by Jonathan Ekene Ifeanyi
In his brilliant piece, A Refutation of Moral Relativism—Transcription, Peter Kreeft, Professor of Philosophy at Boston College and one of the most widely read Christian authors of our time, quoting the late Oxford classicist, novelist and medievalist, C.S. Lewis, writes:
“C.S. Lewis says, in The Poison of Subjectivism, that relativism "will certainly end our species and damn our souls." Please remember that Oxonians are not given to exaggeration. Why does he say "damn our souls?" Because Lewis is a Christian, and he does not disagree with the fundamental teaching of his master, Christ, and all the prophets in the Jewish tradition, that salvation presupposes repentance, and repentance presupposes an objectively real moral law. Moral relativism eliminates that law, thus trivializes repentance, thus imperils salvation.
“Why does he say, "end our species," and not just modern Western civilization? Because the entire human species is becoming increasingly Westernized and relativized. It is ironic that America, the primary source of relativism in the world today, is also the world's most religious nation. This is ironic because religion is to relativism what Dr. Van Helsing is to Count Dracula. Within America, the strongest opposition to relativism comes from the churches. Yet a still further irony, according to the most recent polls, Catholics are as relativistic, both in behavior and in belief, as non-Catholics. Sixty-two percent of Evangelicals say they disbelieve in any absolute or unchanging truths, and American Jews are significantly more relativistic and more secular than Gentiles. Only Orthodox Jews, the Eastern Orthodox, and Fundamentalists seem to be resisting the culture, but not by converting it, but by withdrawing from it. And that includes most Muslims, except for the tiny minority who terrorize it. When Pat Buchanan told us in 1992 that we were in a culture war, all the media laughed, sneered, and barked at him. Today, everyone knows he was right, and the culture war is most essentially about this issue.”
In The Poison of Subjectivism, a lecture, Lewis scrutinizes subjectivist thinking with a special focus on what he calls “practical reason.” Practical reason is our capacity for deciding what to do, how to act. It has to do with judgments of value. It is different from theoretical reason which deals with, well, theories. Practical reason answers the question, ‘What should I do?’ How do I respond to relativists’ arguments?
Relativism is any philosophical position which maintains that there are truths and values, but denies that they are absolute. It is the belief that individual persons—or subjects—are the source of knowledge and moral values. What is true or morally good finds its final authority in people, and not in an external source like God. For relativists, there is nothing like “absolute truth”, rather truth is relative to the standpoint of the judging subject—‘beauty lies in the eye of the beholder’, it is said.
Epistemological relativism was first defended by the sophist Protagoras of Abdera. Protagoras was born around the year 480 BC. He came to Athens while in his middle age. The philosophers who came before Protagoras had claimed each to have the truth about the nature of things in the universe. However, they all seemed to have conflicting ideas about the nature of truth. In the light of these oppositions and contradictions Protagoras apparently despaired of the possibility of reaching truth and declared that it is the private concern of each individual person. Hence, “Man is the measure of all things” he said, “of things that are that they are, and of things that are not that they are not”. This assertion, a subject of much argument, seems to mean that no one really knows what is outside of himself. For each person the appearance of things is different. To a man with jaundice all things are yellow. For him that is true, even though it is not so for a man in a normal state of health. Even to a blind man all things seem dark. For him that is true, even though it is not so for a man who can see. Thus for Protagoras, what appears to be true for you is true for you even though for me it is false. Thus everyone is always right, and no one can ever be wrong. It follows that there are no answers to our questions about reality. There is no truth apart from our private feelings about things, or if there is it cannot be known or discovered.
When the ancient Greeks began to extend their commercial and maritime empire around the shores of the Mediterranean, they were shocked to find different codes of manners and morals among the various peoples with whom they came in contact. For example, things which were seen as abominable in Athens were deemed praiseworthy in Carthage. In one place the ability to lie well and cheat skilfully was seen as virtues to be cultivated, in another they were regarded as dishonourable. To take care of old people was a sacred duty in one country, in another it was a social duty to get rid of them. The scandal of these conflicting ideas of right and wrong forced the Greeks to a rational examination of the foundations of morals. Hence the conflict between the sophists like Protagoras—who claimed that morals were invention of man and therefore subject to an arbitrary change—and philosophers like Socrates and Plato who maintained that, in spite of surface differences, the laws of moral nature were just as objective and changeless as the laws of physical nature. Herodotus, the Greek historian of the 5th century BC, being on the side of the sophists—advanced their relativistic view when he observed that different societies have different customs and that each person thinks his own society's customs are best. But no set of social customs, Herodotus said, is really better or worse than any other.
