“It’s their choice“. This is the cliché that my generation has been indoctrinated with. The loaded phrase is like a fail-safe from criticism. Once you make someone who was questioning a person’s decision or action aware of the fact that it was their choice (especially if the decision maker was a woman), everyone is immediately unable to criticize or even slightly question the action. It isn’t terminating a baby, it’s simply a woman’s right to choose. And if you are against abortion, you are against a woman’s choice. Like, gee, when you put it that way, maybe I should reconsider. When the pro-abortion crowd and other moral relativists realized just how effective this mantra was at shaming people into silence on their values, the slogan moved into every nook and cranny of our society. It has become a force field we erect around other people lest we come off as the preachy, “judgmental” person. Worse yet, we might someday be criticized for taking the same action ourselves, right?
The problem we encounter with this mindset is the debate of just how far we follow it. Where does someone’s decision finally cross the line of acceptable in the name of “choice”? Should we look the other way to the thief who steals someone’s wallet as a means to accomplish their objective of getting more money for themselves? Who are we to judge how this person should accomplish his need of financial stability, whether it’s through working or through stealing. Who are we to have an opinion on how someone should accomplish their desire to remain childless, whether it’s through abstinence, artificial birth control, or abortion? Now, of course, the response you’ll likely encounter, especially if this person knows you’re Christian, is “who are you to judge somebody?” True, we are not in a position to judge a human being’s soul, but we are in a position to judge the actions of others just as we judge our own actions all the time in order to make ourselves better in the future. If no one is ever allowed to point to someone behaving badly and say “that’s not the right choice”, parents everywhere would be rendered useless (which pretty much already is happening right now).
Where am I going with this? Well this all is an example of what we call moral relativism. Moral relativism, or the opposite to moral objectivism, is the idea that no absolute moral “truths” exist in the universe. It suggests that everything is subjective to the individual’s personal circumstances. Here is how Wikipedia defines it:
Relativism is the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration. As moral relativism, the term is often used in the context of moral principles, where principles and ethics are regarded as applicable in only limited context.
Relativism can only exist if God as we know him didn’t exist. God, described as basically as possible, is the invisible order to the universe (we describe God this way because nearly everyone agrees that there is an ebb/flow, unseen, spiritual dynamic in this world). If there is a spiritual, unseen dynamic to our universe, there would have to be moral objective absolutes. Think of the spiritual order being like the physical order of our planet. The physical world has laws to keep things ordered on Earth. No matter how much gravity is ruining a situation of ours, we cannot change it because we want to live a certain way. While the consequence of breaking a physical law would be physical such as breaking a leg by trying to ignore gravity by jumping off a building, the consequence for breaking a spiritual law would be spiritual (and perhaps also have physical, economic, and other outcomes). You might be able to cheat on your wife without getting caught, but you’re breaking an unseen natural law that will result in the harm of your soul if nothing else.
The Church is the sole authority for deciphering Natural Law which is why it’s shocking just how many ‘Catholics’ embrace a relativist mindset–many without even knowing it. Catholics must be fighting on the front lines of this cultural war. When we have Catholics that think the Church’s teaching on artificial birth control are obsolete and wrong, we cannot expect to be effective on spreading the truth of Natural Law. Church teachings don’t change because Natural Law doesn’t change. That would be like expecting the lessons a college science class to change despite the laws of physics not changing. It’s possible to make discoveries with how Natural Law is applied to new situations moving forward through history just as it’s possible to apply the existing laws of physics to creating new vehicles or finding new energy sources without meeting physical harm. In order to properly move forward with a new action (such as maybe a new form of conceiving a baby or a new method of self defense), we must see how these actions fit in accordance with natural law before acting to make sure it does no harm to our soul. Does that make sense, I fear I’m sounding convoluted? The point is, who wants to be in a church that’s teaching anything other than the unchanging moral truths of the universe? What would be the point of Christianity if we expect our church to simply regurgitate what’s popular at any given time to make people feel morally comfortable? Obviously this raises all sorts of questions for the subjective biblical interpretations found in all the Protestant sects but we don’t have time for that!
