Right and wrong. True and false. Thanks to relativism, young people use these words when talking about things like math and science—but not faith and morals. You might be thinking, “Relatiwhatism?” If philosophical discussions aren’t your forte, stay with me! Relativism isn’t a philosophy you can afford to overlook, because it’s at the very heart of how virtually every teenager thinks about the most important things in life!
What is Relativism?
Relativism is the philosophy that there is no objective reality, but that truth is relative to what each person thinks. We’ve all encountered relativism in statements like, “Jesus is God for me, while Vishnu is God for someone else,” “You have your truth, and I have mine,” or, in regard to issues like the abortion debate, “You can’t impose your morality on another person.”
This “agree never to disagree” philosophy is considered necessary to guarantee peace, tolerance, and equality in a pluralistic world. Conversely, people who think we can know the truth in moral or religious issues are considered intolerant, bigoted, and sometimes even downright dangerous.
That caricature of us “absolutists” is reinforced at every level of society, not just among your teens’ peers. According to Justice Scalia, when it comes to the marriage debate, the Supreme Court has bypassed intelligent debate and labeled those who want to protect “traditional” marriage as “enemies of the human race.” Of course, we fail to live up to that label. In the 2,000-year history of the Church, you won’t find a single bishop on record calling for physical violence against gays.
Facts aside, perception is reality. And the reality is that people perceive those who believe in spiritual and moral absolutes as bigots. Perhaps that’s why, according to one study, 93% of teens said they do not believe in absolute truth. No one wants to be a jerk, right?!
Does believing in moral absolutes lead to hate?
If we want young people to receive the Faith as something more than “a belief system that works for me,” but rather “as something real that I’m called to conform my life to,” we need to show them that moral and spiritual absolutes don’t lead to hatred. In fact, history shows us that some of the most intolerant people in history were not real believers, but relativists!
Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy, is one clear-cut example. Early in his political career, he wrote:
Everything I have said and done in these last years is relativism, by intuition. From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, that all ideologies are mere fictions, the modern relativist infers that everybody has the right to create for himself his own ideology, and to attempt to enforce it with all the energy of which he is capable. If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and men who claim to be the bearers of an objective immortal truth, then there is nothing more relativistic than fascism. —Mussolini’s “Diuturna”
Since Mussolini didn’t recognize any objective reality—moral or religious—to which he should conform, he invented his own moral code and enforced it on everyone he could. If truth is really relative, why not?!
And while it might seem that if we could just “imagine there’s no heaven … no hell below us … no religion, too,” then we could “live life in peace.” The 20th century proved John Lennon’s dream wrong time and again. People in the 20th century who imagined that there was no “objective immortal truth”—no heaven, hell, and no religion—made many of the crimes committed in the name of faith look like child’s play.
Continue reading at The Catholic Parent.