Protagoras plays important role in Plato’s Dialogues, one of which is named “Protagoras” and involves a fictional, yet realistic conversation between the sophist and Socrates. Another Dialogue is named after a young boy named Theaetetus and involves a discussion between he, Socrates and Theodorus who is a friend of Protagoras. The Dialogue begins with discussions about Protagoras’ relativism, then it moves onto consideration about the nature of knowledge and closes with a definition of knowledge that has stayed with us for over a millennia! Knowledge is justified true belief. That is modern version of Plato’s definition. On this view, our beliefs will only count as knowledge when they are true, that is, when they are in accord with objective facts and when the person who holds the belief has evidence or justification for it.
Today in our own world the situation is in no way dissimilar to that of the ancients. Anthropologists and sociologists have ranged the wide world over, collecting examples of strange manners and customs, different and sometimes conflicting ideas of moral behaviour. Like Herodotus, some contemporary sociologists and anthropologists have argued that morality, because it is a social product, develops differently within different cultures. Each society develops standards that are used by people within it to distinguish acceptable from unacceptable behaviour, and every judgment of right and wrong presupposes one or another of these standards. Thus, according to these researchers, if practices such as polygamy or infanticide are considered right within a society, then they are right “for that society”; and if the same practices are considered wrong within a different society, then those practices are wrong for that society. There is no such thing as what is really right, apart from these social codes, for there is no culture-neutral standard to which we can appeal to determine which society's view is correct. The different social codes are all that exist. Tragically, the majority of our professional ‘philosophers’—including the clergy—are also on the side of the sophists. They teach that the principles of morals are not a matter of knowledge but of opinion, and that one man’s opinion is as good as another’s. Moral beliefs are explained away variously: they are mere social conventions, an invention of the weak to protect themselves against the strong, or a fiction of the clever to dupe the foolish; or, again, mere emotional biases stemming from local prejudice, instinctual inclination, temperamental predisposition. In short, morals are purely arbitrary, subjective, capricious.
Beginning in the 1960s and '70s, ethical relativism was associated with postmodernism, a complex philosophical movement that questioned the idea of objectivity in many areas, including ethics. From the time of the Enlightenment—and not even the medieval period—most philosophers and scientists believed that there is an objective, universal, and unchanging truth about everything, including science, ethics, religion, and politics, and that human reason is powerful enough to discover this truth. The eventual result of rational inquiry, therefore, was to be one science, one ethics, one religion, and one politics that would be valid for all people in all eras. According to postmodernism, however, the Enlightenment-inspired idea of objective truth, which has “influenced” the thinking of virtually all modern scientists and philosophers, is an illusion that has now collapsed. Many postmodernists regarded the very idea of objectivity as a dubious invention of the modern—i.e., post-Enlightenment—era. But the idea of objective truth, they say, has now collapsed due largely to the work of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) and his followers. Nietzsche, a German classicist and philosopher, rejected the “naive faith” that human beliefs simply mirror reality. Instead, each of our beliefs is grounded in a “perspective” that is neither correct nor incorrect. In ethics, accordingly, there are no moral facts but only moral interpretations of phenomena, which give rise to different existing moral codes. We may try to understand these moralities by investigating their histories and the psychology of the people who embrace them, but there is no question of proving one or another of them to be “true.” Nietzsche argues, for example, that those who accept the Judeo-Christian ethical system, which he calls a “slave morality,” suffer from weak and fearful personalities. A different and stronger sort of person, he says, would reject this ethic and create his own values.
From this Nietzschean standpoint, Postmodernists believe that Western society has passed beyond the modern intellectual era and is now in a postmodern period characterized partly by the realisation that human life and thought is a mosaic comprising many “perspectives”. “Truths,” including the truths of science as well as ethics, should be recognised as beliefs associated with particular traditions that serve particular purposes in particular times and places—and this was the main idea that influenced Vatican II Council and the entire V2 popes! The desire for absolutes is seen as a misguided quest for the impossible. During the last half of the 20th century, the most prominent advocates of this view were Michel Foucault (1926–84) and Jacques Derrida (1930–2004).
