Sunday, September 25, 2011

Is it sin or "personal preference"? Why it's so hard to evangelize today.

When I posted "We are not dogs" a few weeks ago, I knew I wanted to showcase more gems from our holy, faithful priests. So today, even though I have not yet created my "Priests Speak" icon for this new little feature, ha ha, I want to present you with the priestly wisdom of Fr. John S. Grimm*. Thanks to Nicole C. at Mom and Then Some for bringing the words of her priest to my attention. 

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Fr. John S. Grimm
Holy Spirit Parish
New Castle, Delaware
September 2011

READINGS FOR SEPT. 4 23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME 
(Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10;
Matthew 18:15-20)



In his homily to begin the conclave of cardinals that would elect him pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said that the world was laboring under a “dictatorship of relativism.” By that he meant moral relativism specifically, the notion that moral truth is subjective, that is, totally dependent on one’s intention and external circumstances.

Moral relativism denies that any action is always wrong; moral choices are mere expressions of one’s feelings about certain behavior. Thus, actions that in previous generations were condemned as sinful are in our time considered a matter of personal preference, above all in the area of sexual morality.

Modernity’s embrace of moral relativism is not only a rejection of Catholic morality, but of the morality of all previous eras. For instance, the hearers of the Apostles knew and accepted an objective moral law called the natural law. And they knew that they failed to keep it, at least perfectly. As a result, the ancients knew they needed a savior and the Apostles’ message was experienced as “Good News.” But under the influence of moral relativism, modern people are told that there is no objective standard with which to make moral choices. In this setting, our Lord’s message that we must repent sounds strange to some people. They ask: repent from what? Recent popes have said that the modern world has lost its sense of what sin is. Without a sense that we are sinners, why do we need a redeemer?

Therefore, the church finds itself needing to preach the “bad news” that we are sinners in need of forgiveness before she can preach the Good News that Christ offers us forgiveness.

Today’s readings presuppose an objective moral order and man’s need for reconciliation with God and neighbor for failing to act in accordance with that order.

In the first reading, Ezekiel is appointed watchman for God’s holy people and instructed to warn the people when they stray from the path of holiness. Should he fail to warn them of their misdeeds, the guilt of their sins will fall upon him. St. Augustine taught that this duty to warn the faithful is now placed upon all the bishops and priests of the church. The preacher who fulfills this duty is likely to meet a cool reception in some quarters because of the relativism in our culture. Nonetheless, as the Holy Father taught in his 2009 encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”), the proclamation of the truth is an essential way of charity.

Our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel are similarly in conflict with the spirit of our times. One must believe in objective right and wrong in order to have the grounds to confront another with the injustice of his behavior; otherwise, it degenerates into a contest of wills. Moral relativism puts an end to moral dialogue since moral judgments are only expressions of one’s feelings.

Our Lord instructs us to do more than dialogue with others, we are to confront a brother or sister with his misbehavior if he falls into sin. This can only be done in a way pleasing to God if it is motivated by charity. Notice that if our brother offends us, we are to tell him about it, not everyone but him. Even if someone truly wrongs us, we must be mindful of not sinning through detraction, which is the revealing of our neighbor’s defects to others without a just cause.

As St. Paul in the second reading says: love does no evil to the neighbor. Paul means even when the neighbor has first done evil to us. All that we do is to be done for the sake of charity; when the church is forced by the sinner’s recalcitrance to “treat him as you would a gentile or tax collector,” this is done for a charitable purpose. The hope is that once made aware of his injustice he will repent and be healed.



*Fr. Grimm's article is found on page 20 










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241 comments:

  1. This is good stuff! I especially like the way he informs us about what the popes have been teaching.

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  2. I completely agree. It is very difficult to have a conversation about Christianity with someone when they have this mindset. Forgiveness and the resurrection mean nothing when sin is relative.

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  3. I don't think all this moral relativism is working out too well. So many people are hurting in their hearts.

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  4. I read this a couple of weeks ago in the Dialog (the newspaper for the Diocese of Wilmington), and I thought it was a really smart piece. It's not easy to have a conversation about important issues with loved ones when moral relativity hasn't just changed, but completely erased the rules of the game.

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  5. We have become such a "me" society: it's all about how we FEEL and as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. This is the escape-clause for moral relativism and is very dangerous. It tells us that there isn't a right and wrong...just a perception. And people really believe this today...

    DD

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  6. I would partially disagree with this statement:"Recent popes have said that the modern world has lost its sense of what sin is." Or rather I disagree with what the popes surmise.

    It seems to me that we, as a society, are now very concerned with deceit, slavery, torture etc. I would say we are less concerned about sexual matters, although we are more willing to expose sexual deviance in the media, particularly of our politicians and media stars.

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  7. DD, how would you characterize our national concern over bullying? I think this is entirely an advancement along moral lines. I know many kids who were bullied years ago, and many adults and teachers took the approach of looking the other way or doling out minimal disciplinary actions. Today we know the serious damage that bullying inflicts on children. I am so heartened to know that teachers and parents are working to deal with this problem. I don't see this as exemplification of a "Me" society.

    Could you elaborate on what specific sins you are talking about that are worse that years ago?

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  8. Also....Our worldwide progress on abolishing the death penalty as shown a trajectory of hope (despite some setbacks in the late 1970's in the U.S.). I see this as a clear focus on absolute morals, not on moral relativism.

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  9. mary, regarding bullying, the moral issue at hand is not that we're more moral because there is more focus on bullying, but that we're more morally relative because these days the bullying is far more intense and dangerous than it used to be. That's where the moral lines have been blurred. What kids do nowadays is heinous, and never would have even been thought of in the past. Not to mention, and I've even found this in personal experience, that parents don't side with the school/teachers anymore...they always side with their children and never believe their kids could do such a thing, which of course blurs the moral lines for the kids. They're not told, "What you did to that child was wrong!"

    And regarding the death penalty, can we really say that the attempt to abolish the death penalty is making us more moral, when at the same time abortion rates on innocent children are rising and world organizations (the UN for example) are fighting to make abortion a "human right"???

    http://www.c-fam.org/fridayfax/volume-14/un-official-says-abortion-is-a-human-right,-secretary-general-endorses-report.html

    I would argue that the former does not outweigh the latter.

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  10. Mary, maybe it helps to think of the loss of sin this way: Moral relativists are concerned with what they see as "social sin", i.e, the sin of "societies" not personal sin. We have utterly lost the sense of personal sin, i.e., "I have sinned and I must repent and turn back to God by amending my ways." Miss Gwen has admitted that the concept of "sin" is nothing she thinks of, other than something like "that ice cream was sinfully good". The "sins" of the left are not their own, and they are not "real". It's more like: "We are using the wrong kind of lightbulbs!" or "Smoking will no longer be tolerated!" or "society is [in general of course] racist, sexist and homophobic!"

    But the sense of "I am a liar, I am a cheater, I am have spoken calumny against another, I am guilty of sexual impurity, etc." (i.e., personal sin) and the need to repent and turn away from sin and toward virtue is almost unheard of! People don't even believe in personal sin anymore.

    That is what the priest and the Pope are talking about. In my experience, they are spot on.

    Thoughts?

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  11. Mary, another way to think of it:

    It used to be that when someone was having sex out of wedlock, for example, they had a sense of the sin. They knew it was sin and either were ashamed on some level but did it anyway, or said something to themselves like, "Yeah, I know it's a sin, but too bad! I'm gonna do it anyway."

    They didn't deny the sin of it, they just went ahead.

    Today, it's this: "I am not doing anything wrong. This is right for me! You have your truth, I have mine."

    No sense of sin at all.

    As far as the death penalty, again, you are talking about "social sin" that is a "sin" of a society. First problem: Do you know anyone who has personally executed anyone? Secondly, the death penalty is not intrinsically evil (although in the age of greater technology is almost never necessary in a society like ours).

    But at base, we are saying "our society sins" (and those sins are not necessarily sins), but not "I, myself, personally, am a great sinner". This is the loss of a sense of sin.

    Do you know anyone in any of your secular or lapsed Catholic circles of friends or colleagues who feel the need to get to confession, repent of their personal sins and amend their own personal lives? I didn't see any when I was living my life prior to my own reversion. I really didn't. Quite the opposite.

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  12. I'll echo Leila's comments regarding past vs. present sexual sin. I have family members a generation above me who got pregnant out of wedlock. They knew it was wrong, were ashamed, and didn't expect the rest of us to throw parties, be excited for them, or act like nothing was wrong. They grew up quickly, did the responsible thing, and got right with The Big Guy.

    Fast forward to some of my family members today who are either pregnant out of wedlock or cohabitating before marriage. They all expect, and believe they're entitled to baby/wedding showers, gifts, and an abundance of "congratulations!" from the rest of us. And those who don't necessarily pile on the merriment, because we have objective morals (gasp!), are inevitably labeled the judgmental bad guys.

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  13. I love how the internet makes it easier for us to hear and see homilies from all over the country! My priest posts his each week on his blog, in case I go to Mass somewhere else or especially like a point I want to read over again!

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  14. You are the second person I have heard this term from today: "dictatorship of relativism."

    That's what it is isn't it!

    Thanks Leila and Nicole for sharing that.

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  15. It seems to me that we, as a society, are now very concerned with deceit, slavery, torture etc.

    DD, how would you characterize our national concern over bullying?

    Mary, what you say above is sort of my point. We look at "society's" sins and think that we are "evolving morally". But we have lost all sense of personal sin (i.e., I, personally, am a great sinner, in need of repentance, and in need of a redeemer).

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  16. And these "societal sins" that Leila talks about tend to change rapidly based on changing laws and legislation, and the popular prevailing cultural attitude (I remember one pro-abortion atheist commenter on here admitting that if abortion were made illegal, she'd have to re-evaluate the morality of it!). If that doesn't scream "relativity," I don't know what does! Same goes with the issues you mentioned: deceit, slavery, and torture. Remember, slavery was once legal and considered moral by many.

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  17. This is so true and relevant.

    I wonder, for those that disagree, what is your definition of sin? Where does sin come from? And what actions/thoughts are sinful?

    I think relativism is so prevalent today because so many are unable to answer these questions.

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  18. I agree with everything that's been said, and I was referring to personal sin. So many young people today think abortion is fine...for whatever the reason, since it's legal. They think sex before marriage and living with someone before marriage is acceptable because society has accepted it. And as far a bullying, that's something that has also increased dramatically over the past several years and kids seem to think it's ok to persecute other kids who are "different." Just because we hear of society's response to it, doesn't mean there is less of it.

