Minnesotans love to talk about (read: complain) about the weather. There has been a lot to talk about the past few months! In August it was in the high 50’s/low 60’s. For a stretch of September, we enjoyed 85 degree days with sunshine. Now, in October, it has snowed. Twice.
I am always amazed at how different the same weather conditions feel to different people and at different times. One Christmas, visiting family near St. Louis, we were encouraging our son to play outside in the 45 degree sunshine. His Aunt, however, was cautioning the cousins to “come in from the cold”. I chuckled to myself, envisioning the folks in St. Paul who would be wearing shorts and drinking coffee outside in such a temperature. Likewise, the first 40-degree day in the fall feels frigid, while it is a joy in March.
No matter how a certain temperature feels to us, or how we feel about it, it has been assigned a number to which the red strip of mercury rises in any thermometer in the world. 80 degrees in Baghdad may be a cool breeze while 80 degrees in Northern Canada is a miracle. But 80 is still 80. Likewise, 40 in the spring and fall in the Midwest is the same number. We recognize that it is just our experience of the temperature which change.
This is true also of the Truths of our faith, and indeed certain moral truths contained in the Natural Law. It has always been wrong to steal from someone, for example. CS Lewis in Mere Christianity notes that a man caught stealing will not try to defend the act of stealing itself, but try and explain why the act he committed is not really stealing. Perhaps he was just borrowing, or taking money that was owed to him, or perhaps the one he was taking from didn’t need it as much as he did.
We have always had people who have committed bad acts and made excuses for it. Ever since the Fall, at least. But today we have a new phenomenon. Today people are committing bad acts and insisting they are not bad. Our Holy Father called this moral relativism. Moral relativism goes like this: what I believe is true for me, is true for me. You are free to believe whatever is true for you. It’s a big problem because it denies reality.
Let’s take moral relativism to the point of ridiculousness, going back to the weather for a moment. Personally, I hate cold weather. So, in March when it is still below freezing, I decide it is time to start gardening. Who cares if I’m in Minnesota? It’s March, for heaven’s sake! For me, spring starts in March. So, I go out in my cute new gardening boots and my spring rain coat and try to plant some seedlings. It’s kind of hard to dig into the frozen ground, but I persevere until the frostbite begins to set in through my flimsy gardening gloves. I come into the house bewildered. Why is this not working? It’s March! And for me, March means gardening. Maybe I have the wrong color gloves…
Ridiculous? Maybe. But that is what many people are doing today when they decide to toss moral absolutes out the window. Look at abortion. How many women are in anguish and have no idea why? They were told that they were having a simple procedure that would solve a problem. But yet, after the initial feeling of relief, they begin to be filled with anger, sadness and sometimes self-loathing. One post-abortive woman I know went to a psychologist to help deal with these feelings and when she brought up the abortion, he told her to “just get over it”. Abortion was “okay for me”, some of these women say, so this pain must not be coming from the abortion. So they figure it is others’ judgment of them, or the lack of a current relationship, or maybe that they are just simply a bad person. The wrong diagnosis prevents the right kind of healing. Once the women I described above realized what her real problem was, she found mercy and healing and is a great voice for women today.
If getting it wrong with moral issues is bad, getting it wrong in regard to God is even worse. There was a huge study done on youth and religion a few years back by researchers out of North Carolina. They found that the Christianity of teens, of most denominations, bore little resemblance to real Christianity. The researchers coined the term, “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”, meaning teens largely saw God as some far-off being who told them to be nice to each other and was on call for when they needed him.
This is a big problem. If Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, if no one comes to the Father except through him, what happens if you boil him down in to some hippie surfer dude or just my personal cosmic butler? Salvation is at stake, folks.
Further, since we are made in God’s image, if we get God wrong, we get the human person wrong. Back when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict pointed out that proper worship of the divine is necessary for healthy human life. We humans are wired for worship. If we don’t worship God, we will fall into the worship of perishable things, or worse, worship of ourselves. As these things are not the eternal source of goodness and life, they will always leave us feeling empty.
So today, even though it is October, I will try to accept the fact that there is snow on the ground in my back yard. Maybe I will even take the lead of my preschooler and fight moral relativism with a few snowballs.
Copyright 2009 Libby DuPont