How do we respond to all this?
Without wasting time, we start with epistemological relativism: The relativists, opposed to absolutism, say that all truth is relative, but the statement that all truth is relative is even self-refuting. If all truth is relative, then the statement, "All truth is relative," would be absolutely true. If it is absolutely true, then not all things are relative after all— hence the statement, "All truth is relative," is false.
Again, the relativists, opposed to absolutism, say that there are no absolute truths. But—ironically—the statement, "There are no absolute truths" is itself an absolute statement which is supposed to be true. Therefore, it is an absolute truth, and "There are no absolute truths" is false. If there are no absolute truths, then you cannot believe anything absolutely at all, including the very statement that “there are no absolute truths”. Therefore, nothing could be really true for you--including relativism!
Again, a relativist says, “What is true for you is true for you”. Now what is true for me (Jonathan) is that relativism is false. A relativist says that what is true for me is true for me. If what is true for me is that relativism is false, then is it true that relativism is false? If you say no, then what is true for me is not true and relativism is false. If you say yes, then relativism is equally false.
Now a relativist may reply that it is true only for me that relativism is false. If that be the case, then I am believing something other than relativism, namely, that relativism is false. If that is true, how then can relativism be true? Am I believing a premise that is true or false or neither? If it is true for me that relativism is false, then relativism (within me) holds the position that relativism is false. This is self-contradictory!
If it is false for me that relativism is false, then relativism isn't true because what is true for me is not said to be true for me. If you say it is neither true nor false, then relativism isn't true since it states that all views are equally valid, and by not being at least true, relativism is shown to be wrong.
If I believe that relativism is false and if it is true only for me that it is false, then you must admit that it is absolutely true that I am believing that relativism is false. If you admit that it is absolutely true that I am believing relativism is false, then relativism is defeated since you admit there is something absolutely true!
Indeed, we can go on and on to show the utter absurdity of this “philosophical” position!
On Moral Relativism
Now we consider the arguments for moral relativism one by one: Moral relativism is the position that morality has no basis other than individual or societal opinion. Moral relativism, put simply, claims that it is impossible for a person to assert a moral opinion and be wrong. This usually includes three claims, namely that morality is first of all changeable; secondly, subjective; and third, individual—that it is relative first to changing times. Secondly, that there is nothing good or bad to what we subjectively think or feel, but thinking makes it so. And thirdly, to individuals—different strokes for different folks.
Moral absolutism, on the contrary, holds that there are universal, inviolable, unchangeable, and objective moral standards, or absolutes, which cannot, therefore, be the result of potentially variable human desires or policies or prescriptions.
The first argument: psychological
The first argument, according to Prof. Kreeft, is psychological; that is, the reasons given are psychological reasons. Subjective personal motives are usually a more powerful source of moral relativism than logical reasons, he observes. Moral absolutism is seen as unloving, uncompassionate and even wicked because it makes us unhappy by making us feel guilty—for instance when a sinner is denounced publicly by a priest. Turned into argument, it looks like this: Good morality has good consequences, bad morality has bad consequences. Feelings of unhappiness and guilt are bad consequences, while feelings of happiness and self-esteem are good consequences. Moral absolutism produces the bad feelings of guilt and unhappiness, while moral relativism produces the good feelings of self-esteem and happiness. Therefore, moral absolutism is bad, and moral relativism is good.
“The answer to this argument is first of all that absolute moral law exists not to minimize, but to maximize human happiness”, writes Prof. Kreeft, “and therefore it is maximally loving and compassionate, like labels, or roadmaps. You're not happy if you eat poison or drive off a cliff. But what about guilt? Removing moral absolutes does indeed remove the sense of guilt, and this sense obviously does not make you happy in the short run. But guilt, like physical pain, may be necessary to avoid greater unhappiness in the long run, if it is realistic, that is, in tune with reality and not pathological. So the question is, does reality include objective moral laws? If it does not, guilt is an experience as pointless as paranoia. But if it does, it is as proper as pain, and for a similar reason: to prevent harm. Guilt is a warning in the soul, analogous to pain as a warning in the body.
