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Countering Moral Relativism: "The spiritual poverty of our time."

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April 21, 2015

Moral relativism is “the spiritual poverty of our time,” Pope Francis has said.

“The spirit of the world,” he cautioned, tempts us with “the deceptive light of relativism, which obscures the splendor of truth and, shaking the earth beneath our feet, pushes us toward the shifting sands of confusion and despair.”

Moral relativism is also at the root of the social and moral divide over some of the most critical battles of our time – fraying the bonds that should hold us together. 

“If there is no God, everything is permitted,” Dostoevsky wrote.

Abortion, assisted suicide, the breakdown of marriage, attacks on religious freedom and other assaults on human dignity are symptomatic of a culture loosed from the guidepost of truth based on a higher authority. 

The "idea of liberty without limits, tolerance hostile to or wary of the truth” is among the Church’s chief challenges today, according to Pope Francis.

And the happiness people think they will achieve by doing anything they want has proven to be elusive – resulting all too often in internal emptiness.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the “dictatorship of relativism.” 

Wielding increasing power over what once was the province of religious belief, government has authorized practices that have led to troubling social and personal consequences. 

In California: 

  • Proposed legislation, SB 128, would legalize doctor-prescribed suicide, in which individuals with terminal illness can get a lethal prescription to end their lives. 
  • Another proposed bill, AB 775, would force pregnancy medical clinics throughout California to notify their clients about access to a free abortion, with no conscience clause protection for centers that oppose abortion.

At the federal level:

  • The government, under the Affordable Care Act, is attempting to force nuns and others to provide contraceptive services, including abortion-inducing drugs, in their health insurance policies – in cases currently before the courts.
  • Owners of small businesses that decline to provide services for a same-sex wedding because it violates their religious convictions are accused of discrimination and taken to court.

These examples demonstrate a steady erosion of the principle engrained in our founding documents that our inalienable rights come from our Creator, not from government. 

Once government replaces God, as St. John Paul II presciently wrote in his 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, “The State then is no longer the ‘common home’ where all can live together” on the basis of fundamental principles, “but is transformed into a tyrant State, which arrogates to itself the right to dispose of the life” from “the unborn child to the elderly.”

As Catholic teaching points out, true freedom is not license – to do anything we want.  It is the liberty to use our minds, hearts and will to discover God’s purpose for our lives, and be free to fulfill it.

Jesus came that we “might have life,” he told us, and have it “more abundantly.”

But the solution to combating moral relativism is not to dictate from on high. Pope Francis has brought a refreshing, welcome sense of humility that has warmed hearts throughout the world. He suggests using language that does not condemn, but invites.

He has called on us to acknowledge that we are all sinners, and invite others to join us in asking for God’s mercy, correcting our errors and seeking the truth.

This does not mean backing away from doctrine.  Christians must avoid the temptation “to compromise our faith, to water down the radical demands of the Gospel and to conform to the spirit of this age,” he said.

It means inviting people to experience the joy of the Gospel, as the pope described it in his encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium.

Christ did not condemn the woman who committed adultery.  He said that those who have no sin should cast the first stone.  By causing the accusers to look into their own hearts, they no longer saw her through the eyes of superiority but as a fellow sinner in need of grace and mercy as they were. He offered her forgiveness, then said, “Go and sin no more.” 

We are called to bring our culture back to the eternal truths, the only true source of peace and happiness.

“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion,” John Adams wrote.  “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”Counterin