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The Dictatorship of Relativism by Fr. George W. Rutler

February 23, 2014

by Fr. George W. Rutler

Dante’s thought was so greatly shaped by Aristotle that he called him “The Philosopher” rather as it is customary to call Saint Paul “The Apostle.” He placed Aristotle in a sort of suburb of Heaven, for Aristotle’s logical thought was a noble anticipation of Christ the Word, or Logos, as the litmus test for all logical thought. Aristotle applied his “Principle of Non-Contradiction” in several ways, but the third way, most pertinent to daily conversation, means that two statements that are opposite cannot both be true. Like all great truths, this seems so obvious that it should hardly need to be pointed out. But people contradict the principle of non-contradiction all the time. It is easy to slip into this mistake out of fuzzy courtesy—which in the extreme is a form of sentimentality—as when someone says, “That may be true for you, but it is not true for me,” or, “All religions are the same.” Pope Benedict XVI saw this as so great a danger to logical living that he spoke of it as a “dictatorship of relativism.” To propose that opposite assertions can be true is harshly to cancel out truth. In our grammar, two negatives make a positive, but to say that a negative and a positive make a positive would be to say that nothing is really positive. Then to say that Christ is and is not the Living Word is to say that the Word is just a word. This “dictatorship” inevitably tries to crush any assertion that there is such a thing as logic at all.

This is not a matter just for the philosophy class. It has harsh consequences for justice. The “show trials” of Stalin and Hitler were held in a Humpty Dumpty world where a word means anything the judge wants it to mean. This reduces sense to sentimentality, and there is a fine line between sentimentality and cruelty, because it twists logic and explains why demagogues speak of caring for society even as they destroy every vestige of it, condoning unnatural acts as natural, and even offering to help children by killing them, as “lawmakers” in Brussels have recently done. Milton said, “The mind is its own place and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

Christ did not contradict himself when he said that he fulfilled the Law, even while he was breaking some of the little laws. He was showing the logic of the law as expressive of the eternal Logos that orders all things. The Apostle, even wiser than The Prophet, spoke of a wisdom which “is not of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:6-8).

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One Response

  1. I like this post Father. I would like to share a personal touching moment regarding the news of euthanasia of children in Belgium.
    I have 3 children, aged 13, Daniel, 11, Emma, and 5, Brendan. We were waiting outside of the grocery store while my wife was inside getting something for us for lunch. We had just gotten out of Mass and I was reading our diocesan newspaper. Unbeknownst to me, my oldest son, leaning forward from the back seat, was reading over my shoulder, an article that I had not noticed. He said, “Look guys, this is some terrible news, their killing children.”There was a noticeable silence in the car when he said this. The gravity of this truth was very palpable to all of us at that moment. My youngest, 5-year old said, “What do you mean?” I didn’t want to shock him at that age, so I said, “It is very stupid people doing very stupid things.” This is a very sad situation in Belgium. Let us pray for these very dear children, and from today’s gospel, let us also pray for those responsible for doing and condoning these terrible acts. Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us sinners.

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