We do not want a Church that will move with the world. We want a Church that will move the world
We must adhere faithfully to the blueprint for life that the Church provides and fight the notion that we know what’s morally best for us. Original sin is humans’ inherent disposition that we know what’s best for us. If we don’t have any moral anchor, we are able to make excuses for poor choices more easily. This is a recipe for chaos. We are being bombarded with messages that we should ignore virtuous lifestyles and go down the path of least resistance as long as it’s our “choice”. Unfortunately, our culture places pure self-liberation as its benchmark to personal freedom. However, when we give into thousands of small desires, we are not free at all, we are slaves. True freedom is different than political freedom. True freedom to do what’s right despite wanting to do what’s easy or feels good. True freedom is the ability to live a life of virtue with our free will.
Please do not misread my sentiments as pontificating. I’m not blind to the fact that I take a relativist approach with my own daily actions (I’m really good at pointing out the shortcomings of others though!). We all, no matter how virtuous, succumb to our original sin sometimes and do things out of a subjective mindset. The larger lesson is that true Christians eventually admit to this fault afterwards and reconcile these moments directly to God through the sacrament of confession.
If there’s an action or trend you find morally questionable, don’t wait for the topic to be brought up at Mass, seek out if it follows the order of Natural Law by seeing what the Church has to say about it. A business wouldn’t move forward with a new service without consulting a lawyer on its legality, why would we move forward with new actions without consulting our resources (the Church) to make sure it’s not disordered or damaging to the soul? Thinking about in-vitro fertilization? See if it follows Natural Law first. Thinking about using hypno-therapy? See if the Church thinks it’s damaging to the soul first. In case you’re curious about this two randomly chosen issues: IVF is considered disordered and seeking hypno-therapy isn’t forbidden we are warned us to “be careful”. It blows my mind how many church-going people don’t know what the Church teaches on popular American issues. Are people purposely avoiding the truth to keep a clean conscience or are they just such lazy Catholics that they can’t take the amount of time it takes to read the recipe for a cake? Don’t be a lazy Catholic. Be an engaged and joyful Christian. take pleasure in knowing you have the strength to do what’s right even though it might not give you the immediate thrill you desire. Just as quitting smoking is painful at first, we need to sometimes go through painful withdrawal of the things we are slaves to before we can come out of the fog that was distorting our decisions. Note: this analogy isn’t to say smoking is morally wrong. Who doesn’t enjoy that smooth puff of tobacco after a few cocktails? No one, the answer is no one doesn’t enjoy that.
Sometimes it’s hard to identify the messages that are being force fed to us when we watch TV. Relativists effectively ‘submerge’ us with their beliefs (or lack thereof) where every topic, action, and idea in the media just assumes everyone is or thinks one particular way. When you’re watching a show like Today, David Letterman, or even a scripted show like Glee, often the messages and undertones are things like how it’s just assumed Christians are intolerant or anyone that is “pro-life” is anti-woman or to be against same-sex marriage is against “equality”. When they submerge us in this mindset, the goal is to make anyone who disagrees with them feel ashamed of their beliefs to the point that they suppress their value system in order to conform to what they want. FIGHT THIS! Don’t let yourself waver on your objective Christian values. It was your values that built Western civilization. It was these values that brought hospitals and healthcare to all people regardless of privilege and status. It was these values that brought education to everyone despite not being associated with royalty. It was these values that helped civilization flourish in size, prosperity and virtue. See popular culture for what it is and see Christian objectivity for what it is.
With all this said, it’s important that we do not retreat from the secular-relativist culture around us. Sure, we might opt to watch something other than Maury during the day but we need all need to peacefully fight relativism on the front lines without our opponents even knowing. We must fight it by speaking our values when they come up and by providing powerful and positive witness to the joy of the Christian lifestyle.
Note: I started this post one night leading up to Christmas feeling the ambition and confidence of a few Yuletide spirits. I saved my progress and came back to it about a week later only to find that it was tougher than I expected to finish the thought I started. I apologize if this post seems unfinished and askew.