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Antidote to
relativism: Truth


placeholder May 20, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 10   •   Oakland, CA
Letters from Readers
Antidote to relativism: Truth

Walt Sears

In a speech to the Diplomatic Corps on March 22, Pope Francis mentioned a poverty of the soul which he sees affecting many of world's wealthier nations. He said the "tyranny of relativism," as Pope Benedict XVI called it threatens to make each individual their own arbiter of right and wrong — destroying our ability to live in peace with one another.

He went on to say that the antidote for this relativism and the conflict that it foments is truth. As Christians and members of the body of Christ, we possess the truth in a very unique way. We can recall the words of Jesus given to us by the Gospel writer, "I am the way, the truth and the life … " (John 14:6).

As Christian stewards, we have a responsibility to God and the world to share this truth. In order to do this, we must first know the truth, and secondly, we must equip ourselves to be able to express it clearly, intelligibly and in a spirit of love.

A contemporary example of this conflict between relativism and the truth Pope Francis referenced can be found in the current debate over gun control. That debate, as it's currently framed, balances an individual's right to own a weapon against another individual's right to life. At the margins of the debate are those who want to ban the ownership of firearms altogether and those that want no restriction or control on gun ownership whatsoever. The gun groups often justify their stance by claiming: some people own guns to protect their lives and guns alone don't kill anyone. Gun ownership is a civil liberty conveyed by the U.S. Constitution.

But civil liberties don't always reflect the truth of God. There can be no comparing the right to own property — any property, with the sanctity of even one human life. Human life must take precedence in this debate. That is the truth.

Regardless of the legal arguments each side knows that without life no other rights matter. But in this nation that views individual liberties with a sacred reverence, we often lose sight of the sanctity of human life and other core truths.

As Christian stewards and followers of Jesus Christ, we have an obligation to remind those around us of the truth and model that truth within our culture. Remember, we are talking about the life of a human being — a creature in whom the breath of God, Ruach Ha-Kodesh, resides (Gen 2:7) — a creation that bears the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27).

They may not accept our premises or subscribe to our particular religious beliefs, but we must remind those who object that democracy, for all its virtues, is not moral in and of itself. "[It]… is not a substitute for morality, nor a panacea for immorality. Its value stands — or falls — with the values which it embodies and promotes. Only tireless promotion of the truth about the human person can infuse democracy with the right values." ("Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics," USCCB).

The truth of our faith is a gift from God. Wherever the public discourse is taking place, if one of us is present, we have a stewardship obligation to share the truth that God has given us. We must do so tactfully, using wisdom and prudence, and always in a spirit of love. But we must share it, because this is why we have it, and this is part of our life's purpose. If we do not share it, these debates will likely proceed without it and the results may not reflect the truth.

Our faith tells us we are not here by coincidence. We are here, at this time and place, because we have a role to play. The bishops have said we each have a responsibility to bear witness and share the truth of Christ's gospel ("Go and Make Disciples, A National Plan and Strategy for Catholic Evangelization in the United States," USCCB). We must speak out and share the truth that we know. Lest, like the servant who buried his one talent we become guilty of hiding God's precious gift and failing to employ it so that it may bear its good fruit (Matt 14:24-30).

(Walt Sears is a lay ecclesial minister in the Diocese of Oakland.)

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