‘Isa: So you have no universal law, no higher law, no higher standard than culture, right?
Libby: Right. We don’t claim to have a private telephone line to heaven, like you.
‘Isa: So you can’t criticize your culture, then. Your culture sets the standard. Your culture creates the commandments. Your culture is God. “My country right or wrong.” That doesn’t sound like progressivism to me. That sounds like status quo conservatism.
Libby: You’re confusing me. You make everything stand on its head.
‘Isa: No, you do. Or your media do, and you’ve been suckered by them. It’s a big lie; it’s pure propaganda. If you just stop and think for yourself for a minute, you’ll see that it’s really just the opposite of the media stereotypes. Only a believer in an absolute higher law can criticize a whole culture. He’s the rebel, the radical, the prophet who can say to a whole culture, “You’re worshipping a false God and a false good. Change!” That’s the absolutist; and that’s the force for change. The Jews changed history more than anyone because they were absolutists—the conscience for the world, the Jewish mother who makes you feel guilty about not calling her, not calling on God, not praying. Or guilty about vegging out in front of the TV instead of going out and getting an education and getting a job and changing the world.
Libby: Not fair! The relativist is for change too.
‘Isa: But he has no moral basis for it. All a relativist can say to a Hitler is, “Different strokes for different folks, and I like my strokes and I hate yours.” The absolutist can say, “You and your whole society are wrong and wicked, and divine justice will destroy you, inescapably, unless you repent.” Which of those two messages is more progressive? Which one is the force for change?
[Peter Kreeft, A Refutation of Moral Relativism: Interviews with an Absolutist (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 75.]
Being a Christian today—at least one who takes a position contrary to what is currently favored culturally—is becoming an unpopular and potentially dangerous stand to take. While society is stressing the importance of being nice, and not saying anything negative about someone we disagree with (except when directed against said Christians), we are unpopular because we say “This is wrong, and cannot be done.” To which, the world says “Stop judging, you bigot!” (completely unaware of the self-contradiction). The impression one gets is that society would be perfectly willing to welcome us back into the fold if we would stop being so obstinate and go along with what they hold.
If the society was the source of determining what was right and wrong, then it would be foolish of us to be countercultural. Under such a view, whoever rejected the mores of society would be a hateful person. But this is where the problem lies. Christianity cannot accept society as the source of determining right and wrong. Indeed, we know that societies have a bad habit of going very wrong. In America, our mistreatment of American Indians and African-Americans give us examples of behavior that cannot be considered good even though society once favored it. The totalitarian dictatorships of history give us examples of behavior we cannot condone. So there has to be a source for determining right and wrong which is outside of society. Otherwise, when a new group is in power, people will find themselves without grounds to protest actions they find offensive. And society, in the name of freedom, is rapidly undercutting the pillars that support freedom. They do this by saying, “Stop trying to push your values on us!” while pushing their values on others.
It is only when the people of a society is willing to investigate why a thing is right or wrong and then seek out the right while rejecting the wrong, that it can bring about justice while rejecting injustice. But that is precisely what the people of society are not doing. Instead we have an emotionalism that holds that people should be allowed to do what makes them happy, but that concept of “happy” is based on what makes them feel good. The problem is, some forms of pleasure affect others in a negative fashion. Other forms of pleasure are harmful to the person who pursues them in the long run. But when someone stands up and says, “This is actually harmful,” he or she is shouted down as “intolerant.” The label is not a refutation of the objection, but everybody assumes that it is.
The Christian Mindset
The informed Christian, on the other hand, starts from the perspective that the all-knowing, all-powerful and perfectly good God designed the universe and everything in it (which does not require a belief in “creationism”). God may be above reason, but is never contrary to reason. From this perspective, God designed His universe in a way that reflects His goodness. As a result, when we try to do things in a way which goes against this design, it is harmful. Maybe that harm is immediately apparent—such as attempting to defy gravity. Other times it takes time to discover—like people who abuse drugs and alcohol not discovering the harm before it is too late.
The point is, the Christian moral code is not an arbitrary ipse dixit invented by a cranky God or made up by a celibate priesthood. The Christian certainly follows God’s commandments because of love for Him (John 14:15), but the reasonableness of God’s teaching is apparent in the cause and effect of what His laws order us for and how rejection of those laws cause harm even for the person who does not believe God exists (physical, psychological and social effects).
That’s not to downplay the very real harm a person does to his or her relationship with God, which is even more serious than the physical, psychological and social effects. But it does show that the Christian’s objection is not based on “Because God said if you don’t do this, you’ll burn in hell!” Rather it is based on, “If you do this, you will destroy yourself spiritually, physically, psychologically and socially and we do not want you to cause your self-destruction."
What Follows From This
Once a person realizes this, the falseness of accusation of “pushing your values on us” is exposed as untrue. The Christian is not trying to force people into adopting a creed. He or she approaches the world from the perspective of trying to do what is right, and challenging the world to stay away from things that are harmful. When we push for society to be good, it is because we recognize that a bad society is harmful to the well-being of each individual and to the cohesion of society as a whole.
