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Beyond the Dictatorship of Relativism Print E-mail
By Robert Royal   
Monday, 25 July 2011

Almost everyone who pays attention to religion and public affairs knows of Joseph Ratzinger’s famous homily shortly before he was elected pope denouncing the modern “dictatorship of relativism.” The future Benedict XVI rightly drew the connection between, on the one hand, the alleged tolerance and openness professed by many people opposed to the old faith and morals, and, on the other hand, the highhanded public means by which they now force their views on everyone else.

All quite true and profound. But it’s become quite clear that what now most threatens traditional religious belief and behavior is not exactly relativism. Or openness. Or tolerance. Not by a long shot. It’s a substantial set of alternative beliefs and teachings. And claiming that this new faith is fairness or neutrality simply won’t survive a moment’s thought.

Take the gay marriage measures passed in New York State. The ground had been prepared for this and a whole host of other public policy shifts by claiming, for instance, that for all of us sexuality is fluid and “socially constructed.” A kind of relativism, if you will.

Except, it seems, in the case of gay men and women, who are “born that way,” or the product of a “gay gene.” If you have homoerotic feelings, in this perspective, nature – and perhaps God – have apparently hard-wired you. And that’s what you are. Even gays who are unhappy and want to change their orientation are encouraged to believe that they have only “internalized homophobia.”

This is the kind of simple assertion of nature or biology that we’ve been taught to think of as crude and naïve – even slightly fascist – when used to support heterosexuality as the norm. Or notions like marriage, family, and two opposite-sex parents as ideal for children. No appeal to biology or stubborn fact is allowed in these areas.

The inconsistency here is a clue that we’re not dealing with a scientific or rational truth, but an ideology, indeed a kind of alternative faith. Though there’s no solid scientific evidence for gay genes, and plenty of evidence about the disaster for children and adults that results from our cavalier treatment of marriage, it’s become something of a blind faith and a moral crusade for a certain segment of our population to pretend otherwise.


        Cardinal Ratzinger celebrates Mass (2005)

Our social radicals deplore moral crusades in principle when Christians and others are merely standing up for the accumulated wisdom and social practice of every human society in every age, not some groundless experiment in social tolerance. The radicals claim that society ought to be open and neutral, not dominated by divisive public moral rules.

But moral passions do not go away just because we change their objects. If you come to believe that gay marriage is a fundamental human right – as is now happening here and in some international forums – you are saying that anyone who believes differently is morally repugnant and a threat, even prior to actually doing anything, to the kind of civic attitudes all decent people should have. This is why traditional Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. are – absurdly – accused of promoting “hate” as a family value. And though the radicals are careful not to make the point too clear – to avoid political problems – they’ve essentially declared traditional religious morality bigotry.

So we have the equally absurd situation in which the vast majority of the human race is regarded as morally perverse by a small slice of the populace in a few wealthy countries. Meanwhile, the history of the twentieth century is marked by a series of ill-advised social theories that seemed humane and scientific at the time, somehow got control of the levers of power, and littered the landscape with victims of various kinds.

The sexual revolution has already produced an illegitimacy crisis – and a tsunami of problems over the concrete reality of being related – that seemed all but impossible prior to our time. As usual, the poor and marginalized are the ones who suffer most. By any measure, for instance, racism is much reduced from what it was fifty years ago. But illegitimacy is roughly 80 percent among blacks, about five times what it was in 1960.

There’s no mystery here: sexual revolution plus government programs that substituted for fathers produced similar increases, though lower in absolute percentages, for all races with the usual social pathologies and psychological turmoil added. Meanwhile, there’s a mountain of social research that shows living in a stable family and worshipping regularly produce enormous advantages in health and human happiness.

This is the point in the argument where the other team calls a time out and says: look, you heteros have done a demolition job on marriage already. What possible harm can the small percentage of gays who will decide to marry – and those few out of a mere 1-2 percent of the population – do anyway?

There’s a simple answer. Family breakdown is a fact, but a fact that doesn’t deny the crucial role of family in principle. The legalization of gay marriage simply obliterates the most important pre-political union – the intricate web of reproduction, affection, and the education and formation of new generations that has been recognized in every society as something unique and indispensable – by equating it with whatever two, or more, people may claim is marriage.

