Tod Worner is a husband, father & Catholic convert. He is a practicing internal medicine physician, lectures on World War II history, and writes regularly for Aleteia and Patheos (as “A Catholic Thinker”). Follow him on Twitter (@thinkercatholic), Instagram (Catholicthinker) and Facebook (A Catholic Thinker).
It’s okay to say that something is True. That it is Right. That it is Good.
Now, if you would have said this to me in my childhood, I likely would likely have furrowed my brow, squinted my eyes and said, “Duh.”
To assert something as True, Right and Good today is almost scandalous. After all, we live in the Great Age of Relativism. This is where the unjudging open-mind reigns supreme. It is where we are to uncontroversially float amongst diametrically opposed, fiercely contradictory orthodoxies and dreamily nod in agreement that all are true and good and equal at the same time.
This is not to be confused with freewill, that is the freedom we have been granted to choose between True and False, Good and Evil, Right and Wrong. Relativism doesn’t even attend to the freedom to choose one direction over another; it simply asserts that all directions are the same which, in effect, boils down to no direction. In the eyes of Relativism, there ultimately is no choice because all are True, all are Right, all are Good.
The fact that Relativism resides in a vacuum leaves its proponents utterly undeterred. Don’t forget that “Relativists” assert with absolutist vigor that everything is relative. Hmmm. And anyone who finds themselves in the presence of a towering pillar of Relativism should simply ask that same beacon of equanimity for a ride home in rush hour traffic. Before long, you will find your friend upset over being cut off, irritated by the accident gawkers, or incensed by ill-timed lane closures. Ironically, however, to be upset over such things seems to betray an ingrained notion of fairness, of right and wrong, of a better way. These notions — strikingly natural though they are — point toward an absolute criteria your Relativist friend thinks that others should adhere to.
A true Relativist would drive through the vicissitudes of traffic with cool detachment, because they would know that in a world without a True, Right or Good absolute, the ultimate arbiter of how things will be is he or she that holds the power. The crafty driver swerving in your lane, the slow rubbernecks and the local city planners hold the power on these “valueless decisions”, therefore a Relativist’s response is to simply be quiet. As Jacques Maritain once noted, “The sole philosophy open to those who doubt the possibility of truth is absolute silence — even mental.”
And yet, our Relativist fumes nonetheless because deep down, he knows the creed of Relativism simply isn’t true. Poof! So much for relativism.
The reality behind relativism, however, is more sinister. As the seductive, “enlightened” notion seeks to convince you there is no Truth, it is in fact disarming you to accept an alternative truth. It is curious how strident and intolerant Relativists get in the name of an all-welcoming, open-minded worldview. That is because Relativism is a fig leaf for an alternative dogma – a dogma you must accept lest you be pilloried. Just witness the drama on college campuses today. In the name of diversity, freedom of speech and political correctness, there has emerged a thought-policing (at times overtly violent) that would make even George Orwell blanch.
Over one hundred years ago, G.K. Chesterton wisely remarked on the disarming efforts of Relativism:
What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays, the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert–himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt–the Divine Reason…We are on the road to producing a race of man too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.
And on the irresistible desire to boldly call something True, Right or Good, Chesterton said:
The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.
The Relativists out there don’t believe there is no Truth (otherwise they wouldn’t promote that notion as a Truth). They simply believe that your Truth is wrong and want to force you to believe their alternative version.
The Catholic Church does not believe in compelled faith. To be sure, it believes in the True, the Right, the Good, and believes in teaching, persuading, encouraging people to personally encounter it. But the Church believes that each person, out of their God-given freewill, must ultimately choose the path they will take. That choice is the foundation of the dignity God bestowed upon us. As St. John Paul II once reminded:
Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.
Yes, it’s okay to say that something is True. That something is Right. That something is Good.
In fact, nowadays, it is necessary.