“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep the tongue from evil
and the lips from speaking deceit,
must turn from evil and do good,
seek peace and follow after it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears turned to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against evildoers.” (1 Peter 3:10-12)
Everybody seems perfectly able to see the flaws of others. Few people seem able to see the flaws in themselves. That is human nature. Unfortunately, when people are shown the flaws in themselves, the usual response is hostility to the one who points it out. This can become quite serious—especially when one considers that societies are made out of people, and when the people of such societies are confronted with their own flaws, they tend to use the power and authority of the society to target the one who opposes the wrongdoing and refuses to go along with them.
This happens often. I find similarities in attitude today with the attitudes of ancient Rome. Consider this account of St. Symphorian:
The city of Autun was one of the most ancient and famous of all Gaul; but at that time the most superstitious, and particularly addicted to the worship of Cybele, Apollo, and Diana. On a certain day of the year, the statue of Cybele was with great pomp carried through the streets in a chariot richly adorned. Symphorian, because he had not on that occasion adored it, was seized by the mob, and carried before Heraclius, a man of consular dignity, and governor of the province, who happened to be then at Autun, very busy in calling the Christians to an account. Heraclius, being seated on his tribunal, asked him why he refused to adore the image of the mother of the gods. He answered, because he was a Christian, and adored the true God who reigneth in heaven. The judge then inquired of the officers whether he was a citizen of the place. One of them answered: “He is of this place, and of a noble family.” The judge said to Symphorian: “You flatter yourself on account of your birth, and are perhaps unacquainted with the emperor’s orders.” He then ordered him to be bound, and said to him: “What say you to this, Symphorian?” The martyr continuing to express his abhorrence of the idol, Heraclius commanded him to be cruelly beaten with clubs, and sent him to prison.
[Alban Butler, The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints, vol. 3 (New York: P. J. Kenedy, 1903), 441–442.]
We tend to pride ourselves on being more civilized than in the past. But, setting aside the means of punishment (St. Symphorian was martyred), the attitude of society towards one who rejects the public values of society is just as hostile. Witness the treatment of people who refuse to worship the current idol of “same sex marriage.” People are sued, fined, prosecuted and so on because they will not accept it as morally acceptable.
Since this refusal bears witness to the existence of right behavior which is being shunned, the people who see this witness to their wrongdoing are hostile. They want people to publicly accept and acknowledge the idols. They offer rewards and promise to remove threats if one will publicly accept society’s idol—even if they do not personally believe it to be true. The deal offered is to just compromise a little.
But when the person who is tempted to compromise recognizes that this offer is really an attempt to seduce them into doing what they know is morally wrong, they cannot compromise at all. The fact is, no person is ever justified in doing something they believe to be morally wrong. We cannot do evil so good may come of it and therefore, if it comes to a choice, we must prefer to suffer evil than be guilty of doing it.
This is why so many martyrs went to their deaths when they were told, “It’s just a pinch of incense. You don’t even have to believe what you’re doing. Just go along!” They knew it wasn’t “just a pinch of incense.” They knew that their knowledge of and fidelity to the truth of God meant they could not even pretend to believe in the idols of society.
This is the difference between the Christian belief and the belief in moral relativism. Moral relativism says there are no moral absolutes, so we should not act as if things were morally wrong. Under such a view, views that one disagrees with should be tolerated and not opposed. Of course the moral relativist never applies this philosophy to their own behavior—fewer and fewer people tolerate the Christian who says that moral wrongs exist unless that Christian has modified his or her beliefs to avoid speaking out against the idols of society. (if they truly believed in tolerance, they would have to tolerate Christians exercising their rights).
For the Christian—at least the one informed in his or her faith—we must seek out and follow the truth, and God is the ultimate truth. We can never say that evil is acceptable. If one would profess love of Jesus, they cannot ignore His injunction to keep His commandments (John 14:15). God has spoken on how we must live, and has established His Church to shepherd the believers. If we will not listen, if we will not turn from evil and do good, then God will set His face against us.
Every one of us has to look into their own heart. They have to honestly ask whether their actions or their preferences are compatible with what God calls us to be. But because we do have a Church, which Jesus established (see Matthew 16:18-19), we can know that when our actions go against the teaching of the Church, if it sets the teaching of the Church as being in the wrong, we need to look again at them, knowing we need to have a change of heart, praying to God to convert us when it seems impossible to obey.