In the 1970s, President Carter tried to hold a “White House Conference on the Family,” which radicals even then forced him to alter to rename “on Families,” in recognition of the several forms of families. That might have been justified, properly done, but the definition of family adopted in the proceedings applied equally, as one wag observed, “to the traditional family and two winos sharing a boxcar.”

Just wait until we get our first Family Czar. You’ll see things you won’t believe. And they won’t be advanced under the banner of relativism, but of a different and quite militant faith.


Robert Royal
is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is
The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, now available in paperback from Encounter Books.

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Comments (14)Add Comment
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written by Grump, July 25, 2011
A 'small slice', eh?

According to the latest survey conducted by Harris Interactive, more than half (53%) of all U.S. adults agreed that regardless of their own personal views, "a same-sex marriage legally granted in one state should be recognized as a legal marriage in all other states in the same way generally that heterosexual marriages are recognized across state lines."

Just as significantly, 49% of all U.S. adults say they "support the right for same-sex couples to marry," when contrasted with 41% who oppose the right, and 10% who are not at all sure.

Last week, President Obama endorsed repeal of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, arguing that it is unconstitutional to deny same-sex marriages equal recognition by the federal government or for the federal government to stand in the way of any state that chooses to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. (Today marriage equality for same-sex couples is the law in six states as well as Washington, D.C.) A new national poll released today suggests that more than half of all Americans support the White House position.
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If these numbers are believable, it's only a matter of time before a so-called gay marriage is federalized.


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written by Robert Royal, July 25, 2011
Joe, the numbers you cite are correct, but they're mostly measuring people who are willing to allow gay marriage, usually without thinking much about what it means. They take their attitudes from the popular culture. If that culture changed, so would their opinions. I'm talking about the real true believers, the ones who are out there passionately arguing, as if denial of gay marriage has been a fundamental wrong crying for redress by proclaiming new fundamental rights. They are the ones who shape the popular culture through a sympathetic media. And that's why we can't simply take depressing statistics as unchangeable realities and this battle must continue.
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written by Grump, July 25, 2011
Agree, Robert. However, it seems to be an uphill and losing fight because the mass media is on their side.

Further, there is the 'yuck factor' that I, even as a lapsed Catholic, feel when I see 'gays' celebrating. And there is something about their physiognomy that gives them away and is repugnant.

Using the watchmaker analogy, how is it that so many defective watches are being created? The 'born this way' argument is gaining momentum; avowed homosexuals say they were made that way and couldn't change if they wanted to. If this is so, the 'fault and flaws' then lie in the Designer, do they not?
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written by Brian English, July 25, 2011
"The 'born this way' argument is gaining momentum; avowed homosexuals say they were made that way and couldn't change if they wanted to. If this is so, the 'fault and flaws' then lie in the Designer, do they not?"

They can say that all they want, but that doesn't make it true. Substituting Lady Ga Ga lyrics for real science is not a serious approach to the issue.

The research in this area shows a combination of factors that produce homosexuality. Even the researcher Dr. Dean Hamer, who is gay and would have liked nothing better than to find a gay gene, dismisses the idea that such a thing exists.

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written by Grump, July 25, 2011
Brian, he equivocates quite a bit, saying there is "convincing evidence" that links sexual orientation to genetics.
http://youtu.be/TEG-EBUU7n8
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written by Louise, July 25, 2011
There is the question of the amount of estrogen being poured in our environment by the ubiquitous use of oral contraceptives. I believe I have read that the fish in the estuaries are showing a decidedly female bias.

"the numbers you cite are correct, but"; "I'm talking about the real true believers,"

Dr. Royal, the argument that the number (by percentage) of activists for homosexual acceptance is small is really beside the point, isn't it. The same argument is used about the per centage of radical Muslims compared with the total number of Muslims, but that small per centage has managed to do a tremendous amount of harm, e.g., keeping the entire world in a state of terror that has led, in a number of countries, to an inability in that country to defend its heritage and even its very life. it has always been the active few who have made or changed history, for better of for warse. Our Lord started with twelve.

Excellent but terrifying essay, however. Now. What can be done to stop it?
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written by Brian English, July 25, 2011
"Brian, he equivocates quite a bit, saying there is "convincing evidence" that links sexual orientation to genetics."