    DD

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  19. Ugh, I'm slogging through papers from a recent exam in a college class I teach and "poorly written" doesn't even come close to describing over half of the essays I've read thus far. What's sinful is letting students go through life thinking that "Dude. Ouch." is a complete sentence on a formal essay for a test in a college class.

    I have my work cut out for me. sigh.

    -gwen

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  20. Gwen, you and I totally, utterly and completely agree on that!!! It makes me so sad!!! Sigh.

    Can we discuss education reform? ;)

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  21. DD said, "And as far a bullying, that's something that has also increased dramatically over the past several years and kids seem to think it's ok to persecute other kids who are "different.""

    Sorry, but I taught high school and I disagree with this statement. Some kids do think this, and some kids did years ago, but many many kids today DO NOT think this is OK.

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  22. Mary, I have to disagree. In my experience (and I was a public school kid) there was bullying. But nothing like what we see today. The all out brawls on school buses, targeted, and soooo violent. And in the hallways (my good friend's son, who is my son's friend, saw a girl beat another girl so bad in the hallway of their public high school that one girl was hospitalized because she bit off her tongue. There is so much more violence and bullying now. Evil, evil. And simultaneously, you have administrations (not everywhere, but many places) who do not discipline anymore. The kids run the schools. And the parents side with the kids instead of the teachers, as Nicole said! My brother-in-law was a principle of a high school for years (a charter school) and the stories he tells, oh my! And the parents are the worst when they back up their horrific, criminal-element children. Sad, sad.

    I don't see that there is a sense of personal sin there at all.

    Do you get what we were saying about a sense of personal sin vs. "societal sins"?

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  23. Gwen, that's hilarious! And tragic all at the same time :)

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  24. I totally get what Nicole is saying. When women, or teens for that matter, get pregnant out of wedlock now, I am stunned to hear of lavish baby showers and parties being thrown. I am often shocked about all the pictures on FB of the mother, newborn baby, and boyfriend, cozying up together in the maternity ward. If I dare say anything (because it is obviously recognizable on my face) I am met with remarks such as "What, aren't you glad she didn't have an abortion?"

    Of course I'm estatically joyfull this woman did not have an abortion. But it still doesn't take away the sense of sin, the wrong part of "right and wrong." I guess I expect people to take more accountability for their sins, not act like having a baby is one big ole party, and show some maturity. It seems to set a precedence to the other children that it is okay to have sex before marriage and that we will not only be supportive of you, we will throw big parties.

    I guess I don't understand where our society's sense of shame has gone. And I don't mean scrupulous guilt or shame, I mean the good kind that we are born with to let us know right from wrong.

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  25. Schools are unsafe. I think doctors are concerned about bullying because they don't want children to end up committing suicide. My children will often get many bully related questions at the pediatrician.

    But at the school, no way. Parents and teachers look the other way and it is worse depending on what school you go to. Our first real brush was when my son was in 5th grade on a field trip and one girl punched another girl out over calling her a name.

    It starts at 1st grade, and just escalates. Some teachers I know have had to switch fields because of having their heads bashed in and it is never the child's fault!!

    Believe me, this is something that I struggle with because there are real bully, behavioral problem kids that will be physically abuse and nothing would be done (this is at public school) yet my son, on the autism spectrum, would get no help. It's as if the more behavioral the problem, the more the child gets away with it!!!

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  26. Nicole,
    I agree with you that the rise of abortion is a bad thing. However, abortion and infanticide were practiced for millennia. I am merely pointing out that progress has been made in some quarters, so to say that we are living in world of total moral relativism is not true.

    The article said, "Modernity’s embrace of moral relativism is not only a rejection of Catholic morality, but of the morality of all previous eras." I personally do not think the morality of all previous eras was so fabulous. I think we have made huge strides in some quarters, slid in others. But I do not make huge, sweeping judgements about morality as a whole on the increase or on the decline.

    Curious...other than abortion and sexual sin, in which areas have we accepted moral relativism?

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  27. Gwen - I totally agree with you (and commiserate as well)!

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  28. Leila said:
    "Do you know anyone who has personally executed anyone? Secondly, the death penalty is not intrinsically evil (although in the age of greater technology is almost never necessary in a society like ours)."

    I do not. And I am certain that the death penalty is intrinsically evil. Do some people do such heinous things that it seems they should die for them? Probably yes, but that is for God to decide. In this country we have executed people who were innocent, and even have mentally retarded individuals on death row.

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  29. NewRiverMommy...some schools are unsafe. I taught at safe schools and unsafe schools. My friend the Indian guy is now almost 40. When he was at school many years ago, it was unsafe. When I took my teacher training years ago, we read of many accounts of violence in the classrooms of city schools in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

    Watch the first five minutes of this talk, to realize that, at least in terms of the violence perpetrated against born persons, we are doing much better than our predecessors.
    http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_on_the_myth_of_violence.html

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  30. Leila, you said, "But we have lost all sense of personal sin (i.e., I, personally, am a great sinner, in need of repentance, and in need of a redeemer). "

    I think people who do not believe in God do not beleive in a redemmer at all, but still might recognize that they are not perfect, have serious flaws, and repeatedly fail to be all they think they should be.

    I.e., they might think they need to be redeemed, but do not need a redeemer. They think they should redeem themselves.

    Regarding sexual sins, which seems to be the ones people focus on here, I think most secular people have come to the conclusion that sex is not about sin; it is about being "safe". If you do have a baby out of wedlock, then people expect you to take care of that child and love him or her. They do not see it as a moral failing, rather they see it as a lapse of judgement or planning.

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  31. "Curious...other than abortion and sexual sin, in which areas have we accepted moral relativism?"

    How about gluttony? Sloth? Envy? Greed?

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  32. I guess this is as good a place as any to jump back into things. :)

    They knew it was sin and either were ashamed on some level but did it anyway, or said something to themselves like, "Yeah, I know it's a sin, but too bad! I'm gonna do it anyway."

    I think Leila hit the nail on the head with this statement. In a world where we have become "esteemophobic" - that is to say, so fearful of ruining our own and our children's self-esteem - that we have taken the shame out of sinful behavior. Sinful behavior IS shameful and should be called such.

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  33. Gwen, I can only hope you're kidding that "Dude. Ouch." appeared on a paper you're grading (although I know you're not. Ugh).

    Mary, you said, "However, abortion and infanticide were practiced for millennia."

    Certainly they were practiced, but they haven't always been socially accepted like they are today. And the link about the UN I posted earlier (abortion is a "human right") proves that even though the majority of Americans are shifting to the pro-life side, the people with power are shifting more towards the other.

    I saw first-hand the shift towards relativism among young people when I worked the Genocide Awareness Project at our local university last year. The arguments for legal abortion that I would hear were staggeringly relative. Of course the students would argue that if the child was going to have a "crappy life" anyway, then it should be killed. Aaahhh...I didn't realize all you affluent, almost all white, college-educated kids had been made the arbiters of crappy lives! Isn't the idea of "crappy life" even extremely relative??? I could write a book about what I experienced there and the pervasive moral relativity I witnessed at that event alone.

    You also said, "I.e., they might think they need to be redeemed, but do not need a redeemer. They think they should redeem themselves."

    Doesn't this blow the door wide open for people to have their own opinions (ie: relative) about what they need to be redeemed, and what actions in the first place require redemption??

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  34. @Leila

    Excellent topic! Ironically I have been thinking about this very topic for a while now.

    I have certainly fallen into this trap myself from time to time... But I also have problems with its implementation, even within the Church.

    I have a copy of the Catechism, I consider myself reasonably educated for a layperson and genuinely interested in understanding.

    You yourself stated in a previous comment that the death penalty is not inherently immoral. Yet I find myself really unable to reconcile what I read in the Gospel with that notion. I also find it very difficult to reconcile the Church's "Just War" policy as well.

    I will not claim to be a Church historian, but I do not see how we go from Jesus in the Gospel to the State can kill people and fight wars WITHOUT resorting to moral relativism.... "Turn the other cheek... except and unless..." "Beat your swords into plowshares and love your enemies... except and unless..."

    This is a serious question for me.

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  35. Nicholas, welcome! The Church has always held that captial punishment is not intrinsically immoral and neither are just wars.

    Self-defense against an aggressor has always been morally licit, on a personal or a national scale. So, a just war is one that is a defensive war, defending citizens against an aggressor bent on destroying citizens and a nation.

    The only legitimate use of capital punishment is protection of the citizenry, not vengeance. As we've noted, it is not generally necessary (esp. in these United States) to execute violent criminals, as we have the means to keep the public safe in other ways (strong, safe prisons, no possibility of parole).

    But it is the defensive nature of the "just war" and the very rare but legitimately exercised capital punishment that makes those actions licit.

    I hope that helps!

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  36. Well, I mean I understand the rationale... but isn't that at least in a minor way, also relativism?

    When Jesus speaks in the Gospels it is in a powerfully direct tone. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Isn't that as explicit a condemnation of capital punishment as you can find?

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  37. I think people who do not believe in God do not beleive in a redemmer at all, but still might recognize that they are not perfect, have serious flaws, and repeatedly fail to be all they think they should be.

    But it's not just people who don't believe in God who have lost a sense of sin (personal sin). It's Christians and Catholics, too. And all stripes. Even believers like to think, as you mentioned, "Oh, I just made a 'mistake' when I had that affair. Or it was a 'lapse in judgment'."

    But no! It was a lapse in judgment when I dumped coffee in my lap. Now that was a mistake. But the affair (or the greed, or the gluttony, or the vanity) is a moral failure. A sin. Not a mistake, a sin.

    That is my point. Society rejects the concept of personal sin, including those who identify as Christians.

    PS: The other clue that we've lost our sense of sin is the grave sinner (usually sinning publicly and causing some scandal) saying confidently: "But I'm a good person."

    Whereas the saints knew very well that they were sinners.

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  38. Nicolas, no, because the adulteress was not an aggressor against those who wanted to kill her. And Jesus' whole point there was to say that the woman in sin was worthy of redemption (You are forgiven, Go and sin no more), and that none of us is free of our own sin. So take the plank out of our own eye first.

    But they were not about to stone her as a defensive act against an aggressor, so that is not a proper analogy.

    Remember that we don't (as Protestants do) just pick up the Scriptures and interpret them ourselves. Scripture comes from the Church and is only interpreted within the light of the Church and the Deposit of Faith. And the understanding that we can defend our lives from aggressors has been there from the beginning of the Church, even before the New Testament (compiled by the Church) was canonized, three hundred plus years after Christ founded the Church.

