I dedicate this article to Anya, my 14-year-old parishioner who just came to me and said she can’t tell her classmates she goes to church because they will call her stupid.
Additionally, I dedicate this article to all teens who struggle to know and share their faith. We are with you and emphatically affirm that Christianity is the best way to be your best self.
Now, I want to challenge those who, out of fear of offending anyone, rarely talk to friends or family about what is really most important in life. Your silence is deafening.
You need to speak to others — especially young people — about what is really important to you.
We must be willing to ask questions like, “Who is God? What is real love and real sex? Why are they best found in the marriage bond of a man and woman? What is this life for?”
We need to explore the big questions with people. Is life just for me? Are we really the captains of our souls and the only ones to determine what is right or wrong? Or is life bound together by the deep inner truth that we are all made in God’s image — created to follow the inner law of love written in absolute terms on the heart of every person? Are there moral absolutes that can tell us what is right and wrong or do we simply decide these for ourselves?
We live in an individualistic culture where answers to these questions are colored by moral relativism even though this approach is actually impossible to apply to real life situations. Most people are semi-relativists — they are willing to admit that some moral truths hold true (rape is wrong, killing kids is wrong (unless in the womb), sex trafficking is wrong). But generally modern culture encourages the notion that you should not push your beliefs about moral absolutes on others.
In response to this, we might ask the moral relativists: “Isn’t it absolutist to absolutely claim that all truth is relative? Isn’t that a contradiction?”
To stand against relativism and affirm that there are absolute moral norms is to swim against the cultural stream. Be ready to be labeled as rigid or out of touch.
Pope Benedict XVI wrote of how we are building a “dictatorship of relativism” that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of following one’s own ego or desires. Under this dictatorship of relativism some people are afraid to express their convictions and therefore remain silent.
I read a story about a Catholic college student who was raised Catholic and held to the teachings of the church. After class one day a friend asked her about gay marriage. She said she was against it. Later that week the same “friend” made the announcement at a party, before all other students, that her friend was against gay marriage. The young girl was verbally ridiculed and left in tears. It cost too much for her to hold on to those beliefs and so little by little she began a compromise with these two simple words: “for me.”
With these words — “for me” — she had a way out that seemed to preserve a moral position on the one hand, while showing “tolerance” for the positions of others.
In taking this position one could say, “For me abortion is wrong, but others may see things differently.”
Politicians view this compromise as the high moral ground. But if moral truth is absolute this can’t be the position we take.
What sense does it make to say, “For me, rain is wet but for you maybe it is different.”
Some things are given absolutes, others are open to opinion.
You might like one type of car and I like another — that’s a matter of opinion. But moral truth can’t finally be reduced to personal preferences.
When faced with absolute moral truths, we have two options: either change our behavior to align with the truth or adopt beliefs that align with our behavior. Many find that it is easier to rationalize their behavior than be confronted with truth.
So how do we speak about morality in an age that no longer believes in moral truth? Even better, how do we share an attractive moral vision which shows others that a better, deeper life is available — one that is far more meaningful than relativism.
No one wants a small meaningless life, but relativism keeps our life small and insignificant — lived just for me. Only the church, meaning you and me, can present a clearer and more attractive alternative.
So back to my answer to Anya and other young people.
Who do you want to be? Being ridiculed by classmates and being called stupid is hurtful, but if you know you are in Christ as a beloved daughter, no words can take that truth away. You are secure. In life there will be sticks and stones that hurt but words can’t destroy your real identity. You are beautiful in Christ — not stupid. And lastly you need to pray for those who persecute you. It is the Christian way and part of a much bigger and more meaningful life. Convert by love.