The Dictatorship of Relativism
Friar Francisco Nahoe, OFM Conv
As we contemplate the aggressive governmental restrictions imposed upon conscience rights in America today, we ought to remember the homily that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger preached to his brother cardinals after the funeral of Blessed John Paul II, just as the 2005 conclave that would make him Supreme Pontiff convened. Then Dean of the Sacred College, Ratzinger observed that
Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine”, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. 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.
Three terms from Ratzinger’s homily jump off the page at us: fundamentalism, dictatorship and ego. The HHS Mandate represents a case study in Ratzinger’s critique of Western relativism.
The Mandate’s supporters relentlessly accuse their opponents of fundamentalism. From their perspective, the preservation of a clear faith based on the ancient Creed of an eternal Church cannot be anything but an exercise in fundamentalist thinking. Moreover, the fundamentalist label neatly classes all critics of the HHS Mandate in the same company as the Taliban, militant Zionism and the prosecutors of the Scopes Monkey Trial. They do not recognize that fundamentalisms, wheresoever they may occur, are a phenomenon of modernity, an entirely predictable reaction to the dark underbelly of industrial and technological progress which alienates and impoverishes the have-nots, even as it offers unimaginable power over nature to the haves. The secular relativist cannot see that fundamentalism is a pathology of faith anymore than he can see that secular relativism is a pathology of reason. All the secular relativist can see is the Church speaking truth to the power he presumes to wield over nature, over childbirth and over conception and he resents it with the same lethal rage that the influential Herodias brought to bear upon John the Baptist. No, a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is not fundamentalism. It is rather our only protection against the violence that both fundamentalism and relativism would inflict upon the innocent and the meek.
Dictatorships usually have to consolidate power through the exercise of intimidation and violence upon the innocent and the meek, but in America a strange lassitude has taken hold of our once vigorous democracy. It is if our republic has become weary of the duties of freedom. In the first place, it was politically infantile, morally offensive and unfathomably stupid of Congress to have surrendered its legislative authority to an HHS apparatchik to determine the conscience protections of Obamacare on the basis of her own preferences. Even Stalin had at least to take the trouble to assassinate Trotsky and Kirov, to harass the Supreme Soviet, and to march his NKVD into the homes of surviving Politburo members. Nonetheless, despite the relative political ease with which the current administration has arrogated to itself the authority to define religion and to impose its own values upon the citizen’s free exercise thereof, it is still unethical for any branch of the government to do so. Alas, no where is the lately accelerated trend toward governmental coercion of the individual conscience more evident than in the HHS Mandate, which first narrowly defines what will count as an exercise of religion for the religious person and then broadly applies financial responsibility for morally offensive acts to everyone. No government of the people, by the people and for the people could ever persuade so many persons of conscience to cooperate on such a massive scale with actions that flatly contradict their faith and wreak such terrible havoc on their ethical commitments. Even so, a dictatorship isn’t constrained by persuasion, is it? A dictatorship can always default to oppressive measures and that is precisely what we are seeing in America today. In the contemporary world, however, a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church has vigorously opposed every form of totalitarianism, whether emanating from the extreme right or the extreme left and this is what dictatorships cannot tolerate.
Lastly, proponents of the HHS Mandate decry its critics for trying to force their narrow religious views about contraception on the whole country. If what they say were true, it would be a serious and substantive charge indeed. But it is not true. No religious opponent of the Contraceptive Mandate says that there cannot be contraceptives on the market or even that the government cannot provide them. What they are saying is that those whose conscience forbids them to do so should not be compelled to pay for someone else’s contraception. The great irony of the situation, however, is that the proponent of contraception is not trying to force, but has already forced, his pro-contraceptive values on the whole populace, and has done so with particular glee insofar as those unwilling for religious reasons to participate in the program are concerned. This is driven by ego and desire. Preening egoism cares not a whit for the conscience of others as long as its own desires are not impeded. “If only you would go pray your silly prayers behind locked doors, we’d have no objection to your exercise of religion” the colossal Ego declares, “but if, because of a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church you dare to challenge my values in the public square, I will spare no effort to humiliate and crush you.”
Fundamentalism, dictatorship and ego. Pope Benedict can hardly have spoken more prophetic words.