November 13, 2000
volume 11, no. 230
Pat Ludwa's VIEW FROM THE PEW for Monday, November 13, 2000
The Light of Catholic Conscience is in Danger of Being Snuffed Out by Relativism
The votes are still being tallied (as of Thursday the 9th) and the Presidential race is still 'too close to call'. However, the real interesting thing about it isn't the closeness of the vote, or who voted for who, but rather who didn't vote for who.
Catholic Bishops, parish priests, as well as well known priests and religious urged Catholics to vote and vote their conscience. Now, when viewed from what the Church teaches about conscience, the admonition is clearly there. But the reality is that American Catholics literally split their vote. Essentially both candidates got 50% of the Catholic vote. How could this have occurred? One might understand a 25/75 split, but 50/50? One answer is that what the Church and Her Bishops mean by voting your conscience isn't what many Catholics understand as voting your conscience.
"As used by Vatican II, "conscience" refers at once to awareness of principles of morality, to the process of reasoning from principles to conclusions, and to the conclusions, which are moral judgments on choices made or under consideration. St. Thomas uses a particular word for each: "synderesis" for awareness of principles, "practical reasoning" for the process of moving from principles to conclusions, and "conscience" for the concluding judgment only (see S.t., 1, q. 79, aa. 12-13; 1-2, q. 94, aa. 2, 6).
According to St. Thomas, conscience is an intellectual act of judgment. This judgment is primarily practical and forward-looking, corresponding to and guiding each choice one is about to make. Conscience is one's last and best judgment concerning what one should choose. With this judgment in mind, one chooses, either in agreement with conscience or against it (see S.t., 1, q. 79, a. 13)." (Christian Moral Principles Chapter 3: Conscience: Knowledge of Moral Truth; Question B: What is conscience according to the teaching of the Church? Nos. 6/7 By Germain Grisez)
In short, they're speaking of an informed conscience. But we know that a conscience can be informed, misinformed, wounded, or dead.
"But if conscience is the mind of man passing moral judgments and is inviolable, it is not infallible. It may be in any one of four states of certitude: subjectively certain, because a man has no doubt about the morality of the way he should act in a given case; or subjectively doubtful, because a person is undecided as to the morality of the action now before him. On the objective plane, his conscience is correct when its judgment reveals the true moral appraisal of a situation, and false when it erroneously tells a man that this present evil action is good or good action is bad.: (The Catholic Catechism by Fr. John Hardon, S.J.)
So a person, who makes a moral judgment and might err by virtue of not knowing whether an act is moral or not, according to the teaching of the Church, could act with a good conscience, but still be in error. Another person may be in doubt about what the Church teaches in regards to an issue. Torn by various teachers, advocates, information, whatever, a person may be confused as to what the correct action should be.
"On the other hand, we may never act with a doubtful conscience. So that unless the mind clearly says that a prospective action is permissible, we may not do it. Otherwise we should be saying equivalently, "This may be good or bad, offensive or pleasing to God. But I do not care, and will do it anyway." (Ibid)
But then, there's the person who does know what the Church teaches, and acts contrary to it. This person has gone entirely to the stance of saying, "This may be good or bad, offensive or pleasing to God. But I do not care, and will do it anyway."
But in some cases, there is little doubt about the Church teaches. The Church teaching in regard to abortion, illicit sexual contact, contraception, etc, is not one of ambiguous teaching, but is clearly understood, leading to conflicts, not debate, in the Church.
So, when the Catholic Bishops, et al, spoke of voting according to one's conscience, their admonition was clear, what muddied the waters, what made it ambiguous, was others' definition of conscience. This is a victory, not of authentic Church teaching, but rather of the secular, worldly, teaching of relativism.
