Relativism is the philosophy that says you have your truth and I have mine. This is the lie of our age — a philosophy that claims there is no objective truth outside ourselves. We can simply make up our own personal truths.
Strangely, we do not apply this philosophy to math or science. We don’t say, “Two plus two is five for me. I don’t know what it is for you? But don’t impose your four on my five.”
We don’t live as though the Law of Gravity is up for grabs — just an old-fashioned rule to keep everybody of us down. But we do employ the philosophy of relativism for all moral and spiritual issues.
Pope Francis calls it the spiritual poverty of our age. It affects youth more than anyone else. A whopping 93 percent of teens say they do not believe in absolute truth. They are bombarded by this false philosophy and, like many adults, hold that to believe in absolute truth is to be intolerant.
If you dare to affirm the objective truth of God’s existence, if you claim to know the true definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, if you hold the absolute belief in the dignity and rights of the unborn, then you will likely be called a bigot or intolerant or out of step with the age.
We are told such religious beliefs should change in order to match the modern culture and tolerant times in which we live.
Let me say this clearly. Claiming to know truth does not make you intolerant. Tolerance is not agreeing with anything and everything. In fact, in order to be tolerant, you have to disagree with some one. You have to disagree and then tolerate those with whom you differ. Tolerance is disagreeing and yet still respecting and loving the other.
So how do we counter the philosophy of relativism? Pope Francis’ favorite image of the church is that of a field hospital — a place of healing for the wounded. When we lose the Gospel we lose the art of deep living. We lose what it means to have a good and faithful marriage, deep friendship, how to offer sacrificial love for another, especially the poor. We lose a vision of deep life.
“Humanity is wounded, deeply wounded,” Pope Francis says. “Relativism wounds us.” With no moral compass to guide, many get lost and lives are destroyed. Without a moral guide, people don’t know how to live in real freedom. They do not know the healing love of God.
Now if we just attack the espousers of relativism with arguments, they will think Christianity is merely a list of moral demands. If we lead with prohibitions and the moral law, they will think Christianity is a simply a restrictive way of life.
The right approach is mercy. The moral truths are important, but they can only be received by a receptive heart. When someone has an allergy and collapses, we don’t lecture him about the allergy. Our focus is first to get the person to breathe. We address the life issue first. We need to first preach the goodness of God and his mercy. Once the heart opens, then we can share how to live this new life-giving relationship. As it is, many can’t hear us because they are gasping for air just trying to survive.
I am firmly convinced that the Gospel of Jesus Christ — God’s love and his plan of salvation — gives freedom from guilt and the narrow love of self.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ — his saving death on the cross and glorious resurrection — frees us from sin, shame and emptiness, and heals us from boredom, loneliness and dullness that pervades this age.
We must proclaim God’s mercy and love. The world needs to hear that God knows of our struggles. He forgives us every time we stumble. When we turn to him, he heals and forgives and liberates.
Just look at the woman who was caught in the act of adultery in the Gospel of John. She could very well represent our modern age. The woman is lost, lonely, fearful and judged. But Jesus looks on her with love and says something amazing.
“Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”
The one person in the whole universe who could condemn her wouldn’t. This is what we need to proclaim. There is a way out of this maze of selfishness. Jesus offers a new hope, a new start and a new way to be freed by the forgiveness he won on the cross.
Saint Bernard noted that the reason some people turn from God is that they believe God to be cruel and demanding. In truth we follow a God who provides a way out of our trap.
If the church is a field hospital, then we need to go to the wounded, bringing the medicine of mercy.
Saint John Paul II said, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and your real capacity to become the image of the Son.”
If you are wounded, try the Gospel. Jesus Christ is the true physician of our time.
The writer is pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia.