In Defense of Relativism

03 February 2006

Austin Dacey, in one half of a pair of New York Times op-ed responses to Pope Benedict XVI’s new God-is-Love encyclical (the second written by Father Lorenzo Albacete), takes up an idea missing from “Deus Caritas Est”: Benedict’s pre-papal statements about the secular-humanist “dictatorship of relativism” which, the argument goes, rejecting moral absolutes, organizes its morality solely around selfish desires. But, Dacey writes, not only has the Church itself engaged in a bit of relativism, but linking relativism to “moral nihilism” is an false argument. “‘The pope has used the term ‘relativism’ to describe not only non-absolute standards, but also uncertain ones. The alternative to certainty, however, is not nihilism but the recognition of fallibility, the idea that even a very reasonable belief is not beyond question. If that’s all relativism means, then it is hardly the enemy of truth or morality….The important contrast is not between absolutism and relativism, as the pontiff would have it, but between secular values and their traditional religious alternatives.”

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