If it was ever hard to understand exactly what Pope Benedict XVI meant by “the dictatorship of relativism,” several recent news items have made it easy.

First, the disagreement between two exemplars of celebrity culture: Miss California (Carrie Prejean) and gossip blogger Perez Hilton.

Carrie Prejean could only be considered a standard-bearer for intellectual integrity in a culture where something has gone seriously awry. In our culture, something has.

In the final round of the Miss USA pageant, Perez Hilton asked Prejean what she thought of same-sex “marriage.” Miss California gave the softest possible statement of her beliefs.

“I think it’s great Americans are able to choose one or the other,” she said. “We live in a land that you can choose same-sex ‘marriage’ or ‘opposite marriage.’ And you know what, in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that’s how I was raised, and that’s how I think it should be — between a man and a woman.”

The statement was confused and mistaken. First of all, she does not live in a land where one can choose “same-sex ‘marriage’ or ‘opposite marriage’.” Secondly, she made her belief too subjective, as if it were an accident of her upbringing. That’s not even true. As she pointed out later, she came to her beliefs from her faith, not her family.

But even her very timid answer, which amounts to, “You’re entitled to your opinion, I’m entitled to mine,” was deemed audacious. The next day, Hilton called her names we can’t print here. The pageant’s head didn’t chastise Hilton for demeaning women or for allowing his personal opinions to drive his vote, but echoed his sentiments about marriage instead.

Miss California, to her credit, stood by her convictions.

But the cultural message has been received: “I am entitled you my opinion, you are entitled to yours” no longer holds. You’re not entitled to your opinion. Two other examples make it clear.

Conscience protections.

The Bush administration strengthened federal regulations that say doctors and other health-care workers needn’t act against their conscience. Bush protected pro-lifers’ rights to not be involved in abortion and pro-child doctors’ rights not to be involved in the artificial insemination of lesbian couples.

But on March 6, Obama moved to rescind the Bush administration’s conscience protections. A public-hearing process began. Catholics who wrote to legislators as part of the U.S. bishops’ campaign received a surprise when legislators responded. It turned out that legislators who call themselves pro-choice aren’t really pro-choice; they are pro-abortion. They won’t give pro-life doctors the right to choose.

On March 17, Cardinal George said Obama’s plans “could be the first step in moving our country from democracy to despotism.”

By attacking conscience rights, Obama will move the culture from “live and let live” toward “live the way I say, and force others to follow.”

Napolitano on pro-lifers.

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano issued a warning to law-enforcement leaders and officers in states that said, among other things: Watch out for pro-lifers.

She described a “right-wing extremist” threat that includes troops returning from overseas, white supremacists, and those “groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion.”

Thus, Napolitano hints that pro-lifers are potentially violent — but her warning doesn’t point to any evidence of wrongdoing; it targets their dedication to the right to life. She doesn’t warn us to be wary of people who behave a certain way; she warns us to be wary of people who believe a certain way.

Where can we find hope in the midst of all this? For one thing, we can find hope in the very outrageousness of the current climate. Human decency can bend very far in one direction or another, but it tends to snap back into place over time.

As St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote from captivity in Rome, “Christianity lies in achieving greatness in the face of a world’s hatred.” These vicious attacks on Christian beliefs will probably get worse before they get better, but as they get worse, more and more people will be forced to see the consequences of the dictatorship of relativism.

A.N. Wilson already has. In the 1990s, he authored the atheistic book Jesus: A Life. Now he’s Christian.

He explains why in a U.K. Daily Mail column headlined “Religion of hatred: Why we should no longer be cowed by the chattering classes ruling Britain who sneer at Christianity.

“Why did I, along with so many others, become so dismissive of Christianity?” Wilson asks. Because “it felt so uncool to be religious.”

He says, “This playground attitude accounts for much of the attitude towards Christianity that you pick up, say, from the alternative comedians and the casual light blasphemy of jokes on TV or radio.”

He says he reverted to his faith after considering materialism, the Resurrection and the examples of Christians. That brings us to another cause for hope: people like Emma Watson.

We feature the 7-year-old who narrowly escaped abortion on today’s front page and quote from a letter she wrote to Obama.

The right to abortion is a fundamental belief for today’s ideologues. But Emma Watson is a living, smiling reminder to the world that, whether you believe it or not, abortion kills children — even if the mother is 16 and the child has a heart defect.

The greatest argument against cruel ideology is decent humanity. The more Emma Watsons stand up for their rights to the powerful of this world, the quicker the dictatorship of relativism will be broken.