Where we once viewed the world in black and white, good and evil, we've gone over to the conclusion that the world is, instead, various shades of gray. Nothing is totally right or totally wrong, it just depends on one's view of it. Now, it is true that there are circumstances or situations that add elements of gray to something. For example, to kill anyone is wrong, a serious sin. We all accept that, but it isn't wrong for someone to kill another in self defense. The person who does cannot be accused of murder in such a circumstance. Likewise, though wars are wrong, there are just wars of self defense. No one would deny that WW II, to end the horror of Nazism, was an immoral war and the soldiers be accused of murder.
The act of killing is still wrong but we recognize various shades of gray in it. A person may steal bread in order to feed his family, the act is still wrong, but is understandable. One could say it would be an act of injustice to imprison a person who did this. But the absolute is the standard, not the exception. But today, we seem to live more by the exception, rather than the rule.
So, with words such as justice, fairness, etc, we've done away the idea of absolute truth and replaced it with the notion of relative truth. So, we hear that, though someone may be personally opposed to abortion, they won't act to remove a woman's right to choose (as though they ever really had that right). Or more likely, that there are other issues that supercede such issues as abortion, etc. Choosing what they'd call the lesser of two evils.
"Proponents of some kinds of legal positivism more or less share the view of Thomas Hobbes that justice is nothing else than what the law actually requires. As this account would have it, each society's justice is peculiar to it and relative to its particular system of law: justice changes as the law changes. Moreover, no law can be unjust, unless in conflict with some more basic law within the same system. This theory is at odds with faith's teaching that there is a moral law written on the human heart, clarified and interpreted by divine revelation (see Rom 2.15; CMP, 7.A-B). Closely akin to cultural relativism, it is vulnerable to the same critique.
According to utilitarianism, justice is whatever arrangement will bring about the "greatest good of the greatest number." The underlying assumption is that human interactions and relationships create a social situation as their product, and justice is the disposition of those interactions and relationships which, under the given conditions, is most likely to result in the best possible social situation. This theory emerged as nonbelieving humanists shifted their hope from the Heavenly kingdom to this world; it overlooks the truth that, so far as human efforts are concerned, human life and community do not draw their value from anything they produce. Rather, they have an ongoing and open-ended character, and, considered as materials for the heavenly kingdom, their value is inherent in them. Thus, utilitarianism is radically at odds with Christian faith and hope. Moreover, it offers no practical account of justice, since it requires that judgments be made by means of proportionalism, which is intrinsically incoherent." (Living a Christian Life Chapter 6: Love, Justice, Mercy, and Social Responsibility; Question B: What Is Justice? 3. Certain Theories of Justice Are Simply False. By Germain Grisez)
No one denies that various cultures, at various times, have differing social norms. The accepted moral norms of, say, ancient Imperial Rome, would not be accepted as moral by the early Christians, or even Christians today. But unlike today, the early Christians didn't say it was alright to accept the Roman morality or even ignore it. No, they strove to change it, redeem it.
"Most important, cultural relativism is at odds with Christian awareness of the broken human condition and the Christian prescription for its restoration. Humankind is fallen and redeemed; both facts transcend all diversity of cultures in different times and places. The redemptive community, Christ's Church extended through space and time, has in some important respects its own culture which is one and universal. Judged by Christian standards, each society's culture is more or less defective. To the extent that any culture falls short, it is simply the "world" and the "present age" which Christians should not conform to but redeem." (Christian Moral Principles Chapter 4: Some Mistaken Theories of Moral Principles; Question E: Are moral principles the requirements for the functioning of particular societies?)
As Catholics, as Christians, we are called, not to conform to the world view of cultural relativism, proportionalism, or other notion of relativism. We are called to redeem the world. Mostly in non-political ways, but even politically when given the opportunity. These actions will be unpopular, doing the right thing is never popular. Standing for absolute truth and opposing relativism will garner hatred and mistrust, just as it did in ancient Imperial Rome.
"If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his Master.' If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all this they will do to you on My account, because they do not know Him Who sent Me" (John 15: 18-21).