    We can trust the Church on these issues. Defense against an aggessor is always okay. The adulteress was not out to do violence against anyone that was standing over her.

    Does that make sense?

    Off to get kids now. Be back when I can.

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  39. By the way, relativism says there is no truth, only circumstances, feelings and opinions. Relativism would say that objective truth is not objective truth. That there is no one "truth".

    The Deposit of Faith and the moral law are one Truth. They are unchanging, no matter what anyone thinks of them.

    It is not relativistic to say that "one can licitly defend oneself against an aggressor." That statement itself is a statement of objective truth.

    There is no intrinsic prohibition against any and all killing. But there is an intrinsic prohibition against murder. There is a distinction.

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  40. I.e., they might think they need to be redeemed, but do not need a redeemer. They think they should redeem themselves.

    But why do they need redemption? Redemption is from sin for salvation. If they don't believe in attaining heaven, why would they feel the need to be redeemed? And how would a person redeem himself, by what standard? For Catholics, we know where that bar is set. If I had to set my own bar, I guarantee, it would move depending on lots of variables. In Catholicism, there is a secure, non-moving target, and we can never hit the mark w/o the grace from Christ.

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  41. Manda said, "Sloth, Gluttony, Greed".

    Can you elaborate? How has this become morally relative?

    Since Americans work more hours than most other industrialized nations, I find it hard to accept that we have become soft on Sloth.


    Read this, and be surprised:
    http://20somethingfinance.com/american-hours-worked-productivity-vacation/

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  42. Hmmm...
    Leila said, "But it's not just people who don't believe in God who have lost a sense of sin (personal sin). It's Christians and Catholics, too. And all stripes. Even believers like to think, as you mentioned, "Oh, I just made a 'mistake' when I had that affair. Or it was a 'lapse in judgment'." "

    I really don't see this all the time. From politicians and actors, yes, but real people? My cafeteria Catholic friends refer to their mistakes as sins sometimes. I certainly do about many things. My poor sister is plagued by a sin she committed years ago, despite going to confession. They don't see everything as a sin though, as they reject the Catholic teaching on birth control and homosexuality.

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  43. 311. What is sloth?

    A. Sloth is a laziness of the mind and body, through which we neglect our duties on account of the labor they require.

    Q. 312. What effect has sloth upon the soul?

    A. Sloth begets in the soul a spirit of indifference in our spiritual duties and a disgust for prayer.

    Acedia or spiritual sloth goes so far as to refuse the joy that comes from God and to be repelled by divine goodness.

    I'd say there's no shortage of sloth in America. It doesn't necessarily have to do with a work ethic.

    Infact, it plainly means lazy, sluggish, inactive. We Americans might work long hours, but we certainly don't lack in the lazy leisure department.

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  44. "Manda said, "Sloth, Gluttony, Greed".

    Can you elaborate? How has this become morally relative?"

    If you need me to elaborate, then I think the point of the post has been proven. But I digress.

    Gluttony: Americans do not eat to live, but live to eat. This is not seen as a bad thing, but it's painted as a good thing by advertisers and accepted by us consumers. In America we are dying from eating too much, and it might be looked at by the public as sad or gross, but not as sinful.

    Envy: Keeping up with the Jones' can be seen by turning on the television and watching, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and Real Housewives of_____. Turn the television channel to E! entertainment and vanity is praised, the latest fashions are worshipped,etc.

    Idolatry is rampant everywhere you look and it's not seen as a bad thing by most. The latest phones and technology are sought after and families sit in the same room and don't speak, but play on their phones, downloading the latest apps.

    Greed: People are discouraged from having more kids and instead encouraged to buy more material things, the latest and greatest and best of everything.

    The government encourages sloth, as well, with increased entitlements and prolonged welfare programs. I know a couple who live together (unmarried, beside the point) and neither of them have a job. They live off of entitlements and get paid to go to college by the government. They have one kid already, and one more on the way and they don't seem to have the drive for anything more. To them, it's part of their entitlement, their rights. If you look at the recent episodes in London where people rioted and said on camera that they were doing it because they were oppressed by the rich, you can see that the lack of self awareness or self-responsibility is spreading.

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  45. "I really don't see this all the time. From politicians and actors, yes, but real people? My cafeteria Catholic friends refer to their mistakes as sins sometimes. I certainly do about many things."

    I think the point is that many Christians and Catholics are subscribing to moral relativism when they decide something is not a sin by rationalizing it to their own circumstances. For example, recently in my Catholic women's bible study one of the ladies began talking about how she lost a child due to a birth defect soon after the baby was born...then she had problems getting pregnant, so she had IVF and twins. She said it so matter-of-factly and with a bright smile on her face, as surely those twins of hers bring great joy to her life. Perhaps she didn't realize that IVF is considered to by immoral by the Church, because fertilized eggs are destroyed, frozen, experimented on, etc., but most of the ladies in this bible study are pretty well versed in Church teachings, so perhaps she also thought that since her situation was "special" she didn't need to adhere to that teaching...it was relative and for her it was right.

    Mary, I guess since you left the Catholic Church there is no objective standard that you abide by, so maybe it's difficult for you to see where we're coming from with this? When it comes to what is moral and what is immoral, Catholics don't see a gray area. There is no pass for abortion in cases of rape and incest...we say, you cannot murder another human being no matter what your particular circumstances.

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  46. Manda said, "If you look at the recent episodes in London where people rioted and said on camera that they were doing it because they were oppressed by the rich, you can see that the lack of self awareness or self-responsibility is spreading. "

    There are no cameras in my neighborhood or town, where everyone gets in their car at 6:30 AM and starts on the long commute to the city (well, not everyone) but, boy...there ain't too much sloth around here. I know lots of people with two jobs! The bulk of their income does not go to gadgets...it goes to insurance, food, mortgage, taxes, healthcare, child expenses and transportation! Gadgets are a pittance.

    And, while there are folks who should exercise more, I see our problems with obesity as partially environmental. As recently as 50 years ago, many many people lived on farms. They did rigorous labor as part of their work day. They did not need to build exercise in!
    Also, people that lived near cities, walked everywhere or took trolleys. The car manufacturers actually bought up the trolleys and removed the tracks in some cities! Now we have a society based around the car. Walking as a mode of transportation is practically nonexistent.

    Go to Holland. There are virtually no obese people. Why? They bike there as a means of commuting. Their infrastructure was developed pre-car, so it is walk/bike friendly.

    How many of you wash your clothes by hand and wring them out with a hand roller and hang them to dry every time? Think of the labor in this...are you telling me it is a sin of sloth to use the washing machine?

    I must live in a very different place than you, if you think most people are slothful.

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  47. Mary,
    The health and fitness of our nation is horrid. Last I checked, America was 9th for obesity, that's an older study, we may be ranked higher by now. Our portion control is way too large, our diet choices are unhealthy, and most Americans are spectators more than movers/athletic types. American child obesity is out of control.

    But sloth, spiritually speaking, is in direct opposition to charity. It's not just about physical fitness or financial ambition.

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  48. Manda, I agree with the teaching on abortion. But, Leila posted this decrying the RISE of moral relativism as compared to "all previous eras", and I would say that people are rejecting the church teaching on certain matters (sexual things mostly), because they think the Church is not infallible on such matters (if they think it through that far, some just go for the donuts, as I have discussed previously), but that many other people are becoming more moral (decline of violence, giving the vote to women, abhorrence of slavery and torture etc). I don't think people used to go around saying, "Oh, well, I know being racist is a sin, or owning slaves is a sin, but I am doing it anyway." I think they used to rationalize it just like people rationalize sexual behavior today.

    From your example, it would be better if that woman cried in front of you all talking about how she sinned using IVF, went to confession and felt contrite, then went on loving her kids, and telling other people not to do IVF like she did. In this particular instance, I agree, as IVF can lead to abortion, but I hardly think people who killed and tortured and cheated and bullied years and years ago all did so with an overwhelming sense of shame.

    Instead of talking about the rise of moral relativism across the board, I would say, what you are really noticing is people rejecting the Catholic Church's teaching on sexual morality.

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  49. Nubby, I agree with you! But it is not just sloth (or to keep with the thread, the RISE of sloth) that is the only problem.

    People used to have NO CHOICE but to exercise all day every day. We have designed that out of our days, as the nature of work has changed. Now, you have to sit behind a desk for 9 hours a day on your behind to make a living. Not too many people are going to pay you a living wage to dig a ditch by hand. If you went back in time and gave your typical American farmer the choice to dig a ditch by hand for 9 hours or sit in the cab of a bulldozer, that guy would take the bulldozer. No more slothful than us.

    Gluttony...I will give you, but I think people used to be pretty gluttonous years ago, its just that they burned a lot of it off. Also, up until recently, we lived in relative calorie scarcity (we evolved in this environment). Now we have lots of calories around, but we still have the old genes that make us crave fat, sweet and salt. I have a friend that struggles mightily with this.

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  50. "Instead of talking about the rise of moral relativism across the board, I would say, what you are really noticing is people rejecting the Catholic Church's teaching on sexual morality."

    Ummm...no. There are plenty of people out there saying, "What is truth?" Just like Pontius Pilate asked Jesus. And there are plenty of people out there today (some called Atheists) who reject absolute truth. I recently posted a simple quiz on facebook about whether or not absolute truth exists, and a few of my Atheist friends were drawn to it bc they do not think absolute truth does exist...and they claimed the quiz was full of logical fallacies. But in a world where absolute truth does not exist, what are logical fallacies but someone's opinion? This philosophy creeps into all areas of life. Sexual morality is the most talked about and right now the hot topic is gay marriage. Not long ago sodomy was considered a crime. Now there are gay pride parades. The other sins are just as prevalent, if not more so. It has just gotten so bad that it's unrecognizable to many.

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  51. Manda said, "In America we are dying from eating too much, and it might be looked at by the public as sad or gross, but not as sinful."

    Actually, I would partially disagree with this. In the circles I run in, being fat is considered a moral failing. Women are CONSTANTLY berating themselves for every jiggle, every pound. I know perfectly nice folks who look at very obese people with utter disgust and think of them as committing horrid sin.

    Being a former bulimic, I got to know lots of morbidly obese people in support groups, and I am very sympathetic to them and their struggles with food. I used to fear them, and now I know how many of them suffer.

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  52. Manda,
    How are these people ACTING that shows that they are internalizing the doctrine of moral relativism (other than sexual stuff)?

    Also..you look pretty young. Do you really think the world was more moral during all past eras?