“The relativist's argument also has a question-begging assumption. It assumes that feelings are the standard for judging morality. But the claim in traditional morality is exactly the opposite: that morality is the standard for judging feelings. Finally, if the argument from self-esteem versus guilt is correct, it logically follows that if rapists, cannibalists, terrorists, or tyrants feel self-esteem, they are better persons than if they feel guilty. That Hitler's problem was a lack of self-confidence. Some ideas are beyond the need for refutation, except in universities.”
Argument from Cultural Relativism
A second argument in support of relativism is the argument from cultural relativism, namely the claim that anthropologists and sociologists have discovered moral relativism to be not a theory but an empirical fact. Morality, it is said, because it is a social product, develops differently within different cultures. Each society develops standards that are used by people within it to distinguish acceptable from unacceptable behaviour, and every judgment of right and wrong presupposes one or another of these standards. Thus, according to them, if practices such as polygamy or infanticide are considered right within a society, then they are right “for that society”; and if the same practices are considered wrong within a different society, then those practices are wrong for that society. There is no such thing as what is really right, apart from these social codes, for there is no culture-neutral standard to which we can appeal to determine which society's view is correct. The different social codes are all that exist.
Now the unspoken assumption is that moral rightness is a matter of obedience to cultural values, and that’s all. Obey your culture’s values ALWAY—that’s all! This is a fallacy, fallacy on the grounds that—put simply—some cultures are good while others are bad. In Eskimo culture, and in Holland, for instance, killing old people is right. But is it actually true that killing old people is right? In fact, do all peoples in these cultures actually agree that killing old people is right? Certainly not. If so, on what grounds then, must the peoples in these cultures obey their cultures’ values—particularly the “value” that killing old people is right? Of course, it is on the grounds of universally valid and binding moral principles which simply transcend human cultures. Hence an absolutist has a trans-cultural standard by which he can criticize a whole culture's values. That is why he could be a progressive and a radical, while the relativist can only be a status-quo conservative, having no higher standard than his culture—“my country, right or wrong”!
“Different cultures may have different opinions about what is morally valuable”, writes Prof. Kreeft, “just as they may have different opinions about what happens after death. But this does not entail the conclusion that what is really right in one culture is really wrong in another, any more than different opinions about life after death entails the conclusion that different things really happen after death, depending on cultural beliefs. Just because I may believe there is no Hell does not prove that there is none and that I will not go there. If it did, a simple and infallible way of salvation would be simply to stop believing in Hell.” See his piece here:
The issue of cultural relativism reminds me of an encounter we had with His Eminence Anthony Cardinal Okogie some years back. I was in my early twenties then, a member of Catholic Youth Organisation in the Cardinal’s cathedral. We had an audience with the Archbishop, (he was not yet a Cardinal then), during which we asked questions on many issues concerning the Church. The encounter was the following: A youth (probably from Eastern Nigeria) asked: “Your Grace, in all the Catholic Churches in my state all women do cover their hairs while in the Church, but here in the Cathedral many don’t. Why?” Quite amazingly, the Archbishop did not answer the question, at all, but—like the sociologists—only quickly reminded us that “actually, the issue of hair-covering is a matter of culture”. Putting aside St. Paul’s admonition in the Bible which the youth cited—which the Archbishop said was only meant for the ancient people of St. Paul’s time—he quickly taught us that in some countries (no specific one mentioned!) it is culturally okay for women to enter the Church with the hairs uncovered—without addressing the question of whether it was equally so in our own country! Indirectly, the Archbishop bombarded us with another fallacious argument of the relativists, called “social conditioning”, namely that society conditions values in us. For him, if we had been brought up in a Hindu society, we would have had Hindu values. If we had been brought up in one of those (utopian) countries where women don’t cover their hairs while in the Church, we would have ended up having those values—what the Scripture says in this regard is completely outdated and irrelevant! Thus the origin of values—for him as well as all cultural relativists—seems to be human minds themselves, parents and teachers, rather than something objective to human minds. (See more about the issue of hair-covering here:
What baffled most of us that day was that the Archbishop never tried to explain to us whether those (utopian) cultures in which women don’t cover the hairs are better than the ones in which they do the covering, or vice versa. Well I guess he didn’t certainly because he felt they have the right to create their own values. And that is exactly the meaning of “tolerance”, so much cherished by relativism! “In the name of tolerance—which now means not judging anything, whatsoever, negatively—it tends, ironically, to conserve everything, including practices and beliefs that are clearly stupid, maladaptive, harmful, oppressive to believers, and to most people deeply evil”, writes Prof. Kreeft. Hence, in 2013, in the name of the same “tolerance”, the world was shocked to see, for the first time in history, a Roman Catholic “Pope” canonising homosexuality.
