Independent thinking versus relativism

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Susan Hanssen
Contributing Writer

At the beginning of his pontificate, Benedict XVI warned that the “Dictatorship of Relativism” was the most dangerous threat to freedom of our day. He called it a worse danger than Marxism, radical individualism or atheism. And he warned that the “Dictatorship of Relativism” would be enforced by accusations of fundamentalism:

“Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and ‘swept along by every wind of teaching,’ looks like the only attitude acceptable to today’s standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”

This is the central civil rights issue of our day, perhaps of modernity. Anyone who is genuinely concerned to protect human liberty and human life ought to defend the rights of families, churches, schools, voluntary organizations and private corporations to create a space in the public forum for independent thinking against the “Dictatorship of Relativism.” The right of Catholic schools, church hospitals and other voluntary associations to hire Catholic teachers, create a Catholic ethos on campuses, give a forum for Catholic teaching, live according the truth of conscience, and refuse to provide intellectual and financial support to behavior that is destructive of the human person is, and has been, under persistent attack for at least two centuries.

But that right to pursue the truth and the right of association in pursuit of the truth is basic to human freedom.

Without recognition of the sovereign right of schools to establish their distinctive character beginning from first principles and the nature of reality, the individual stands at the mercy of Tocqueville’s “tyranny of the majority.”

Man is not merely a political animal. He is a rational animal and a risible animal; to be fully human he must know reality and laugh at what is absurdly out of harmony with reality. He is not required to take all delusions with the same academic earnestness, or he will go mad. Either sovereign pre-political and supra-political societies (the phrase is Benedict XVI’s), like the family and the church, exist and have the right to form other sovereign societies like schools, or the lone individual will stand at last naked and indefensible before the Leviathan state.

President Thomas Keefe has recently drawn the sword in defense of UD’s independence. He wrote a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services urging that the department revise its rules to “accommodate the ability of Catholic colleges and universities to carry out Catholic moral and social teaching.” He should be highly commended for this letter. He has pinpointed the central civil rights issue that University of Dallas students, as crusaders for a culture of life and human dignity, need to be made ever more aware.

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