"The Church, therefore, by virtue of the Gospel committed to her, proclaims the rights of man; she acknowledges and greatly esteems the dynamic movements of today by which these rights are everywhere fostered. Yet these movements must be penetrated by the spirit of the Gospel and protected against any kind of false autonomy. For we are tempted to think that our personal rights are fully ensured only when we are exempt from every requirement of divine law. But this way lies not the maintenance of the dignity of the human person, but its annihilation…..Christ, to be sure, gave His Church no proper mission in the political, economic or social order. The purpose which He set before her is a religious one. But out of this religious mission itself come a function, a light and an energy which can serve to structure and consolidate the human community according to the divine law…. This council exhorts Christians, as citizens of two cities, to strive to discharge their earthly duties conscientiously and in response the Gospel spirit. They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come, think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities. For they are forgetting that by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation. Nor, on the contrary, are they any less wide of the mark who think that religion consists in acts of worship alone and in the discharge of certain moral obligations, and who imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious life. This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age." (Vatican Council II; GAUDIUM ET SPES; Chapter IV The Role of the Church in the Modern World; Nos. 41; 42;43)
That some 50% of American Catholics voted to continue the practice and defense of unrestricted abortion, moral ambiguity, and cultural relativism is understandable. The logic more than likely will work like this. 'Though I'm personally opposed to abortion and feel it a moral wrong, I can't forget the needs of the elderly, the social justice for minorities, the needs of labor, etc." But in their voting, they've, in fact, done nothing to help the elderly, have set the stage for even greater and broader injustice, etc.
Consider that good Catholics, thinking they were acting for a greater good, allowed the excesses of Hitler and his Nazi party. By the time they realized their mistake, it was too late to stop it.
"Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in Heaven" (Matthew 5:11-14).
On the purely political scene, this election has shown that there is no longer what was called the Catholic vote. As Al Gore stated in the campaign, he didn't care what Catholics thought about his stand on abortion, he was relying on the incursion of relativism to nullify, at least, the 'Catholic vote'.
On another angle, it's a scandal for the Church. That it matters little to them what the Church teaches or encourages. No, for a variety of reasons, we have taken our light and placed them under a bushel, we've tried to hide the city of God in favor of the city of man. We're more concerned about what the world views as a 'good' Catholic than what truly is a 'good' Catholic.
Consider what Jack Taylor writes in his work "The Modernist Persona."
"We have all had the experience of meeting someone, hearing him tell us he is Catholic, then finding out as the conversation continues that he denies or is entirely ignorant of some portion of the Catholic faith.
Many such people seem to love being in the Church and are involved in almost every parish ministry - yet they do not know or believe that missing Mass without just cause on Sunday is a serious sin, that using artificial contraception or living together before marriage are grave moral evils, or that doing any of these things would require the rite of reconciliation before one could receive the Eucharist worthily. The concept of sin as an actual stain on the soul is unfamiliar or unreasonable to them.
"They put off baptizing a new child until it can be conveniently done at the next family reunion, and they wonder aloud why a small child should go to a first confession before receiving First
Communion. The most vocal among them openly disagree with the teachings of the Holy Father or the lessons of Sacred Scripture, particularly those of Paul on sexual morality.
"When we ask them how this can square with traditional Church teachings, they tell us that the lessons in Scripture are really more suitable for an earlier time - as is our current pope. They say
they cannot conceive of a God who would impose all these intricate rules on mankind in the name of love. God, after all, is love, and rules-well, rules are of human origin.
We come away from these encounters dazed, wondering how these people can believe themselves Catholics. I submit that they are not Catholics, but rather are more accurately described as Modernists or as Neo-Modernists. They are the product of a systematic teaching program which has been in full swing since the close of the Second Vatican Council. That teaching program is the outgrowth of an earlier movement which, in 1907, Pius X condemned as Modernism in his encyclical ." (The Modernist Persona by Jack Taylor)
"Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets" (Luke 6:26).
November 13, 2000
volume 11, no. 230
Pat Ludwa's VIEW FROM THE PEW
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