I love to argue with the Pope. It sends a thrill up my lapsed Catholic spine. The notion that insignificant me has a shot (in this case, a certainty) at out-moralizing the head of one of the world's major religions – marvelous!
Pope Benedict XVI hates moral relativism. I adore it. So who's right and who's wrong?
This is why I win: the fact that this is a serious question shows I'm right. Nobody says that the atomic structure of water has several possible answers. Two molecules of hydrogen and one of oxygen always is the correct response.
Recently President Bush approvingly quoted one of Benedict's pet phrases back at him.
In a world where some no longer believe that we can distinguish between simple right and wrong, we need your message to reject this 'dictatorship of relativism.'
Huh? I've never had any problem with people getting in my face and screaming, It could be this, or it could be that! But fundamentalists like the Pope are always telling me how to live my life.
I'll take the dictatorship of relativism over that of absolutism any day. Apparently he first used these words at a Mass in 2005, before he became the Pope.
Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church 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.
A six word summary of my critique: the Pope is full of shit. He's got it completely backward. The height of ego is to consider that you know what's right and wrong – not just for yourself, but for everybody.
To the Pope, abortion is wrong. So is stem cell research. And contraception. Catholicism does its best to push these private moral positions into public policy. How is that not the dictatorship of absolutism?
Speaking of dictators (including would-be ones), Dan Froomkin wrote a great Washington Post column on this subject, "Who's the Moral Relativist?" He points out the absurdity of the Great Presidential Relativist, George Bush, lavishing praise on Benedict for opposing moral relativism.
Yet some of Bush's most defining decisions -- such as launching a war of choice against Iraq and his picking and choosing which laws actually apply to him -- suggest a highly subjective sense of right and wrong. Most notably, he defends the use of interrogation tactics that violate human dignity by arguing that the ends justify the means.
Moral absolutism always is just skin deep, because there's no foundation to it. Religions have all kinds of different opinions about what's right and wrong. Ditto for philosophies, ethical systems, and other secular approaches to morality.
So whenever you hear someone like Pope Benedict or President Bush extolling "simple right and wrong," invariably they mean, Simply do what I tell you.
Life isn't simple. Neither is morality. Killing is wrong. Except when it's right. Lying is wrong. Except when it's right. Members of the Bush administration have done a whole lot of killing and lying.
They believe it's right. Others, that it's wrong. We've got a difference of opinion here. It'll be settled through more debate, more elections, more court cases.
Thank god, these and other questions aren't settled by a religious authority. This country was founded on sentiments such as "Live free or die," and "Don't tread on me."
I've got no problem with true believers turning their moral decisions over to a fundamentalist moral code. There always will be people who prefer to act like sheep. Following the leader can appear to be a lot easier than finding your own way.
The Pope, President, and other purveyors of moral absolutism just need to realize that their preachiness needs to end where individual lives begin. In a democracy, laws are how society speaks about right and wrong.
Whatever is said from the pulpit is just a bunch of blah, blah, blah to faithful moral relativists like me.