By Graham Glover –
In 2005, after the death of Pope John Paul the Great, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger gave a homily to the conclave of cardinals which had gathered at the Vatican to elect the next pope. Regardless of your denominational pedigree, I remain convinced that history will regard Cardinal Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict XVI, as one of the finest theologians the Church has ever known. His writings are masterpieces and his philosophical depth is unmatched.
His homily in 2005 though, shortly before he was elected pope, is what continues to strike me as one of his most salient comments for Christians living in the 21st century.
“We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism”, Cardinal Ratzinger said, “which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”
These comments came after decades of warning the Church and the world about the dangers of relativism. Speaking to a group of journalists in 2002 Ratzinger noted: “I would say that today relativism predominates. It seems that whoever is not a relativist is someone who is intolerant. To think that one can understand the essential truth is already seen as something intolerant. However, in reality this exclusion of truth is a type of very grave intolerance and reduces essential things of human life to subjectivism. In this way, in essential things we no longer have a common view. Each one can and should decide as he can. So we lose the ethical foundations of our common life.”
It’s no wonder that in 2003, in his text, Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions, Ratzinger concluded: “relativism…in certain respects has become the real religion of modern man.”
Truer words have not been spoken in years…
Consider what is happening in our world today:
- On the one hand we are told that all truths are permissible, but on the other we are told it is offensive to claim that there is only one Truth. In other words, you cannot believe your truth (or Truth) is correct. Which means, I think, that nothing is?
- To be tolerant is only to be open to relativism’s claims. Tolerance does not include any absolute Truth claims.
- Recent news reports suggest that in Houston, Texas, clergy are being asked to submit sermon manuscripts that discuss homosexuality to city officials…as though speaking the Word of God to this issue is somehow problematic or in the eyes of some, an offense punishable by law.
- Christians are literally being crucified throughout portions of the Middle East and elsewhere, to which some suggest their “struggle” is none of our concern and any involvement to assist them is only a sign of imperialism and greedy capitalism.
- Some policymakers and jurists believe that religious organizations, regardless of their doctrine and beliefs, should be required, by law, to pay for things they find morally objectionable and evil.
- We say we believe in freedom of religion, but if that religion runs contrary to cultural norms, then it must change or be called extremist and subsequently ostracized from society.
- Individualism has become our most sacred right, that to suggest another’s behavior is immoral or unethical is a sign of intolerance and discrimination, which may be punishable by law.
- Ultimately, the only truth is that there is no truth.
Is our world moving toward a dictatorship of relativism or are we already there? If so, what is the cause, who are the culprits, and is there anything that can be done to reverse our relativistic tide? To these questions and more, we will continue in the weeks ahead.