And, of course, the Christian protest is true. Society is falling apart. Family ties are collapsing. The individual is considered primary, and anything that dares to suggest that the individual’s desires cannot be elevated at the extent of harming others or disrupting society as God designed it is met with hostility.
Because of What We Are, Christians Must Act
So, even though our stands are increasingly unpopular and misrepresented (it’s easier to hate someone who is misrepresented as acting out of intolerance or other bad will), the committed Christian will not “go along to get along.” Our Lord has tasked us with a mission:
18 Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
The consequences of rejecting what God has commanded will be alienation from God in the most important aspect, but will affect the other parts of our life as well. For us, standing by while a person destroys their life is akin to standing by while a person drowns. If we could have done something (even if our aid is rejected), but did not, we share in the blame:
1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 Son of man, speak to your people and tell them: When I bring the sword against a land, if the people of that land select one of their number as a sentinel* for them, 3 and the sentinel sees the sword coming against the land, he should blow the trumpet to warn the people. 4 If they hear the trumpet but do not take the warning and a sword attacks and kills them, their blood will be on their own heads. 5 They heard the trumpet blast but ignored the warning; their blood is on them. If they had heeded the warning, they could have escaped with their lives. 6 If, however, the sentinel sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the sword attacks and takes someone’s life, his life will be taken for his own sin, but I will hold the sentinel responsible for his blood.
7 You, son of man—I have appointed you as a sentinel for the house of Israel; when you hear a word from my mouth, you must warn them for me. 8 When I say to the wicked, “You wicked, you must die,” and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. 9 If, however, you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, but they do not, then they shall die in their sins, but you shall save your life. (Ezekiel 33:1-9)
Our speaking out to the world can only go so far, and if a warning is unheeded, we cannot help that. But if we do not warn when we should warn, we do evil.
The Obligation to Search For Truth Remains
Now, the person who rejects this Christian view is not free to go on doing as they like. Each person has the obligation to seek out and live according to what is true, not what is pleasurable. You might say you reject Christian teaching. But on what basis do you reject it? Do you even understand the teaching you are rejecting? Or do you merely associate it with “being mean?” The problem with that is sometimes there is no time for niceties when it comes to shouting a warning—HEY! WATCH OUT! Sometimes the individual lacks the social graces in expressing the truth. But these are not legitimate reasons to refuse to see if the claim is true.
It is not enough to say, “Well I don’t see anything wrong with this!” That’s the argument from ignorance fallacy—just because you don’t see anything wrong with it, doesn’t mean nothing is wrong with it. Each person has the obligation to examine their life and see whether what they do is good or evil. In doing so, they must reject the evil.
Unfortunately, that is seldom done. Many people just go along with an injustice being done, saying “I didn’t know!” or “What could I have done?” But I think we should consider the final lines from the 2004 movie, Downfall:
Traudl Junge: All these horrors I've heard of during the Nurnberg process, these six million Jews, other thinking people or people of another race, who perished. That shocked me deeply. But I hadn't made the connection with my past. I assured myself with the thought of not being personally guilty. And that I didn't know anything about the enormous scale of it. But one day I walked by a memorial plate of Sophie Scholl in the Franz-Joseph-Strasse. I saw that she was about my age and she was executed in the same year I came to Hitler. And at that moment I actually realised that a young age isn't an excuse. And that it might have been possible to get to know things.
The obligation of each person is to seek out and follow the truth. The reason we are Christians is because we believe we have found the truth—a truth beyond us and above us which guides us to be what we are called to be. Because we possess this truth, we will continue to let people know what it is that we offer. And it is not just a negative, mocking “you’ll be sorry if you don’t listen to us…” warning either. We want people to know and share in the good we have found. Benedict XVI said, in 2005:
Anyone who has discovered Christ must lead others to him. A great joy cannot be kept to oneself. It has to be passed on.
In vast areas of the world today there is a strange forgetfulness of God. It seems as if everything would be just the same even without him.
But at the same time there is a feeling of frustration, a sense of dissatisfaction with everyone and everything.
People tend to exclaim: “This cannot be what life is about!”. Indeed not. And so, together with forgetfulness of God there is a kind of new explosion of religion. I have no wish to discredit all the manifestations of this phenomenon. There may be sincere joy in the discovery. But to tell the truth, religion often becomes almost a consumer product. People choose what they like, and some are even able to make a profit from it.
But religion sought on a “do-it-yourself” basis cannot ultimately help us. It may be comfortable, but at times of crisis we are left to ourselves.
Help people to discover the true star which points out the way to us: Jesus Christ! Let us seek to know him better and better, so as to be able to guide others to him with conviction.
[Benedict XVI, August 21, 2005, Homilies of His Holiness Benedict XVI (English) (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2013).]
Out of love of God and love of neighbor, we let people know about the truth. Not for our benefit of course. We’re not on a commission basis. We share because we want you to share in the treasure we have found (Matthew 13:44-47). We want you to avoid the pitfalls which can keep you from receiving it.