As a part of the puzzle, not the only piece of the puzzle. I am not aware of any responsible scientist or researcher who asserts that sexuality is simply determined by a gay gene. This is not a simple issue, which makes it a very poor candidate for serious discussion in our sound-bite world.

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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., July 25, 2011
Billiant and goent article, Dr. Royal. But here I go again: while you arre right that there is someting more than relativism here, It should be clear that mere realtivism is itself just a ruse for those with abslutist ideology that is leathal even it is ultimately inchoerent. We all know that the attacks on marriage have their roots in Marxism and that the Marxists are using the homosexulas, whom they will they will mercilessly repress in the long run, in order to attack what Marxists hold as the root of all evil, namely the family. Although the Satanic hatred for God given institution and Sacrament of marriage had been under attack since the 18th Century, it was not until the establishment of Communism that this evil had the political, organizational, and educational structure to take contorl of the on ce Christian lands. We are powerless over this evil if we arre too afraid to make the demoan say its name. You say Communists don't matter becuase the Cold War is over? Does anyone really imagine that with the collapse of the Soviet Untion all Communist there and in the US ran off and demanded to be baptized? We all know that those who hate Crhist and the Chruch He faounded on the Rock of Petere are only angrier than beofre and more determined to attack the Bride of Christ.
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written by Suzanne, July 25, 2011
I have been told repeatedly by students at our local state university that sex/gender questions need to be 'fixed'. If there really are 23 genders, as proposed by a recent article...(Enter the Australian Human Rights Commission with some exciting new developments. In an extraordinary document entitled Protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sex and/or gender identity, the AHRC has come up with a further list of “genders” which they require us to recognize, and on whose behalf they want our federal government to pass anti-discrimination legislation. To date (by the time you read this, the AHRC’s family of sexualities may have increased and multiplied) these are: transgender, trans, transsexual, intersex, androgynous, agender, cross dresser, drag king, drag queen, genderfluid, genderqueer, intergender, neutrois, pansexual, pan-gendered, third gender, third sex, sistergirl and brotherboy. (No, I don’t know what “neutrois” means).)

The ultimate result of this is the acceptance of what used to be considered 'sin' as simply 'born this way' behavior. I appreciate this article very much. Relativism is death for faith and culture. Thank God for BXVI!!!
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written by Suzanne, July 25, 2011
I have been told repeatedly by students at our local state university that sex/gender questions need to be 'fixed'. If there really are 23 genders, as proposed by a recent article...(Enter the Australian Human Rights Commission with some exciting new developments. In an extraordinary document entitled Protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sex and/or gender identity, the AHRC has come up with a further list of “genders” which they require us to recognize, and on whose behalf they want our federal government to pass anti-discrimination legislation. To date (by the time you read this, the AHRC’s family of sexualities may have increased and multiplied) these are: transgender, trans, transsexual, intersex, androgynous, agender, cross dresser, drag king, drag queen, genderfluid, genderqueer, intergender, neutrois, pansexual, pan-gendered, third gender, third sex, sistergirl and brotherboy. (No, I don’t know what “neutrois” means).)

The ultimate result of this is the acceptance of what used to be considered 'sin' as simply 'born this way' behavior. I appreciate this article very much. Relativism is death for faith and culture. Thank God for BXVI!!!
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written by Linus, July 25, 2011
Very good. The war is being waged in ernest now.
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written by Matthew, July 26, 2011
I continue to remain puzzled by all of this "born with it" talk. My Catholic Faith tells me I am BORN, in fact CONCEIVED, with Original Sin. After all "a sinner was I conceived" the Psalmist says. So at the end of the day who cares whether it is nurture or nature - to engage in the act is WRONG no matter its cause.
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written by Rsharrak, July 26, 2011
Relativism. Something I passionately hate. I even blog about it!

Aristotle (or some philosopher) said something like having homosexual tendencies is no different then being anger-prone or susceptible to alcohol. If acted upon, or encouraged, the desire takes over the will.

I think that explanation explains a lot. (Mixture of being born with a tendency + environment, etc)
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written by Jim Flynn, July 29, 2011
A very enlightening article and distinction between forces at work in our society. Thank you much! Just when we are becoming experts on relativism, its causes and effects, we see (you see) it morphing into beliefs, faith and the teachings that naturally follow. Much to ponder; thanks for the heads-up.

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