This is what Pope Benedict said to seminarians and young people when he was here in the United States last spring.
While he was here in America, the Pope warned us about the dangers we face as a nation. One of them is: We are in danger of abandoning the quest for truth and falling into the trap of relativism.
In a homily he gave the day before he was elected pope, then-Cardinal Ratzinger explained the danger of relativism:
Today, having a clear faith…is often labeled as ‘fundamentalism.’ Whereas relativism—that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine’—seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.
In a nutshell, relativism means denying that there is such a thing as universal truth. Freedom means having your own truth, according to the theory of relativism.
Pope Benedict explained the relationship between freedom and truth when he spoke to young people in New York last spring:
Have you noticed how often the call for freedom is made without ever referring to the truth?…Some today argue that respect for freedom of the individual makes it wrong to seek truth, including the truth about what is good. In some circles to speak of truth is seen as controversial or divisive, and consequently best kept in the private sphere. And in truth’s place – or better said its absence – an idea has spread which, in giving value to everything indiscriminately, claims to assure freedom and to liberate conscience. This we call relativism.
The Pope even warned American Protestant leaders about relativism:
We must ask ourselves whether the full force of the Gospel has not been weakened by a relativistic approach to Christian doctrine, …relegate[ing] religion entirely to the subjective sphere of individual feeling…Christians may be reluctant to assert the role of doctrine.
God is truth. We human beings are made to seek the truth.
The captains of relativism maintain that it is arrogant and oppressive to claim to know the truth. In a way, they are right. We must humbly acknowledge that we do not know everything. God has not given us the knowledge or authority to foresee the future or to judge souls. There are countless mysteries of creation that we have not solved. A man is wise when he knows what he does not know.
If relativism were simply a matter of intellectual humility and openness, then it would not be a problem. Christ taught us to humble ourselves intellectually. He showed us by example. Even though He always possessed the fullness of divine wisdom and knowledge, He became a boy and learned how to think, speak, and act the way we human beings learn how to think, speak, and act. His mind was open through His entire pilgrim life on earth. Christ’s sublime wisdom consists precisely in this: Being completely open to everything which the Father unfolds. “Father, not my will, but yours be done.”
Relativism, however, is not just another word for intellectual humility. Relativism is an inhuman ideology. To deny that truth can be found is to crush the human spirit. Relativism reduces religion and morals to the lowest common denominator. It leads people to live like animals. It is especially dangerous for young people. Young people need to learn how to live in a way that is worthy of them. Under the dictatorship of relativism, the weakest and most defenseless people suffer.
Is it true, as relativists teach, that there are no commandments which everyone must obey? Are we human beings really not capable of knowing the basic ground rules of life? Is it really humble to claim that there are no rules everyone must follow?
Isn’t it more humble to fear Almighty God? Isn’t it wiser to seek to know His will and do it?
And aren’t we obliged to respect the wisdom of the ages and the teaching of our Fathers? Doesn’t a reasonable man have to acknowledge and submit his mind to convincing arguments when they come his way? Are we really all entitled to have our own personal truth?
We are not. Not everything is relative. God is absolute, and our human nature, made in His image, is absolute. Even though we human beings are “diverse” in many ways, we are united by this: only the truth gives us real peace.
Of course, we have to wait till we get to heaven to know everything. But in the meantime, we can learn the truth that we need to know. Let us take heart and keep searching to know what is true and good. All reasonable men will join us in the quest for truth. And all those who receive the gift of faith will join us in finding the truth: Jesus Christ.