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  53. I agree with Manda's latest comment. Mary, I think you're getting far too nuanced in this debate. The problem is a more overarching ideology that there is no absolute right or wrong on any issue, even the ones you're currently debating. It's all "up for discussion" and based on feelings. People will justify even torture (remember the atheist on this blog who justified torturing the small child in order to save 50 others?). It's happening everywhere, in every realm, on every issue - no objectivity. And it's not difficult to see!

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  54. "Actually, I would partially disagree with this. In the circles I run in, being fat is considered a moral failing. Women are CONSTANTLY berating themselves for every jiggle, every pound. I know perfectly nice folks who look at very obese people with utter disgust and think of them as committing horrid sin.

    Being a former bulimic, I got to know lots of morbidly obese people in support groups, and I am very sympathetic to them and their struggles with food. I used to fear them, and now I know how many of them suffer."

    Is it seen as a moral failure, or a failure to be "beautiful" as the world defines beauty? Are they trying to look like celebrities and models because that is what they think is attractive? Is it for vanity's sake that you were bulimic, or were you throwing up because that was your way of repentance?

    "How are these people ACTING that shows that they are internalizing the doctrine of moral relativism (other than sexual stuff)?"

    By saying they don't believe there is objective truth. By stating their philosophy is, 'live and let live.' "I'm not hurting anyone, so I'm not doing anything wrong" Moral apathy is rising, I'm sorry if you don't see it but I've seen it increase in my own lifetime, and moral apathy leads to the destruction of society.

    I see COEXIST signs popping up everywhere...this is lukewarm behavior. I don't love my neighbor enough to tell him that what he is doing is damaging to his soul. I'm not going to evangelize anyone, just coexist because what's true for me may not be true for you and that's A ok. Coexist because I just want some peace and quiet over here....

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  55. Nicholas,
    I will say that I have your same misgivings. I thought Leila answered pretty well, but I think capital punishment is totally immoral in the United States today. I do not begrudge the victim's relatives the desire for revenge, but the state must take the upper hand.

    If our nation was attacked, we can respond. But things get muddy. How on earth was Iraq a just war? Afghanistan seems more moral, given the situation, but still...the Soviets and their mighty army tried to subdue that country for ten years to no avail, and we have now been there for ten years...it will not end. It seems the issue has just moved to Pakistan...will we attack them next? Is it even just to attack a state when a non-state entity (Al Queda) is the aggressor? I really don't know.

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  56. I was a bulimic for myriad reasons, some of which I do not even fully understand today. I know it is very hard to understand this, but it is actually addictive...I relate very well to former addicts, although the stinking thinking is totally gone (it took a long time after the behavior stopped to stop the thought patterns). It was more of a stress release, self-medication for depression and anxiety, and an overwhelming control/fear issue. Some vanity, but I have always been very skinny, so not the way you might think.

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  57. Manda, I will ask you again, how are their actions revealing moral relativism? Are they cheating on exams? Are they gossiping? Are they lying on their tax forms? Are they verbally abusing their spouse?

    I really don't consider this an action "By saying they don't believe there is objective truth. By stating their philosophy is, 'live and let live.' "I'm not hurting anyone, so I'm not doing anything wrong"

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  58. About bulimia (for lurkers) I forgot to mention that I came of age during the "Golden Age of Eating Disorders", so it was also a bit of an epidemic. Also...the "No Fat" mantra for nutrition was also in vogue, which is the worst advice you can give anyone. Fat in the diet is necessary and good for mental health...many of us were literally starving ourselves insane.

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  59. I see those COEXIST signs too. I think they can also mean the people accept that others have different religious creeds than they do, but that they do not consider them adversaries. When I see that sign, I am glad there is a cross in it. It hopefully means that the driver is not a Christianaphobe.

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  60. Nicole,
    Show me how this was different 200 years ago? Again, everyone sees us getting MORE morally relative across the board. More implies that we were less so "in all previous eras" to quote the article. I just cannot agree with that! Yes, in some sexual areas we are getting lax (some I don't have a problem with) but in many others we are getting better. Really!

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  61. Nubby, I agree with you! But it is not just sloth (or to keep with the thread, the RISE of sloth) that is the only problem.

    People used to have NO CHOICE but to exercise all day every day. We have designed that out of our days, as the nature of work has changed. Now, you have to sit behind a desk for 9 hours a day on your behind to make a living. Not too many people are going to pay you a living wage to dig a ditch by hand. If you went back in time and gave your typical American farmer the choice to dig a ditch by hand for 9 hours or sit in the cab of a bulldozer, that guy would take the bulldozer. No more slothful than us.



    Mary,

    It's not slothful to make work easier (as in your bulldozer example). It's only slothful in that a person grows to despise work, and spiritually speaking, to despise anything like prayer or meditation on the Lord.

    It's great that modern advancements make work easier, but now what do we do with this extra time on our hands? We use it selfishly. We shop, we eat, we do this and that, and God is no priority.


    Again, though, the point is that our culture has gotten so far from God, in thought or in action, that even Sundays, which are supposed to be a day of rest in the Lord (not of sloth) have just become a day where people lie around and cure their hangover, or spend all day in front of the tv, or overspend and overconsume material items. That is slothful in that those behaviors are all self-centered. There is definitely a decline of resting in the Lord, meditating on His word, doing works of mercy. I fail in this regard as much as the next person, but as a whole our culture certainly does not support or even condone this kind of "rest". It supports selfish leisure, but not truly resting in the Lord. How many of us remember Sunday dinners with the whole family, or at least with our immediate family? Who can say that's as prevalent nowadays?

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  62. I know lots of people who go to church (my church and others) and lots who don't, but you said that people should be "doing works of mercy". I know lots of people who volunteer, and it seems that volunteerism is up:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/28/AR2009072800540.html.

    Maybe more Christians should spend more time in prayer, but I had never heard of this as being related to sloth. I guess I did not know it was a sin akin to "not keeping the Sabbath."

    Again, I think drunkenness, shopping, leisure-time activities etc. were prevalent years ago. My family does get together Sundays, but we live close. I know others that get together for friend Sunday dinners regularly. You don't know people who do this? I guess it is self-centered to have family get-togethers if you enjoy them, but at least they are family-centered.

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  63. "Manda, I will ask you again, how are their actions revealing moral
    relativism? Are they cheating on exams? Are they gossiping? Are they
    lying on their tax forms? Are they verbally abusing their spouse?"

    Mary, I'm not gonna go into all of the various sins that certain
    individuals may/may not be guilty of. I've got some new sins on my
    soul since I took the Eucharist yesterday so I'll think on those for
    now. The point is that moral relativism means that you don't think
    sin EXISTS. People on this blog, and people I know personally have
    stated that they do not believe sin exists, they believe it is a
    religious term and as long as they are not harming someone else, they
    are fine.

    This means morality is subjective on ANY subject. It can change.
    There is now a show in TLC called, Sister Wives. It's promoting
    polygamous marriage, and paving the way for the next movement in the
    redefinition of marriage. There was an article in our local paper
    today about a man upset over some homework his daughter was given
    which also promotes polygamous marriage. It's coming. I realize this
    is another 'sexual sin' but those are the ones we can regulate and
    recognize in the public square. You can't regulate gossip, or lying,
    etc. So you can't say the non-sexual sins aren't more prevalent
    because we don't criminalize many of the other sins like gluttony,
    sloth, etc.

    When you subscribe to the philosophy of moral relativism, who is to
    say that lying on your tax forms is wrong? Or gossiping? The person
    you are gossiping about won't know so they won't be hurt.

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  64. I know others that get together for friend Sunday dinners regularly. You don't know people who do this? I guess it is self-centered to have family get-togethers if you enjoy them, but at least they are family-centered.

    Just to clear up the confusion:
    It is a good and blessed thing to get together for Sundays with family and friends to celebrate a meal and good company. For Catholics, Sunday is a feast day. Every Sunday is a feast day, we ought to be getting together for huge family dinners, to celebrate that He is risen.

    My point on that score was that people don't necessarily spend their Sundays celebrating anything besides football (and I'm a football fan, so I know how Sundays can easily go), or some other selfish leisure activity that isn't a sin in itself, it's just not exactly giving the Lord His due, if you will.

    Being slothful means that we are indifferent to our spiritual duties, even grow to detest them.

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  65. Mary, the point isn't that sin didn't EXIST 200 or 2000 or however many eras ago. The point is that people realized it. I think we can simply look at historical culture to see this. More people believed in a higher authority. Discipline was not only more common, it was expected. Unlike today, as I mentioned earlier, kids aren't disciplined and parents almost always side with their kids instead of schools because "my kid would NEVER do anything wrong!"

    Again - we're not trying to argue that past eras were less sinful. Just that they actually recognized their sinful behavior, and as Leila said earlier, either did it anyway, or sought redemption. Today that sinful behavior "doesn't exist" and therefore no need for redemption.

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  66. I wish there was a like button on individual comments. I feel like Nicole just said what I couldn't, and this paragraph from Leila's post is sort of the point of what we're arguing right now:

    "Modernity’s embrace of moral relativism is not only a rejection of Catholic morality, but of the morality of all previous eras. For instance, the hearers of the Apostles knew and accepted an objective moral law called the natural law. And they knew that they failed to keep it, at least perfectly. As a result, the ancients knew they needed a savior and the Apostles’ message was experienced as “Good News.” But under the influence of moral relativism, modern people are told that there is no objective standard with which to make moral choices. In this setting, our Lord’s message that we must repent sounds strange to some people. They ask: repent from what? Recent popes have said that the modern world has lost its sense of what sin is. Without a sense that we are sinners, why do we need a redeemer?"

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  67. I get it Manda, but again, the man stated "Modernity’s embrace of moral relativism is not only a rejection of Catholic morality, but of the morality of all previous eras."

    I categorically reject the notion that the morality of previous eras was superior to ours today. In many ways, I think the modern world is more moral than previous eras for even caring about a litmus test for "if nobody gets hurt." Today, in the United States, people notice if someone gets hurt (the unborn a sad exception...but I think we are making progress there too...finally).

    BTW...is there a prohibition in the bible against plural marriage? I thought it was common.

    Also...bringing up plural marriage is, in my mind the right way to go about conversing with active homosexuals. Because, as I see it, plural marriage has much more in common with homosexual marriage than pedophilia (Leila and others always connect the two). It seems, that to be consistent, homosexual marriage proponents should support plural marriage.

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  68. Nicole,
    Two points. I guess you didn't read all the comments (not a dig...there are a lot!) but I fully know sin did exist, but I said before that people were not running around beating their slaves (or owning slaves) and running to confession. They sinned openly and without remorse because...just like today...they invented their own morality to fit their needs.

