, argue that we’ll never know whether a fetus in the womb is a human being because there’s so much disagreement about it: “Some say it is, some say it isn’t. How are we to know?” The answer is you think seriously about it, and look at the facts and arguments.
If we had Mother Teresa and Hitler in a room together and they disagreed on whether humans have intrinsic dignity, would that mean there’s no answer? It does not follow that because people disagree means there’s no right or wrong. Even today, some cultures think women have less dignity than men. So globally there is disagreement about the status of women. Does this mean we’ll never know that women are equal in dignity to men? Clearly not.
Pope Benedict said, “Relativism has thus become the central problem for the faith at the present time.” Think about that. Of all the problems in our world today, he believes this is the worst. Why? Because it means we can never find out what’s right and wrong, we can’t even have discussions about moral topics, and, like we pointed out above, it means we can never say that wrong actions are wrong, which is why so much evil is allowed to happen today. Morality also becomes a matter of personal preference: If your group and my group disagree about morality in public policy, who wins? The stronger. Weak people always lose. Canadian society says it’s tolerant of every issue… unless it’s deemed politically incorrect by the influential. In this case, there’s no tolerance for religious people. Towards Christians, they hurl insults like ‘bigot,’ ‘homophobe,’ ‘judgmental,’ and ‘imposing your values,’ rather than engaging us in honest discussion.
It’s good to not want to hurt people’s feelings or offend them, but not at the expense of truth. Being politically correct is different: being PC means avoiding what is true and what the real problems are, which does no one any good. In the end, to tell someone the truth is the most caring thing we can do—this is what Jesus did. And we must do so with gentleness, as St. Peter tells us.
If you’d like, please take the bulletin home today and look over these points again; talk about them with your family and go through them one-by-one to see if they make sense or if there are any errors in logic.
We Catholics don’t impose our values on other people, rather, we search to know what’s right and wrong, and help everyone else know, because that’s the right thing to do.
It’s also okay to be intolerant. Just be sure it’s about the right things. We don’t condemn the person, but like Jesus and all good people, we should condemn evil actions.
We now know that there is a right and wrong and that it’s not relative; now we’re ready to have good discussions. Remember the four points above. And if you disagree with anything I’ve said, stop judging me.