Cultural relativists hold the belief that each culture chooses its own values regardless of the values other cultures choose; that there is no universal moral norm. Now we’re often tempted to counter such a notion with the simple answer that the Bible says otherwise. C. S. Lewis in The Poison of Subjectivism provides a good lesson in doing apologetics by subjecting the belief itself to scrutiny. Cultural relativism is based on the assumption that cultures are very different with respect to values. Lewis maintains that all the supposed differences are exaggerated, and that is true. The idea that “cultures differ so widely that there is no common tradition at all” is a lie, he says; “a good, solid, resounding lie.” He elaborates:
“If a man will go into a library and spend a few days with the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics he will soon discover that massive unanimity of the practical reason in man. From the Babylonian Hymn to Samos, from the Laws of Manu, the Book of the Dead, the Analects, the Stoics, the Platonists, from Australian aborigines and Redskins, he will collect the same triumphantly monotonous denunciations of oppression, murder, treachery and falsehood, the same injunctions of kindness to the aged, the young, and the weak, of almsgiving and impartiality and honesty. He may be a little surprised . . . to find that precepts of mercy are more frequent than precepts of justice; but he will no longer doubt that there is such a thing as the Law of Nature. There are, of course, differences. . . . But the pretence that we are presented with a mere chaos . . . is simply false.”
Appeal to Freedom
Another argument is that moral relativism alone guarantees freedom, while moral absolutism threatens freedom. The belief is that—as Nietzsche advocated—for us to be truly free we have to be able to create our own values. In fact, this is already happening in some countries like the United States where the Supreme Court has declared that Americans have a “fundamental right” to define the meaning of existence. There is much rhetoric in our modern world about protecting “human rights” and every individual's “freedom”, but what if one person or group wants to do something that is directly opposed to someone else's values or interests? How does a society decide whose "right" or whose "freedom of choice" will be protected?
For instance, does a child in the womb have the right to life? Or does a mother have a right to abort her baby? Does a business owner have the right to say publicly that he believes marriage is between one man and one woman? Or does a homosexual person in the community have the right to be protected from such public statements which he or she might consider to be "hate speech"? Do women have the right to receive contraceptives through their health insurance, even if they work for the Catholic Church? Or does the Church have the right to adhere to its moral teachings and not provide contraception to its employees?
How does a relativistic society determine whose freedom of choice will be safeguarded and whose will be limited?
In fact, even a great religious relativist like John Paul II points out in one of his writings that when the basic “human rights” of an unborn child and the elderly, for example, are denied by modern democratic governments, it is a particular set of political rulers or even the majority of people who are making the determination about who receives human rights and who doesn't. This, of course, is the case. The relativistic worldview exalts the autonomous self and emphasizes the individual's freedom to do whatever he wants with his life. But, in reality, compromises are made and some will have to give up more than others—not everyone's "rights" are really protected. In the end, the very determination of what a “human right” is and whose rights are safeguarded is completely arbitrary. In this way, the definition of “human rights” is based not on the good of individual persons or the good of society, but on the interests of those who are in power—whether it be the wealthy, governmental leaders or those who are able to shape public opinion and influence the political process. This is the sinister result of a relativism which reigns unopposed: the so-called “right” is made subject to the will of the stronger party, and in this way democracy, contradicting its own principles, effectively moves towards a form of totalitarianism.
Now, however, even if everyone’s freedom is guaranteed in a relativistic society, such a “freedom” would still needs to be rejected because it is clearly an illusory one—an individualistic model of freedom which pervades contemporary societies. It is illusory because “freedom”—falsely understood by relativists—is not a natural endowment for every human being but something to be won by the acceptance of truth (Jn. 8: 32). By the very virtue of their adherence to relativism, relativists are in no way free—neither is a society where any kind of nonsense such as relativism is acceptable.
