How to Confront “The New Morality” with Truth and Beauty
Seeds of the Word (Week 11 of 11)
How well do Christians know the theories of their intellectual enemies? Can we identify their blind spots and the flaws in their logic? Have we read the great Christian apologists — G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Ronald Knox, Fulton Sheen — and can we wield their arguments against those who are coming at us? In my own Catholic Church, we sadly jettisoned much of our rich apologetic tradition in the years after Vatican II, convinced that it would be better to reach out positively to the culture. Well, at least part of the culture has turned pretty hostile, and it is high time to recover the intellectual weapons that we set aside. — Bishop Robert Barron, Seeds of the Word (Why are So Many Atheists on the CNN Belief Blog? Paragraph 3)
There is a lot of confusion today about what the Catholic Church teaches. And what it doesn’t teach. Rather than a beacon of hope for all society, the image of the Catholic Church has become a caricature of lies and twisted propaganda. In fact, I would argue that the Catholic Church is fast becoming the public symbol of choice for bigotry in the world. It is construed in popular culture as a behemoth of power and oppression, which tries to enforce conformity to some outmoded and outdated form of morality that discriminates against good and decent people out of hatred.
This is not the Catholic Church most of us know. And yet, how many of us can articulate what we DO know about the Catholic Church? About Truth?
Dictatorship of Relativism
Wherever we stand on the continuum of knowledge, we’d better dig deep. Because there is a new morality in America. And the Church is the only presence that stands in the way of its wreaking complete havoc on the world. As long as that one voice of Truth remains, there is hope for conversion. As long as that one voice of reason stands firm, Truth will be victorious.
But what is the Church, if not US? Together, you and I comprise the Body of Christ. WE are the Church. If we can’t be the voice of reason, the beacon of hope, what will become of our nation? Of the world?
In a 2005 homily, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) declared,
We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires. (emphasis mine)
In May of 2016, The Barna Group conducted a survey on religious and cultural opinions in America and found that 2/3 of Americans believe that every culture must decide for themselves what constitutes morality. Further, 2/3 of Americans believe there are no absolute moral truths (44%) or they haven’t given much thought to the notion of moral truth (21%).
I think we’ve built it, folks. We are now living in a dictatorship of relativism.
A New Morality
In fact, we are living beneath the fog of a new morality that is based on this notion of relativism. According to David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, their findings demonstrate that this new “relativistic” morality is composed of six tenants:
The best way of finding yourself is by looking within yourself.
People should not criticize someone else’s life choices.
To be fulfilled in life, you should pursue the things you desire most.
The highest goal in life is to enjoy it as much as possible.
People can believe whatever they want, as long as their beliefs don’t affect society.
Any kind of sexual expression between two consenting adults is acceptable.
Every message we receive in the culture reflects this value system. Between music, movies, television and social media, the values promoted are diametrically opposed to what our faith teaches us. Which makes sense since those six tenants are the antithesis of our faith. I mean, can you image what Saint Teresa of Calcutta would say if you told her, The best way of finding yourself is by looking within yourself?
This is the woman who said,
We must grow in love and to do this we must go on loving and loving and giving and giving until it hurts — the way Jesus did. (Meditations from a Simple Path, p. 62)
Mother Teresa – with the Catholic Church – would argue that we don’t search inside ourselves to find ourselves; rather, true happiness comes from pouring ourselves out in service of others.
Or think about Number 2 on the list: People should not criticize someone else’s life choices. Notice it doesn’t say we shouldn’t criticize other people, but rather we shouldn’t criticize their life choices.
And yet, Mother Teresa herself stood on the world stage in 1994, declaring within feet of then President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton – whose life had been devoted to defending and even promoting abortion – that abortion was the greatest “destroyer of peace.” And she didn’t stop there. Further into her speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, she said the following:
By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems. [Abortion is] really a war against the child, and I hate the killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that the mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? … Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love one another, but to use violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.
Today, most likely those words would be overwhelmingly condemned as “hate speech.”
And Number 4? The highest goal in life is to enjoy life as much as possible?
Q3: Why did God make you?
