Someone just accused me of believing I’m right just because I’m Catholic, and, well, yes, he’s right.
Peter Kreeft, in a lecture we listened to on EWTN this past weekend, says that moral relativism is more than an intellectual error: it is a literally damnable lie from Satan. It is Pontius Pilate’s question, “What is truth?”
The person in question is a so-called “Emergent Christian,” who professed to be a libertarian-socialist-Christian, and in response to my challenge that those three terms are mutually contradictory, merely insisted that they aren’t because he says so, and that I’m wrong to try and force “my” definitions on other people. Ironically, this all sprung from a discussion of whether Barack Obama is a “Marxist.” I merely asserted my position as it has been for the past 4 years: that Obama is philosophically a Marxist; whether he’s a Socialist, or a Leninist Communist is another matter. So it would seem that this person would want to agree with my insistence that a political philosophy is defined by its underlying principles and not by its policies. For example, many on both the Left and the Right try to say, with varying approval or disapproval, that Leo XIII, John XXIII, John Paul II or some other pope is actually a socialist because the Popes are pro-labor and pro-helping the poor.
My contention is that it is their *reasons* for wanting to help the poor that matter.
Anyway, as the conversation inevitably got down to the fact that all the thinkers who most influence me are Catholics, and therefore I’m a Catholic, the person accused me of thinking my “denomination” is better than everyone else’s.
Why would one be a member of a “denomination” UNLESS one believes it to be TRUE? Why would one be a member of a “denomination” UNLESS one believes it to be “better than everyone else’s”?
My mind boggles at the prospect. The very reason why relativism has come to such prominence in the modern West is that Protestantism is an inherently relativistic religious view. As soon as each individual is able to be his own Pope, able to declare that his interpretation of the Bible is directly inspired by the Holy Spirit and represents the Truth, Truth becomes something dependent upon the individual, and therefore subjective.
In that same lecture, Kreeft suggested a little Socratic exercise he’s done with his students. He’s polled them on why a proposition is worthy of belief. Most of the time, the majority answer that a proposition is worthy of belief because it makes one feel good to believe it (this is, of course, the argument of atheists who hold that all religion is “wish fulfillment”). The second most popular answer was that the proposition *is* good. Very few ever answered that a proposition is worthy of belief because it *is* true.
“Do you believe in Santa Claus?” Kreeft would then ask.
“No,” said his students.
“Well, Santa Claus makes you feel good, doesn’t he?”
“And Santa Claus is good, isn’t he?”
“So why don’t you believe in Santa Claus.”
“Because it’s not true.”
“Let’s expand that out a bit . . . .”
People in our society have been trained to believe that truth is unknowable, and, while it is often claimed that “young people” are somehow more prone to this intellectual disorder than older people, I usually find myself arguing most vehemently about these issues, not with people my own age or younger, but with people older than I am (the fellow in question claims to have “found the Lord” in 1984, though I avoided the temptation to suggest he was arrogant to suppose he’d “found the Lord”, and therefore had to be at least a few years older than I am). That’s not to say I haven’t found it in people my own age, as well.
Back in high school and college, I often heard my classmates assert that anyone who professed to know — or even seek after — Truth, anyone who even presumed there is such a thing as objective Truth, is “arrogant.” Funny, that. I always thought that submission of one’s own will to a higher truth is the epitome of humility. Indeed, Aquinas says it’s the definition of humility (but who is *he* to define humility?)
Yet this person I was arguing with this evening insisted my definitions were not those of everyone else, and I was living in a fun house, and when I tried to cite the various thinkers from whom I learned my definitions, he said my citations were meaningless to him, and he compared it to getting one’s ideas from Kim Kardashian.
Raised in Agnostic household, Dietrich von Hildebrand converted to Catholicism while he was still a student, nearly a century ago. He told the priest, “I accept everything the Catholic Church teaches, except its ban on contraception. I believe that’s totally irrational.”
“Well, then you can’t become a Catholic,” said the priest. “The Catholic faith is all or nothing.” Well all know how this would have turned out *today*. Thankfully for the Church, DvH did not have the attitude of a postmodernist or an “Emergent Christian.” Instead, he said, “I say with St. Augustine, ‘I believe that I may understand.'”
Of course, DvH went on to become one of the greatest exponents of the Church’s teachings on sexuality and one of the biggest influences on Bl John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
When German theologian Fr. Karl Adam presented his classic _Spirit of Catholicism_ to the Holy Office (now Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith), they nearly forbade its publication, noting a few areas that they found questionable or heretical. He humbly accepted the Holy Office’s corrections and resubmitted it. The book received full approval. Was it arrogant of Adam to submit his personal opinions to a higher Truth?
No. Arrogance is the insistence that one does not have to listen to the Church.
My exchange with this individual tonight was not uncommon. Because I am convicted of my Catholic faith, and because I am confident in my own understanding of what the Church teaches, people often accuse me of arrogance or of refusing to entertain other ideas. That’s not true: I quite often consider other ideas, and if I find my own views are not in line with what the Church actually teaches on some subject, I change my views. If I find that, in an area where the Church has no specific teaching, someone makes a better argument than the one I’ve been making, I either adjust my argument or change my views accordingly.
Over the years, I’ve changed my views on many subjects, as I’ve learned and grown, but I also hold fast to G. K. Chesterton’s saying that “The object of an open mind very much like that of an open mouth: is to shut it on something solid.”
What is the point of believing something unless one believes it to be true?
What is the point of believing something to be true unless one has confidence in one’s own ability to perceive truth?
Kreeft, again, says that moral relativism, which echoes Pontius Pilate’s rhetorical question about Truth, is close to the unforgivable sin, and that makes sense, since one aspect of the sin against the Holy Spirit is the sin against Truth. Despair, the Sin against the Holy Spirit, is the refusal to believe in God’s power to save (which is why Jesus brings it up immediately after the Pharisees question His ability to forgive sins). God cannot save if God is not True.
Our Lord says that it violates the Fifth Commandment to call another person “Fool” or “Raqa” (the Aramaic word “Raqa” means “a person completely incapable of learning,” and is equivalent to the contemporary English “Retard”). There’s a reason for that. Every person’s faith in Christ ought to be based upon that person’s conviction of the Truth of Christ. To challenge another person’s capacity to think or learn is to challenge that person’s ability to perceive Truth, and therefore challenge that person’s ability to know Christ.