I find myself shaking my head in disbelief when I come across people who write off Catholic teaching with some variant of “that’s just your opinion.” I shake my head because rationally that means we can write off their views of right and wrong on the same grounds. If one rejects a Christian’s arguments on these grounds, one can reject the arguments of an atheist on the same grounds. Under those assumptions, we can’t find truth about anything and we can only use legal or physical force to compel anyone to accept something. It’s ironic that people who claim to champion reason and enlightenment should promote a throwback to “Do what I say or I will bash you with my club!"
It’s not surprising that people believe this tripe. I recall a teacher in High School once give us a couplet: "Opinions are never right or wrong. Opinions are only weak or strong.“ The couplet confuses “opinion” with “preference” or “feeling,” leading to people thinking that a religious view on abortion is no different than a preference for a flavor of ice cream. Many dictionaries give that interpretation to opinion as well. But that is only one of the meanings.
An opinion on matters of right and wrong, as Merriam-Webster describes it, “implies a conclusion thought out yet open to dispute.” This means that the value of the opinion depends on how it matches reality. A person may dispute what another says about right and wrong, but the value of the dispute also depends on how it fits reality. This means when people disagree on moral obligation, we have an obligation to investigate what is right, not simply dismissing what we dislike.
The problem is, the modern rejection of Christian morality is not based on truth or facts. Opponents distort Christian teaching and opponents accuse us of bad will (bigotry, etc.). Since opponents misrepresent our teachings and motives, they do not refute us. Nor do they prove we hate people belonging to certain groups popular with political and cultural elites. What they do is slander us, whether they do so out of ignorance or out of hostility.
To avoid slander or misrepresentation, people must investigate claims to see if a claim is true. If it is not true, we must stop repeating it. If it is true, we must act in accord with it. For example, when a culture learns that human beings are equal regardless of ethnicity, it can no longer treat some ethnicities as less than human. That means we must abandon slavery, segregation and racial hatred.
Those are obvious examples. Few people support those evils any longer. But people forget that today’s elites defend today’s evils in the same way that elites in past centuries defended slavery and segregation. For example, abortion denies the humanity of a fetus in the same way that slavery denied the humanity of a certain ethnicity. On the other hand, people assume moral objections against behaviors are the same thing as racism in the past. For example, some people see the Church opposing “same sex marriage” as the modern version of racism and segregation. But the Church does not see people with same sex attraction as less than human, nor justify mistreatment (legal, physical or in other ways) against them.
What the Church does do is deny that de facto unions are the same thing as marriage, so we should not treat them like marriage. In making this denial, the Church offers definitions about the purpose of marriage and family. A person might disagree with how the Church defines these things, but one has to show that the Church speaks falsely in order to refute her. But proving that is not done by shouting words like “homophobe” or “bigot” (the common response).
Reason demands we examine the truth of claims and not shout down things we dislike hearing. If Catholics oppose abortion on the grounds that the unborn child is a human person, then accusing Catholics of being “anti-woman” is speaking falsely. If Catholics oppose “same sex marriage” on the grounds that marriage between one man and one woman open to the possibility of raising children is the basis of the family, it is wrong to use epithets like “homophobe” and “hateful."
Before anyone asks, yes, this means Christians must also use reason and examine truth, not shouting down opponents. Yes, some Christians do make the rest look bad by rashly judging motives and misrepresenting arguments. That is not how God calls us to behave. We must refute falsehood with truth, not with the tactics of those who hate us. An educated Catholic, faithful to the teachings of his Church will deplore the tactics of the Westboro Baptist Church as being unjust. If a Catholic should embrace those tactics, he does wrong.
But because the Church does oblige us to behave rightly, blaming the Church for those who behave wrongly is unjust. There is a difference between Catholics behaving hypocritically by ignoring Church teaching and Catholics behaving badly because they follow Church teaching. Assessing where blame lies calls for us to discover the truth in a situation, not merely assuming an unpopular opinion caused bad behavior.
But, doing that will force people to recognize that their accusations against the Church are false. That’s why people will continue to treat Catholic teaching as odious opinions instead of seeking the truth about us.