    Also..Nicole, please read some of the terrible, horrible history of child abuse not only in this country, but the world over. To think that things were better years ago, tells me you are not aware that children were routinely beaten, molested, starved, prostituted or hired out. As early as 1874 there was no child protection services, and abused children went to the humane society for help! Are some parents negligent today? Yes., but I prefer it to what we had before. Most parents love and cherish their children, and when they do not, they are punished for it.

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  69. Mary, after catching up, I do think you are missing the main point. There was a disposition of the heart in the past that was a sense that one must answer to something (someone) higher. That one should do right for right's sake, not because it "felt good" and they "wanted to". There was a sense of knowing that to be honorable (even if one wasn't honorable!), one was to conform one's actions to what was (is) objectively right. It was our job to change, and to become "good". Now, did everyone become "good"? No! But the objective understanding was there.

    If you talk about someone today thinking that it's a "sin" to be obese, you likely don't mean that those women feel they are offending God in some way, and offending against a virtue (temperance). You likely mean (and correct me if I'm wrong) that (as Manda said?) it's a "sin" to be fat because there is a standard of vanity (a vice!) that hasn't been adhered to, and there is a social penalty for that.

    That is a far cry from the type of sin-repentance-redemption that has been the archetype from past eras and creeds and societies, etc.

    It's that sense of sin -- of personal sin, offense against God -- that is sorely lacking. I'll never forget that Ted Turner once told an interviewer that he helped the poor (and he stressed this!!) "BECAUSE IT MAKES ME FEEL GOOD, and NOT because any Bible tells me I have to."

    That is how we motivate our citizens now: Recycle because you will be doing something good for the planet, and you will feel good! And since sex makes people "feel good" that is one sin we can throw on the dust heap, since we are all about "feeling good", not conforming our acts to an objective standard of goodness, in obedience to a sovereign God.

    By the way, I do NOT agree that the world is more loving and less violent and less bloody today. Not by a longshot.

    Also, I don't agree that polygamy is more akin to homosexuality than pedophilia is to homosexuality. At least polygamy is "rightly ordered" in the sense that the attraction is male-female. That is still rightly ordered attraction, sexually. But to be attracted to the same sex? Not right order. And to be attracted to little children? Not right order. Those are disordered attractions. I hope that makes sense.

    Blessings!

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  70. Mary, all I can do is sigh. Yes...I've read all the comments. But I still don't feel like you're getting my point. You keep arguing with very specific examples of what sinful things people did many many years ago. I GET IT!! Again...I KNOW that people have been sinful since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden! And I know there have been eras of humanity that have been more sinful, and possibly even more morally relative that we are now. But we're talking recent history here.

    I don't know how else I can say that we're not trying to argue that people used to be all-around more moral - we're saying that in these modern times...we just don't care.

    Perhaps someone else can explain it better. I'm at a loss.

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  71. Leila,
    Where is your evidence that (as the article stated), "In all previous Eras" people had an overriding, "...sense of knowing that to be honorable (even if one wasn't honorable!), one was to conform one's actions to what was (is) objectively right"

    I just don't see it. Why won't anyone address the slavery question?

    Also, Leila, do you have any statistics to back up your idea that we are not less violent today? Try this: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_is_there_peace/

    It seems we have made great strides (again, excepting abortion, which is a terrible blight and I hope to change). The statistics are on the side of us getting better at controlling our violence (obviously not perfect by any stretch).
    "We also have very good statistics for the history of one-on-one murder, because for centuries many European municipalities have recorded causes of death. When the criminologist Manuel Eisner scoured the records of every village, city, county, and nation he could find, he discovered that homicide rates in Europe had declined from 100 killings per 100,000 people per year in the Middle Ages to less than one killing per 100,000 people in modern Europe."

    My argument is that people were just as morally relative in the past as they are today. Or, at the very least, their moral code did not prevent them from doing heinous things.

    Regarding Ted Turner...of course he would say that...he is an atheist! Are you saying that years ago, even atheists believed there was a higher authority?

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  72. "Or, at the very least, their moral code did not prevent them from doing heinous things."

    Yes!! This is exactly our point!!! They still did horrible things, but at least they had a moral code!

    Today it's like, "Well, I know people used to say X action is wrong, but my heart is telling me that it's actually not always wrong and since it makes me feel good, I'm going to go ahead and do it, so it's really a grey area and really, I'm the only judge of my own actions anyway....etc etc etc." We've "progressed" into this mushy area of not believing the heinous things we do are always morally and intrinsically wrong!

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  73. Catching up on this discussion, I think the point that is getting missed is that a rise in moral relativism does not have to equate to a wide shift in morality practice.

    So, the people in the past could well have been less moral than we are today, and it really wouldn't change the perception.

    Moral relativism is about belief, not acts. If I know it is wrong to murder, and I do it anyway vs. I think it is perfectly OK to murder, and do it. Both people committed the same sin, but the understanding and probably motivation are different.

    Now, when talking about things like murder, it probably really doesn't apply so much, but rather it is the smallest things that get swept under the rug. Much as I dislike the slippery slope analogy, that tends to be the real concern here. If X is OK, then Y and Z follow suit naturally.

    On the subject of polygamy making a comeback... I do not buy it. Shows like Sister-Wives and that ilk are presented as spectacle, not something the viewer aspires to or identifies with. The media is going to more and more outrageous spectacle because we are already getting desensitized to the Jersey Shore, Bad Girl's Club, and Real Housewives. Not to mention Hoarders, Intervention, and other shows that exploit the ill :-p The spectacle needs to be more outlandish.

    And even if there were a group of people promoting polygamy, it would fail horribly... The society at large appears unable to even maintain one marriage (divorce rates are what now?), how the heck do they expect to sustain multiple marriages? :-p

    Besides, the new trend in sexuality is independent of marriage. Polyamory is the new thing. Where you like, just love multiple people, men, women, etc. and have sex with them (not all together necessarily). I know a few people who are into that.

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  74. Nicole, I am sorry you are exasperated, but I sense that you did not get the main point of the article Leila listed! I read it twice again...the major premise is not "We are morally relative today as we have been throughout the ages", but it is significantly that "We are more morally relative today AS COMPARED TO 'all previous eras' ".

    Why is this so important to point out? Because I hear it repeated as a truism time and time again, at my church, with my friends, with my family, in the media, on blogs...people are certain that the morality of previous generations was superior to today and that we are going to hell in a handbasket. I just don't believe that. I am a teacher, and I taught high school. I have seen so many amazing amazing kids, from all creeds.

    If the writer had wanted to make the point I think you think he was making, he would have said, "As compared to a short period during the 1950's in America, moral relativism is on the rise, as it applies to personal sin, in America." He did not say that. And I want people to understand, that people have been morally relative for all of human history. I also want people to acknowledge that humanity is doing better on many many fronts and we should celebrate that. We have a long way to go, but let's not sugar coat the past.

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  75. Mary, I think I get the article. If you'll notice, it was written by MY priest. I'm the one who sent it to Leila. I just think we're talking past each other.

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  76. Nicole, where is your evidence for this:

    "Yes!! This is exactly our point!!! They still did horrible things, but at least they had a moral code!"

    And, as far as I am concerned, if you have a moral code but you do more heinous things than people do who don't have a moral code, (as a culture), I am hard-pressed to see the positive in that.

    How about that Spartan code? Die in battle or come home victorious. Boys were taken away from their mothers at the age of seven, and trained for war by the state. Great! Make a nation of warriors. I'm glad I do not live in Sparta as I have three boys.

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  77. Nicholas, thank you! Beliefs vs. acts is a good way to put it.

    However, I think you're being a little too optimistic about polygamy. Of course, I hope you're right, but I can certainly see it becoming more socially acceptable in the near future. If there are people having "accept pedophelia" conferences down the road from my house, polygamy just makes sense too.

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  78. But Nicholas, how do you know that people of all previous eras had a moral code they mentally subscribed to, and felt remorse when they deviated from it (even if they deviated from it constantly)?

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  79. Mary, no one is arguing that ignoring a moral code is a positive!!! But it IS a positive when societies at large have moral codes and don't accept or condone heinous behaviors, even though some rogue citizens commit them. Whereas today, those heinous behaviors are becoming more and more socially acceptable.

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  80. Nicole,
    Other than sexual sins, what heinous behaviors are becoming more socially acceptable?

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  81. We've already delved into specific sins, and I was trying to get away from that. It's not about specific sins! It's about the general societal belief in a higher moral authority, or lack thereof. I don't understand how that's so difficult to see.

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  82. @Mary

    Well, I cannot guarantee that they did, but from my knowledge of history it does appear that they did. It is one of the reasons that we have so many wars in our past that included religion as one of the prime motivating factors.

    But even take something as simple as rock solid belief in God. I believe that was much more common in ye olden days than today. And while that seems like a simple thing, that includes a host of other things - biblical mandates, belief in heaven and hell, etc. If you absolutely believe in God, then when you break a rule, you know what you did was wrong (but did anyway - your excuse is not as important for discussion).

    Now compare that to the modern era, where the question of God's existence is far more existential. Where even among "spiritual" people the Church is not necessarily seen as more true or relevant than Buddhism or some other belief system.

    But maybe this discussion is being bogged down trying to talk about the issue at a macro level too much. At a micro level, moral relativism is the notion that culture matters more than absolutes. Here's a classic from Les Miserables :-p We accept that stealing is wrong. But if you are starving, is it OK to steal bread? The moral absolutist would say that theft is theft. The relativist would say well if you are really starving it isn't wrong.

    Or a more relevant contemporary example, substitute "downloaded copyrighted MP3 songs from a bit torrent site" for "bread" and "don't feel like paying" for "starving."

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  83. Mary asked: Other than sexual sins, what heinous behaviors are becoming more socially acceptable?

    To list just a few that I have seen in the comments on this blog (not necessarily this post, but this blog):

    - having a child out of wedlock
    - wanting to celebrate the birth of the child, no matter the wedded state of the parents (I don't get this one - as if this child does not deserve baby shower gifts, which is monetary help for an expensive baby, where another child whose parents are married do!)
    - divorcing and remarrying without a proper annulment from the church (JoAnna can barely even manage to keep a straight face when her mother kisses her stepfather and they are married)
    - sex before marriage
    - any kind of sex that is not between a married husband and wife and certainly not "out of the ordinary" (sperm is deposited in vagina. only.)
    - people who do not profess a belief in a god

    Religious folk ostracized people who did all of the above, and when the church was stronger, it was a very powerful ostracizing. For example, if you didn't believe in God, you could not hold office, you could not attend Oxford (and likely many other universities), you could not so much as even celebrate the birth of your child.