On Religious Relativism
Now on religious relativism, it is important to note that—in reality—no one who does not believe all that Catholicism teaches can escape the deadly errors of subjectivism and relativism. Who is a religious relativist? In my simple definition, it is that man or woman who believes that salvation can come from any religion, and not peculiarly from the one divinely revealed religion of the Almighty God. A religious relativist, for instance, may believe that all the world religions are good, true and different ways that equally lead to man’s salvation, but he can never imagine—let alone believe—that only one among these different religions may actually be true and that the rest may be false. A ‘Christian’ relativist may believe that all the ‘churches’ in the world today are equally good, true and different ways that equally lead to man’s salvation, that is, depending on how each of the numerous ‘pastors’ of the ‘churches’ interprets the Bible, but he can never imagine—let alone believe—that only one among these different ‘churches’ may actually be true and that the rest may be false. When we talk about religious relativists, these are exactly the sort of people we should always have in mind. Now pause for a moment and think if, sincerely speaking, there are still ‘Christians’ (including ‘Catholics’) left, in today’s world, who are not ruled by this sort of mentality.
To be free from these errors, you must believe that among all the religions in the world today, only Catholicism is true and the rest are false. This of course may sound unthinkable and even funny to non-Catholics particularly in a Muslim/Protestant country like Nigeria, and also to nominal Catholics who don’t know what Catholicism really stands for. The objective facts for this belief? There are, of course—namely that Christ—a historical figure who lived on this earth about two thousand years ago, who is God, and who proved to be so through miracles like rising from the dead and ascending into heaven—founded the One Church upon Simon Peter, instituted the sacraments, prayed for unity, and taught clearly that there is no salvation outside His Mystical Body, the Church (C.f. John 1:1-5; Hebrews 1: 8-12; Revelation 1: 7-8; John 20: 1-23; John 10: 16; Matthew 16: 18-19; John 8: 24; Matthew 18: 17); as well as the Church of Christ which, recognising this fact, teaches dogmatically that no one can be saved outside this Church, as Pope St. Gregory the Great stated:
“The Holy Universal Church teaches that it is not possible to worship God truly except in Her, and asserts that all who are outside of Her will not be saved”.
From this standpoint, it is clear that all Vatican II popes—from John XXIII to Benedict XVI—who for over five decades now have discarded the Church’s dogmatic teachings in this regard but hold the belief that there are ‘truths’ in the false churches and even in non-Christian religions, are, quite simply, religious relativists—and not even the usual babblings of Cardinal Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) about the ‘dictatorship of relativism’ and things like that can save him from this charge.
Today many Catholics, out of ignorance, see Joseph Ratzinger as an opponent of religious relativism—the same Ratzinger that goes about promoting ecumenism condemned by previous popes before Vatican II. In his book, Principles of Catholic Theology, citing as his authority the neo-modernist theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, Ratzinger adamantly points out that “the Church must relinquish many of the things that have hitherto spelled security for her and that She has taken for granted”—meaning the dogmas, the traditional defences against her enemies. “She must demolish longstanding bastions and trust solely the shield of faith”, says Ratzinger. Here Ratzinger, who also expresses his disbelief in Extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the Church there is no salvation) in his other scandalous books, unambiguously advocates for a demolition of Catholic dogmas, the traditional defences against her enemies. (C.f. Principles of Catholic Theology, pp. 390-391). The same Ratzinger in the same book rejoices over Vatican II’s horrific Gaudium et Spes, which he sees as a “a counter-Syllabus” of Pope Pius IX—he ridicules Pius IX’s Syllabus as being “one-sided”. "...the one-sidedness of the position adopted by the Church under Pius IX and Pius X in response to the situation created by the new phase of history inaugurated by the French Revolution was, to a large extent, corrected via facti...”, he writes. (Ibid., pp. 381-382...These issues are well treated by Fathers Paul Kramer, Gruner and others in The Devil’s Final Battle). See more about Ratzinger’s religious relativism here:
In The Closing of the American Mind late Allan Bloom, a classicist and philosopher, professor of political philosophy at the University of Chicago, demonstrates how we are taught not to be ethnocentric and we should not think our way is better than others'. The beliefs of any group of individuals, or collectively as a nation, do not entitle them to think they are superior to anyone else—a mentality which has also corrupted religion as, for example, we witness in today’s New-church where the faithful are frequently admonished by the clergy not to think their religion (Catholicism) is the best, ecumenism. John XXIII started it, Paul VI embraced and promoted it, and John Paul II advanced it extraordinarily and certainly became the greatest religious relativist among these popes. During his incessant world-tours, John Paul II would visit both Catholic shrines and non-Catholic centres in a blatant promotion of religious relativism. Papal visits to centres of false gods and false religions, such as temples, mosques and synagogues became commonplace. Back in Rome, the same man, filled with religious relativism, simultaneously beatified Pius IX (the Pope of Vatican I who described liberal Catholics like John Paul II as “the worst enemies of the Church”!) and John XXIII (the Pope of Vatican II), in an effort to present Vatican II as a continuation of Vatican I—a manoeuvre which has been adroitly referred to as the “Canonization of Relativism.”
