July 5, 2013


Marriage loses a battle to dictatorship of relativism

If we needed further proof that marriage, which we believe is the most basic, foundational principle of human society, is being undermined by the forces of modern culture, the June 26 Supreme Court decisions striking down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and refusing to rule on the merits of a challenge to California’s Proposition 8 confirm this.

According to Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, these decisions mark a “tragic day for marriage and our nation.”

Of course, we are no strangers to tragic Supreme Court decisions. In 1973, the Supreme Court’s tragic ruling in Roe v. Wade used what many believe were spurious constitutional and moral arguments to legalize abortion. Forty years later, the Catholic Church—and others who share our religious and moral values—continue to cry out forcefully against what Pope John Paul II called “the culture of death,” especially as it is expressed in the vicious, unrelenting attacks made on the most vulnerable members of our human family, including the unborn, elderly, disabled and unwanted people on the margins of society.

Increasingly, we are like a voice crying out in the wilderness. We will never give up or lose hope, but we do have to acknowledge that it isn’t getting any easier to proclaim the Gospel of Life to the modern world.

On the day before he was elected pope in April 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI—warned about what he called “the dictatorship of relativism.” His words were prophetic then and now.

“Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism,” Cardinal Ratzinger said. “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.”

Relativism does not recognize anything as definitive—including the most basic understanding of marriage as the union of one man and one woman “for life.” Instead, because the “winds of doctrine” have shifted, declaring same sex unions to be equal—in dignity and in civil rights—to our traditional understanding of marriage, we are now forced to conclude that the definition of marriage is fluid, capable of reinterpretation and redefinition whenever the moods and desires of modern culture dictate.

As in the tragic abortion ruling 40 years ago, the Supreme Court got it wrong. Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Cordileone speak for all of us when they say: “Marriage is the only institution that brings together a man and a woman for life, providing any child who comes from their union with the secure foundation of a mother and a father.”

They also make it clear that the preservation of liberty and justice requires that all laws, federal and state, respect the truth, including the truth about marriage. “The common good of all, especially our children,” Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Cordilleone tell us, “depends upon a society that strives to uphold the truth of marriage.”

Otherwise, we are not living in a free society at all. We are living in tyranny, under the dictatorship of relativism, where there is no objective truth and, therefore, no real freedom.

Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Cordileone go on to say: “When Jesus taught about the meaning of marriage—the lifelong, exclusive union of husband and wife—he pointed back to ‘the beginning’ of God’s creation of the human person as male and female [see Matthew 19]. In the face of the customs and laws of his time, Jesus taught an unpopular truth that everyone could understand.”

Prophetic words convey unpopular truths. Marriage is not whatever we want it to be. It is is a gift from God intended to unite men and women in love and to bring new life into the world.

“Now that the Supreme Court has issued its decisions,” Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Cordileone say, “with renewed purpose we call upon all of our leaders and the people of this good nation to stand steadfastly together in promoting and defending the unique meaning of marriage: one man, one woman, for life. We also ask for prayers as the Court’s decisions are reviewed and their implications further clarified.”

Let’s join together in one voice to proclaim the truth about marriage, and to resist the dictatorship of relativism wherever we find it.

—Daniel Conway

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