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  84. @MaiZeke

    Well, except for #2 on your list, which I never heard of, those would certainly seem to be concepts that run counter to Catholic ideals.

    But I am not sure what that list by itself has to do with moral relativism, unless you are just saying that many Catholics even don't consider those problems, in which case that is probably true.

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  85. I have not had a chance to read through and catch up. But I propose something to prove my point. Everyone, go and rent the Disney movie, Pinocchio. Really pay attention. What is the "theme" of that movie? What is the message that the larger culture understood? What was it that adults knew, and wanted children to understand?

    They would never make something like Pinocchio out of Hollywood today. Why?

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  86. One must believe in objective right and wrong in order to have the grounds to confront another with the injustice of his behavior; otherwise, it degenerates into a contest of wills. Moral relativism puts an end to moral dialogue since moral judgments are only expressions of one’s feelings.

    Fr. Grimm's words here are played out in the combox. We used to be able to say to someone, "That is shameful." And it would be understood. Today, there is no understanding of an objective right and wrong in the first place, so it is a contest of wills. No seared conscience, no desire to make oneself right with God and attain an objective goodness.

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  87. MaiZeke, you're kind of proving my point here with #2 (although she said "other than sexual sins" and almost everything you named would be considered a sexual sin).

    However, with #2, no one said that celebrating a child that was conceived out of wedlock is a SIN. The point is that celebrating the sinful nature through which the child was conceived, as though no sinful action ever took place, and without even so much as a conversation with the unwed mother about the sinfulness of her actions, is just more proof that we're living in an age of moral relativity. Read my previous comment about my family, and how the couple a generation above me who got pregnant out of wedlock felt ashamed and didn't expect any parties to be thrown, got responsible, and grew up quickly. Contrast that to today when several family members have gotten pregnant out of wedlock and feel entitled to a big celebration, no sense of shame, no sense of sin.

    Believe me, no one here thinks that any life should not be celebrated as a blessing from God. But that doesn't mean that all life was conceived through sinless means, and that those means should be ignored. Hope that makes sense. (Let me add that "celebrating" with traditional parties, showers, and merriment is completely different from supporting the mother and child with necessities, care, and compassion.)

    Regarding your last comment, that's a matter of free will. We can't say that "not professing a belief in God is a sin" because there are other factors at play here. Namely, if you've never been introduced to God and Christ, you can't be at fault for not believing in them. That's just a nutshell explanation because it would require a whole new lengthy conversation.

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  88. - divorcing and remarrying without a proper annulment from the church (JoAnna can barely even manage to keep a straight face when her mother kisses her stepfather and they are married)

    I think that's unfair, MaiZeke. I don't recall ever saying that I "could barely keep a straight face" at their PDAs, just that they make me very uncomfortable given the fact that they're only together because each of them cheated on their respective spouse, which ripped our families apart. There's a little emotional fallout there, don't you think?

    But you can definitely add adultery to the list of more accepted social ills, although I suppose that'd fall into the category of sexual sins. But hey, going by the prevailing wisdom of the day, as long as they love each other they should be able to do whatever they want with no repercussions, right?

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  89. Here's a classic from Les Miserables :-p We accept that stealing is wrong. But if you are starving, is it OK to steal bread? The moral absolutist would say that theft is theft. The relativist would say well if you are really starving it isn't wrong.

    Nicholas, not exactly. Food is here on earth, provided from God for life to be sustained. If one man is starving to death, literally, and needs food to survive, and another man is refusing to give him what he needs simply to live, then it is not stealing to take what the greedy man is withholding, which is meant for all of us, from God.

    In extreme need this is not the same as theft. It is different from a greedy or envious person stealing the property (or even food) from another.

    Food is for all of us. Just like water. That is why if there was a way the armed guards would have moved away, it would not have been "stealing" to have given poor Terri Schiavo water and food, by the way. She was entitled to food and water, as she was starving and dehydrating to death. It was her right to be given it, by those who had it available to give to her, in her starvation.

    I have a book of moral theology here, and when I have a moment and if you are patient with me (and my crazy one-year-old) I will type in that paragraph. It was used to instruct priests in the last century of different things that may arise in the confessional. So, please be patient and I will get those details to you.

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  90. We can't say that "not professing a belief in God is a sin" because there are other factors at play here. Namely, if you've never been introduced to God and Christ, you can't be at fault for not believing in them.

    Just to clarify, it is true that denying God is a grave sin. That is the first Commandment, and it's written on the hearts of men. But as with every sin, there is the second matter of culpability. What does the person know? How were they raised? How did they respond to the grace that they were given? Did they shove the idea or the promptings of God out of their mind and hearts when they came? How much did they cooperate with divine grace and those gentle illuminations that we all get?

    That part, judging culpability, is God's domain only. Only he can read hearts. But objectively, denying God is a grave sin.

    Okay, gotta run. Sorry for the hit and runs!!

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  91. This is exactly it:

    "Or, at the very least, their moral code did not prevent them from doing heinous things."

    Yes!! This is exactly our point!!! They still did horrible things, but at least they had a moral code!

    Today it's like, "Well, I know people used to say X action is wrong, but my heart is telling me that it's actually not always wrong and since it makes me feel good, I'm going to go ahead and do it, so it's really a grey area and really, I'm the only judge of my own actions anyway....etc etc etc." We've "progressed" into this mushy area of not believing the heinous things we do are always morally and intrinsically wrong!


    THanks, Nicole!

    And Mary, yes, Ted Turner is an atheist. But having no belief in God used to be a shameful thing. It was not an "acceptable" thing, because of the moral law, the natural law, and the moral code we live by. It's still not a very popular thing, is it? Atheism? Still somewhat shunned as a valid ideology or one that we can call "good". I hope society is not ready to say that rejection of God is "good". But we are in that gray, "well, it may not by my truth, but it's theirs!" and that is the point. We have moved into a morally relative spot, where even denial of God Himself must be seen as a good thing.

    This is a total change in sentiment from previous generations, or the history of mankind, actually. Atheism is such a tiny, tiny anomaly of a belief system in the face of humanity. Are they free to believe what they do? Of course. But does that make their belief "good"? No way.

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  92. Yes, that's what I was trying to get at, but was being lazy: culpability!

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  93. Maybe I'm not saying it correctly, but I was trying to differentiate between "denying God" and "not professing a belief in God." Am I making sense? Beuller? Beuller?

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  94. @Nicole

    The concept of moral relativism isn't limited to sin, and it isn't a Catholic concept.

    Also, I wasn't sure whether MaiZeke's list was supposed be a knock on Church teaching or not :-p

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  95. Ha! I'm pickin up what you're putting down, NicoleC.

    To Leila's post -
    Society supports and condones that everything each individual chooses to do be fit and pleasing to all, accepted by all, and even celebrated by all. Based on ... what? Because they said so.

    And they dare you to say anything contrary. Like JoAnna's parents and that very uncomfortable situation; her parents have created a very awkward and anger-filled situation for her. And they want her to buy it as acceptable and even good.

    It's the typical:
    Celebrate me, damn it. Celebrate all I do, because you can't infringe on me with your standards. I'm the big H word- "happy"! Don't tread on my "happiness!"

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  96. Nicholas...I know. Not sure what you're referring to??

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  97. Ack! Just lost a whole comment I wrote in response, Nicholas! Sorry! Will try again.... Ugh.

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  98. I changed my mind, as the bread thing is a bad example, but I have some serious reservations about your bread example as well.

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  99. Nicholas, okay, thanks.

    Remember, some things are intrinsically (of their very nature) evil, like the murder of innocents. Those things can never be done, even in extreme cases. So, no abortion, even if the case is extreme.

    Taking food from a man who has enough to eat, when one is literally starving, has never been seen as an intrinsic evil. In fact, what would be intrinsically evil is not sharing your food with a dying, starving man, when you had enough to eat yourself. That would be the intrinsic evil.

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  100. From Moral Theology, by Fr. Jone

    #331 Reasons that permit one to take things belonging to another.

    Extreme need justifies one in appropriating enough of another’s goods to alleviate one’s extreme need. (Cf. also 247) [I will type that part up later.]

    This holds also when one alleviates the need of a third party. Concerning extreme need, confer 138. -- More may not be taken than is required to alleviate the said need; there must be no other way of acquiring what is necessary (e.g., by asking); the one from whom it is taken must not be in equal need; in many cases the things may only be taken after the manner of a loan. Consequently, if one has hopes of coming into better circumstances later, he must be determined to restore the value of the things he consumed in the time of need. If there is no such hope he need not restore anything, even though he unexpectedly becomes well-to-do.

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  101. Catechism says:

    2408 The seventh commandment forbids theft, that is, usurping another's property against the reasonable will of the owner. There is no theft if consent can be presumed or if refusal is contrary to reason and the universal destination of goods. This is the case in obvious and urgent necessity when the only way to provide for immediate, essential needs (food, shelter, clothing . . .) is to put at one's disposal and use the property of others.191

    Cf. GS 69 § 1

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  102. Mary, I read the link about the violence being less today. Interesting, but not convincing. You said that we are less violent except for the (worldwide) hundreds of millions of dead unborn babies' blood shed (and infanticide). Sorry, but I can't just dismiss that enormous block of carnage against the most innocent of our brethren. "We are less violent, except that we now slaughter our children by the untold hundreds of millions." No, that doesn't work for me.

    As for body counts, I am just not sure why the article said "we can figure out" how many people were murdered back then, but then it also said that the records of the monks were unreliable and not to be trusted. I don't get how they can have it both ways, but maybe I am not understanding.

    Also, I hear many folks (even an atheist on this blog) concede that the 20th century was the most murderous. Maybe because it's so systematic how we kill now, and not as "hand to hand" as before, that we don't see it as so "murderous"? We see it as cleaner somehow?

    http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/item/2007/0103/book/book_sempa.html

    But add the abortion dead in the numbers from above and you have not shown me a moral evolution.

    Anyway, the body count is not the point (though it is interesting). The disposition of the heart is. Watch Pinocchio, seriously do. It will be clear to you (I hope!) what I am talking about. And think about why there will be no more Disney movies like that one. What is different about it then in recent decades?

    Blessings!

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  103. PS: "Slavery" has encompassed any number of things over the millennia, all over the spectrum. Some moral (certain types of servitude) to utterly evil (chattel slavery). Can you be more specific? Are you talking about American slavery? I have not been reading every single comment, still catching up.

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  104. "I changed my mind, as the bread thing is a bad example, but I have some serious reservations about your bread example as well."