On his part, Francis I, who recently referred to Christianity, Judaism and Islam as “the three great monotheistic religions”—meaning that he believes Christians, Jews and Muslims worship the same god since monotheism is the ‘doctrine or belief that there is only one god’—is also a great religious relativist, but I have intentionally isolated him from V2 popes because—considering his numerous heresies—he is clearly not a Christian, to begin with.
On their part, no Protestants—C.S Lewis and co among them!—can also escape being labelled religious relativists because naturally every Protestant has a relativistic understanding of the Christian Faith—Protestantism, quite simply, is a distortion of the words of God as recorded in the Bible as well as sacred traditions of the Church as held by the early Christians and professed by today’s (true) Catholics all over the world. Hence, religious relativism—that there are ‘truths’ in both Protestantism and Catholicism, in fact, more ‘truths’ in Protestantism—equally remains their common base.
Today Christianity finds itself exposed to an intolerant pressure that at first ridicules it—as belonging to a perverse, false way of thinking—and then tries to deprive it of breathing space in the name of an ostensible rationality. In his book Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, Michael Polanyi, the late Hungarian scientist, cites the case of English philosopher John Locke, who defined belief as that which we must fall back when knowledge is not available. “Faith”, he writes, “is a persuasion of our minds, short of knowledge” (A Third Letter of Toleration, quoted by M. Polanyi in Personal Knowledge, p.266). This view of faith is contrasted by Polanyi with Augustine’s slogan Credo ut intelligam, which Polanyi, as a practising scientist, sees as a much more true account of the relation between the two. The subjectivism and relativism, the abandonment of belief that there is truth to be known, so trenchantly described by Prof. Bloom in The Closing of the American Mind, is the corollary of a false objectivism which Polanyi has attacked.
Indeed, in a world that has become relativistic, a new paganism has gained more and more dominion over people's thoughts and actions. The aggressiveness with which this new paganism appears was described by the German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel as a "crusade of the atheists". It is a crusade that mocks Christianity as the "God delusion" and classifies religion as a curse that is also to blame for all wars. And many “Christians’’, who still frequent the churches, not only agree with but also propagate this classification. It has long since become clear not only that there is a blank space, a vacuum, alongside the Church, but also that something like an anti-church has been established. The Pope in Rome, one German newspaper wrote some years back, should be condemned for the sole reason that by his positions he has "transgressed against the religion" that today "is valid in this country", namely, the "civil religion". And that was when the “pope in Rome” was still Catholic—partially at least!—which is quite the opposite today.
As a response to all this, therefore, the Church—even if there is no pope yet or even if the pope has now become a wolf—needs to affirm, once again, the gospel as public truth by challenging the whole of society to wake out of the nightmare of subjectivism and relativism, to escape from the captivity of the self turned in upon itself, and to accept the calling which is addressed to every human being to seek, acknowledge, and proclaim the truth. For we are part of God’s creation which He has equipped with the power to know the truth and to speak the praise of the whole creation in response to the truthfulness of the Creator. The issue of moral as well as religious relativism is merely the single most important issue of our age, for no society in all of human history has ever survived without rejecting this unfortunate philosophy. There has never been a society of relativists. Therefore, as Prof. Kreeft puts it, modern society will do one of three things: either disprove one of the most universally established laws of all history—that there are universally valid and binding moral principles that are not reducible to mere preference or opinion—or repent of its relativism and survive; or persist in its relativism and perish.