A3: God made me to show forth His goodness and to make me happy with Him in heaven.
Q4: And what must you do to be happy with God in heaven?
A4: To be happy with God in heaven I must know Him, love Him, and serve Him in this world.
Aren’t we treading on thin ice when we allow the very purpose of life to be defined in relativistic terms? How is it possible that this idea has spread so far so fast when the truth is infinitely more attractive?
In reading Frank Sheed’s Map of Life this morning, I found his common sense refreshing. He said that we cannot know what to do with a thing until we know its purpose. He illustrates his point by asking what would happen if we found a razor after having never seen one before, and decided to cut wood with it. The result would be a ruined razor. In that vein, here’s what he had to say about the human person:
…an acceptance of the revelation of God as to the meaning of life has a bearing not only upon holy living, but even upon sane living; that only those who believe in such a revelation can shape their lives correctly or help their fellow men. Those who do not accept the revelation, even if they have the best will in the world (which not all men have), can neither direct their own lives aright nor help other men — save accidentally and within a very narrow field. From such men the world has little to hope and an immense amount to fear. And into their hands the world is tending more and more to fall. In a word, the reason for their helplessness, both in relation to themselves and in relation to others, is that they do not know what a man is.
You do not truly know what anything is until you know what it is for. – p. 10-11
We must find a way to address this new morality that has so confused the very purpose of life, even if it seems like an overwhelming task.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger offered an answer to this dictatorship of relativism:
We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith – only faith – that creates unity and is fulfilled in love.
An Adult Faith
What is an adult faith and how might we develop one?
Recently, I read from the In Conversation with God series, Volume 2, Lent and Eastertide. It offered some food for thought on our responsibilities as Christians and on how we might address the daunting challenge above:
The Christian has been placed by God as a lamp to light up, for others, the way towards God…Children, relatives, colleagues, friends – they all look to our behavior, and we have the responsibility of leading them to God. And so that the blind person’s guide is not himself also blind, it is not enough to have second-hand knowledge or mere hearsay. To lead our friends and relatives to God, a vague and superficial knowledge of the route is not enough: we need to have walked it ourselves… p. 78
The meditation advises us:
In our prayer today we can ask ourselves: Do I dedicate sufficient time to my religious formation, or do I allow myself to become absorbed by the other things that fill each day? Do I have a plan for reading, reviewed in spiritual guidance, which will help me make progress in doctrinal formation according to my age and background? Am I faithful to the Magisterium of the Church, knowing that there I find the light of truth rather than the contradictory opinions I often come across in matters of faith, social teaching, etc? Do I try to know the teachings of the Popes and to make them known? Do I respect them with piety and docility? p. 77
I submit to you that pouring ourselves into our faith – not just limiting our participation to Mass on Sunday or even daily – but developing an in-depth appreciation and understanding of the truth and beauty offered to us by Christ in His Church, and being able to live that Truth – as well as articulating and sharing it in charity and by example – is the only hope in this world of lies and misunderstandings. Our efforts may not pay off for the world today. But today, they will sanctify us. They will sanctify me. They will sanctify you. And together, we will light our candles to shine forth the way to God. The world WILL recognize that they have been scrounging around in the darkness. And when they do, they are bound to turn toward the light.
Note: If I may be so bold as to offer a spiritual reading resource that offers profound growth, while being flexible and doable for busy people, please check out my book, How to Read Your Way to Heaven: A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints and Everyone in Between.
NOTE: Please complete the final assignment for Seeds of the Word independently. The subject matter for the last portion is very similar to the portion we discussed this week. Next week, we plan to begin our next book, Our Lady of Fatima by William Walsh, in honor of the 100th anniversary of Fatima, which we will celebrate on May 13 of this year.
The Adventures… – End of Book
1. How would you answer the questions above: Do I dedicate sufficient time to my religious formation, or do I allow myself to become absorbed by the other things that fill each day? Do I have a plan for reading, reviewed in spiritual guidance, which will help me make progress in doctrinal formation according to my age and background? Do you have any suggestions you can share with other readers?
2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!
For More Information on the Book Club: http://spiritualdirection.com/csd-book-club