    Nicholas, I thought your example was great when you changed the bread into downloading songs illegally bc you don't feel like paying for them!:)

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  105. I am a teacher, and I taught high school. I have seen so many amazing amazing kids, from all creeds.

    Mary, but could you appeal to their consciences about things such as sin? Would that work? I know wonderful young people, too, even on this blog. Wouldn't hurt a fly. They are lovely. But when I tried to show then that the "ends justify the means" is a horrid, awful thing in practice, by giving them the worst possible evil I could imagine (torture and killing of six-year-old girl), they didn't say "Oh, right! I could NEVER, EVER do that, no matte what the cause." They said, "That would be something hard for me to bring myself to do, since it's horrible to think that I could torture and kill a small child, but I would have to steel myself to do so, because it would be the moral thing to do."

    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Alarm bells!!!!!!!

    This is beyond anything one can imagine. And yet, it is moral relativism, among clean cut, sweet, educated, stellar young people. To prolong the lives of fifty, they would hope to force themselves to do the "moral" thing and torture and kill a child.

    Do you see?

    That is where we are.

    Dennis Prager talks to students all the time about things like this, and it is chilling.

    I hope you understand the point. It's not about actions, it's about the disposition of the heart. Things have changed.

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  106. Everyone, go and rent the Disney movie, Pinocchio. Really pay attention. What is the "theme" of that movie? What is the message that the larger culture understood? What was it that adults knew, and wanted children to understand?

    They would never make something like Pinocchio out of Hollywood today. Why?



    Good old properly formed conscience.

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  107. @Manda

    Thanks, but the fact that I stipulated "starving" was what made the bread one poor.

    I find it ironic that we are bogged down quibbling over what moral relativism is.

    To me it is simply that if you have a set of circumstances, two disparate groups could come up with different ideas of what is right and wrong for that set of circumstances.

    The moral relative position would say that both groups solution is the morally right one for them.

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  108. Nubby, exactly! Conscience! It's a story of natural law and Truth, Goodness and Beauty.

    And the blue fairy telling him that he could not be a "real boy" until he was a "good" boy. The implication that we can identify "goodness" objectively! And that if one is not kind, and brave, and unselfish and obedient and industrious, and temperate and all the other objective virtues then one is basically going to turn into an ass and lose sense of one's own human dignity.

    None of this nonsense about "fulfill your dreams of becoming a rock star, Pinocchio, and make sure you recycle and be tolerant of all behaviors while you do whatever the heck you want as long as it's not 'hurting' anyone, and make sure you put your dad in his place if he stands in the way of your self-esteem and personal fulfillment! Enjoy Pleasure Island! You deserve it!"

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  109. Nicholas, moral theology is important so that the seemingly "gray areas" are put in a clear light. It's not really quibbling, but I can see why it appears so.

    In some areas of life there are, of course, two (or more) legitimate moral routes to go.

    But the moral law (where there are moral absolutes) cannot be transgressed even if the "ends" seem good enough.

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  110. Totally - and the fact that he had a well-formed conscience, not just a conscience. He grasped the major differences between right and wrong. He didn't follow a malformed pattern of thinking. He didn't excuse anything away. He was responsible to self and to others.

    Refresh my memory, at the part in the movie where the boys turn into asses, weren't some of them screaming for their parents? I think that was the one horrifying part that was disturbing. Eech.

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  111. @Leila

    Agreed, I just meant that at least in my mind, there doesn't seem to be any question at all that the society at large embraces moral relativism. And I doubt the major critics of the Church would dispute that either. Moral relativism has become de rigeur.

    The debate (in society) is really whether this is good or bad. I would generally concur with the Church position that it is inherently problematic.

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  112. Nubby, exactly!!!

    And I don't remember if that is what happened…. It was definitely horrifying. I bet you are right. I need to re-watch the movie, because it's been too long. I want my little kids to see it again. It speaks to them on the level of the soul, like all good allegory should. It stays with them, unlike the fluff they put out now, which is mostly like junk food for the soul (although entertaining!).

    Unfortunately, my copy is on VHS, and I can't get the VHS machine to work.

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  113. Congratulations on your mighty win! http://thecrescat.blogspot.com/2011/09/drum-roll-please.html

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  114. Nicholas, I totally agree with you. I think it would be nice if the moral relativists who claim that they do believe in an "objective" morality (we've had people say that on this blog) would just admit that they actually do subscribe to moral relativism. Then, at least we would all have clarity.

    (See my "Please read first" up top, about how I crave clarity more than agreement.)

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  115. @Nubby

    I was horrified as a child by Pinocchio. In fact I still tease my mother about it :-p

    However, I believe they WOULD remake Pinocchio today... except they would use the original 19th century version of the story where Pinocchio squashes the talking cricket with a hammer :-p

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  116. Crescat, YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Thank you! I am so honored to have lobbied hard for and won this anti-award which netted me nothing! Well, except for bragging rights and a little icon for my blog!!!!

    Thank you!!

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  117. Nicholas, my kids love the book so much better than the movie! I need to dig that out….

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  118. The irony is I have long held that moral relativism was a sham, while at the same time being blind to my own shortcomings in that area.

    I think the biggest allure it has is that our society has become paradoxically conflict averse. We seem to be terrified of having a conflict on any meaningful subject, and instead channel all of our conflict into "safe" proxies, like whose sports team is better, coke v pepsi, tastes great vs less filling, or whatever :-p

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  119. Nicholas didn't know if I was trying to knock the church or not with my list. I wasn't trying to make any point - merely stating the facts. I was pointing out things that used to be grave sins, for which people were severely ostracized by the church. Let's face it, it was hard for Hester to even buy things with her scarlet letter A on her chest. Now, after society has tamed the church, these things on that list are not worthy of ostracizing any more.

    I do admit, Nicholas, that I think it is a good thing that people no longer need to wear a scarlet letter A if they conceive out of wedlock. Or need to profess a faith in God to study at Oxford (or hold public office in the USA).

    To Nubby and JoAnna, about JoAnna's mother and stepfather - Nubby said And they dare you to say anything contrary. Like JoAnna's parents and that very uncomfortable situation; her parents have created a very awkward and anger-filled situation for her. And they want her to buy it as acceptable and even good.

    I submit that JoAnna would like her mother and stepfather to be publicly ostracized, like in the olden days, so they are punished for sinning (and possibly for making JoAnna feel bad). JoAnna is likely performing that task very well, it sounds like.

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  120. @MaiZeke

    To me the difference isn't so much about how we define right and wrong, but rather the response to it. Burning people at the stake for heresy won't be making a comeback, thankfully.

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  121. MaiZeke, that begs the question: Do you think there was anything objectively morally wrong with JoAnna's mother committing adultery with her dad's best friend and then marrying him?

    Forget responses to it. Just on its face, was that objectively immoral?

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  122. I submit that JoAnna would like her mother and stepfather to be publicly ostracized, like in the olden days, so they are punished for sinning (and possibly for making JoAnna feel bad). JoAnna is likely performing that task very well, it sounds like.

    Uh... actually, no, I'm not, but thanks for making that assumption. I have no idea what you're basing it on, though.

    For example, head over to my blog and take a look at my this post. My husband recently traveled to our former hometown for a family wedding (to expensive for the whole family to go) and brought my youngest daughter with him. While there, my husband met up with my mom and stepdad so they could spend some time with their granddaughter.

    We love them, while not loving their sin. My mom knows full well how I feel about their marriage, but she also knows that I love her anyway. I love my stepdad too, while again not condoning what he did.

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  123. I submit that JoAnna would like her mother and stepfather to be publicly ostracized, like in the olden days, so they are punished for sinning (and possibly for making JoAnna feel bad). JoAnna is likely performing that task very well, it sounds like.

    ?
    I submit that JoAnna would just prefer that the adulterous sin never took place and that her nuclear family still be intact.
    benefit of all. I also submit that JoAnna, knowing her faith full well, would do the right thing by her parents even though they hurt her deeply. I submit she most probably suffers in silence.

    Nice mean-spirited assumption though, MaiZeke.

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  124. Maybe we could bring back self-flagellation in the public arena. I could walk down my street a couple of times a week with whip in hand professing my sin as an unmarried co-habitating in a merry and successful manner with my beloved partner in crime.

    Maizeke-thanks for reminding me of the Scarlet Letter, I love that book.

    -gwen

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  125. Maybe we could bring back self-flagellation in the public arena. I could walk down my street a couple of times a week with whip in hand professing my sin as an unmarried co-habitating in a merry and successful manner with my beloved partner in crime.

    Or, we could just pray for a return of a sense of personal sin, and the need for repentance.

    When I was in sin, I knew I was in sin. I didn't sugar coat it, and I did have a sense of shame on some level, but I just knew that "God would understand." Here is my general confession, sort of:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2011/06/what-was-your-excuse.html

    The reader responses that follow are so instructive and profound. I will be using that post's comments as a resource in raising my children.

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  126. JoAnna, I might be mistaking you with another commenter here - I thought you didn't attend your mother's wedding for the re-marriage. If you did, then I'm pretty sure you said here that you wish you hadn't.

    Whether you didn't attend or just wished you didn't, denying your mother the ability to share in a joyous day with her daughter is something I see as punishment.

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  127. Leila asks if the adultery by JoAnna's mother with the father's best friend is objectively wrong. And she reminds me to forget about the punishment.

    It is hard to forget about the punishment, since this kind of talk is how we got entangled in the mess with Uganda trying to make a law to outlaw gays. But I will, for the sake of argument.

    So, what if this is objectively morally wrong? You keep reminding us that because someone sins does not mean the cannot still speak truth. In the other comment thread with Alan, JoAnna is going after Alan about a bystander apprehending a criminal -- the bystander mustn't be a saint in order to say that the criminal is doing something wrong. At the risk of generating JoAnna's ire, you all say the same thing about priests who molest minors - just because they do something wrong doesn't mean they can't continue to preach the truth. And that we should listen to them.

    Just because JoAnna's mother did something wrong does not mean we can't show her the decency of sharing joy with her. Just because a woman had sex out of wedlock doesn't mean she doesn't understand the "truth" of wanting the best for her baby which may mean celebrating it in public.

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  128. MaiZeke -

    It was my father's wedding we chose not to attend (he married a twice-divorced non-practicing Catholic, making his marriage invalid since his girlfriend, according to Catholic teaching, was still married to her first husband).

    I did attend my mother's wedding, but at the time she remarried I was 14 and still a practicing Lutheran. It's her wedding I would not have attended if I knew then what I know now. She knows how I feel, and while she disagrees with me, she respects my feelings and we have a good relationship. We live 1,800 miles apart right now and I haven't seen her for over a year; I miss her very much.

    In contrast, my father's wedding was on my 28th birthday and I'd been a Catholic for over 5 years at that point. He was very upset that our family didn't attend, but his marriage only lasted for six months and he admitted to me during his divorce that he'd made a huge mistake. We still have a very close relationship.

    denying your mother the ability to share in a joyous day

    It wasn't a joyous day to see my parents compound one sin with another, despite their differing perspective (moral relativism, once again -- if it makes me happy it must not be wrong!). Loving someone doesn't mean condoning them in their sin. In fact, it's more loving to urge your parents to turn AWAY from sin.

    Put it this way - let's say your daughter came to you and said, "Mom, it would really make me happy if you helped me rob a bank. It would be a very joyous day if you drove the getaway car for me." Would you do it? If not, how could you deny your daughter the ability to share in a joyous day?

    Or, what if your daughter wanted to join the Catholic Church, an institution to which you are vehemently opposed? Would you still go to her baptism and/or confirmation to "share in her joyous day" even if you believed she was joining a homophobic, anti-woman cult?

    Attending or not attending presumptively invalid weddings is a matter of prudential judgement; the Church doesn't have a hard and fast rule either way. However, I felt that attending would give tacit approval to an invalid marriage, and I felt that if we attended, people there would get the false impression that the Catholic Church was just fine with a baptized Catholic marrying multiple times outside the Church, and that would create scandal.

    We agonized over the decision for some time, and finally talked it over with a very holy priest. He asked us, "In 10 years, if your daughter sees pictures of you at that wedding, and says, 'Wait a minute, Mom, I thought we believed as Catholics that marriages like Grandpa's are invalid? Why where we there?', what would you say?" I realized that any answer we'd give would have to be along the lines of, "Well, honey, you can ignore sin as long as it makes people happy." I didn't think that was an example I wanted to set for my children.

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  129. MaiZeke, you still didn't answer Leila's question. In fact, you avoided answering it.

    Do you think there was anything objectively morally wrong with JoAnna's mother committing adultery with her dad's best friend and then marrying him? Yes or no?

    Just because JoAnna's mother did something wrong does not mean we can't show her the decency of sharing joy with her.

    MaiZeke, in the case of my mother's wedding, the entire POINT of the "joyful event" was to CELEBRATE HER SIN. Had I known then what I know now, I would not have thought it appropriate to celebrate the destruction of two families and the adulterous affair that caused it. That is not joy, not in the slightest.

    However, in the years since I've converted to Catholcism, my mother has attended (by my invitation and request) the births of two of my children. She's been to the baptisms of two of my children. We spent many holidays, birthdays, etc. together before I moved out of state, and we still talk frequently via phone, e-mail, and Facebook. I don't "ostracize" her even though I still believe her marriage to be invalid and I still don't condone her act of adultery. But I love her, very much, and always will.

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  130. Oh, and I also threw my mother a surprise 50th birthday party in 2007. THAT was a joyful event! It was 1950's themed and we had a blast! (Especially since my gift to her was the news of a new grandchild due the following March.)

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  131. OK...Now I am steamed...I lost a long reply...

    First...Leila...I am against abortion and do not dismiss it and you know this. I don't know how else to make that clear.

    Second, Nicholas said,
    "I just meant that at least in my mind, there doesn't seem to be any question at all that the society at large embraces moral relativism."

    Really? About what? Did you see the protests about the recent execution of Troy Davis? People were saying, "No! It is wrong to kill someone! Particularly someone who might be innocent."

    Have you see the outrage over the baseball doping? Have you seen people demanding justice from Bernie Madoff? Have you seen how Richard Fuld was excoriated and subpoenaed by the Grand Jury after the banking crisis? Even Martha Stewart the queen of the home, went to jail for insider trading. People seem to demand fairness!

    Here is a great example of the opposite of Moral Relativism: Martin Luther King Jr. received many "favors" and much progress for civil rights from the Lyndon Johnson administration. Then, during Vietnam, Luther came out protesting. Johnson couldn't believe that Luther would not cut him slack. After all, he had given in on civil rights, but Luther said, "No! All humans deserve respect, and this is not a just war, no-matter how I feel about you as an ally." He got a lot of flack for that....some think he was killed for it.

    How about Michael Vic? I used to be galled that he could still play football, but I hadn't seen how much he had done to come out against dog fighting since his incarceration, and he WAS incarcerated! A morally relative society would have decided that he was an OK guy, and since he was a such a great football player he should not have to go to jail.

    Note: the fact that Prez. Clinton lied outright to the American People and swore under oath about "not having sexual relations" with Lewinsky, and did not suffer for it, made my blood boil and did make me think about moral relativism. But...this is a sexual sin...so other than the sexual sins (and abortion), I do not think moral relativism is on the rise.

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  132. MaiZeke, your comment at 2:02 does not make any sense to me, and I've read it twice. What are you talking about? How does "going to the wedding of a woman who is marrying the man she had an adulterous affair with that broke up two families" have anything at all to do with "a sinner can speak the truth" ?

    ?????

    I have no idea what you are talking about.

    I asked a question:

    "Do you think there was anything objectively morally wrong with JoAnna's mother committing adultery with her dad's best friend and then marrying him?"

    It was a clear question, about clear acts, and I am hopeful for a clear answer. It is a yes or no question, at base.

    And what the heck does Uganda have to do with the question?

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  133. First...Leila...I am against abortion and do not dismiss it and you know this. I don't know how else to make that clear.

    Yes, Mary, I know. But you were making the point that we are somehow less murderous and violent today, and yet you left out hundreds of millions of dead babies, so your argument loses its credibility. That's was my only point, not trying to say you are for abortion.

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  134. Mary, I don't see how you are not getting this. We are not saying that any particular society does not pick and choose which things will morally outrage them at any particular time. Today, it's smoking, animal abuse (or violation of animal "rights"), environmental concerns, homophobia, intolerance, etc.

    But none of that is based on the fact that there is a moral law! It's all based on the idea that "we don't like this!" or "that's not fair!" or "that made me feel bad or made me lose something!" It's still about feelings, wants, desires, emotions, etc. But what about objective virtue? Do you know anyone who talks about wanting, needing, having to be virtuous? Virtues are objective. They are not based on our feelings. We aspire to them, because God exists and placed the concept of the "good" in our hearts.

    If someone is outraged over dog fighting, while they are fornicating and getting drunk on the weekends "because it's a fun lifestyle, man!" then, sorry, but it's still moral relativism. That is what our culture is! So what if there is selective outrage about an occasional sin here or there? They wouldn't even necessarily call it sin or understand it in that way.

    By the way, Lincoln and MLK used natural law (moral law) arguments for their positions on abolition and civil rights. That's when we still "got it."

    Have you seen Pinocchio?

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  135. In other words (and this is what you are not getting), it is not the acceptance or rejection of any particular sin -- sexual or not -- which is at issue. It is the mindset, the overall rejection of the concept of one's own personal sin and need for redemption.

    Does that make sense?

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  136. @Mary - Those are all great things you mentioned, but that doesn't really speak to moral relavatism. Moral relavatism does not mean that everyone is depraved, or there are no good people or anything like that.

    All it means is that generally speaking, people believe that morality is dictated by cultural norms, and there is not a single universal authority for morality.

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  137. In another argument in this thread, there is a debate about how someone's mother's re-marriage was held.

    On one side, Catholic teaching would say the marriage was invalid. On the other side, secular society accepts the initial divorce and remarriage as valid.

    The two stances are in opposition, they cannot both be correct. The moral relativist position you will usually see embraced is a simple "OK, we can both be right, and we'll just ignore the differences" -- which in this case is tantamount to just accepting the secular morality wholesale.

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  138. The two stances are in opposition, they cannot both be correct. The moral relativist position you will usually see embraced is a simple "OK, we can both be right, and we'll just ignore the differences" -- which in this case is tantamount to just accepting the secular morality wholesale.

    Nicholas, exactly. Well said.

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  139. Leila commanded me to: Forget responses to it. Just on its face, was that objectively immoral?

    Then she asked: What does Uganda have to do with it?

    Forget how we treat someone that we think is doing something immoral, Leila said. So I tried, but I couldn't really forget that the Ultra-Christian Ugandan government believes that Homosexuality is extremely immoral and will ruin families and as a result has tried to institute a law that will kill homosexuals in certain situations.

    That's what Uganda has to do with it. When Christians get on their high perch and declare that what someone else does in the privacy of their own home is worthy of death, it is hard for me to "forget the response to it".

    Is that more clear, Leila?

    Thanks!

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  140. The two stances are in opposition, they cannot both be correct. The moral relativist position you will usually see embraced is a simple "OK, we can both be right, and we'll just ignore the differences" -- which in this case is tantamount to just accepting the secular morality wholesale.

    I think you are calling people like me a moral relativist. BUt in this situation, I am certainly NOT saying that we are both right. I think you are WRONG.

    I am not going to ignore the fact that you basically want to go back to an era where you want society to shame a person so that after they have committed a sin that *you* think is wrong, they have no right to function as a normal human being any more.

    That is wrong. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. You and the Catholic crowd have been going on about how the left is supposedly tolerant - well, we're not tolerant of behavior like you describe. Luckily we as a society have limited how the Catholics and other Christians have been able to control society like that.

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  141. @MaiZeke

    Well, this is a whole different discussion than whether society is relativist :-p

    FWIW I certainly do not advocate the restoration of any kind of global Holy Roman Empire running the world :-p

    Plus, I am not calling you or anyone in particular anything, I simply hold it is a trait common in the society at large. I certainly have indulged in it myself. It isn't an insult, or a sin, or whatever. It is really simply used to explain why the Church position doesn't waver.

    You say things like " Luckily we as a society have limited how the Catholics and other Christians have been able to control society like that" which is all well and good, but in the end you can't really define yourself by just what you are against. What are you for? Tolerance of everyone that agrees to be tolerant of you? That is the epitome of a morally relative society :-)

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  142. am not going to ignore the fact that you basically want to go back to an era where you want society to shame a person so that after they have committed a sin that *you* think is wrong, they have no right to function as a normal human being any more.

    MaiZeke, no one has said this or even suggested it. Where are you getting it from?

    YOU are the one who keeps talking about ostracizing people, etc. No one in this thread has suggested doing such a thing. I wholly disapprove of the sin of my mother and stepfather, yet I have not ostracized them or "prevented them from living as normal human beings."

    That is wrong. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

    Yet, in YOUR view, my mother and stepfather's adulterous affair -- one that destroyed two families -- was perfectly moral and right.

    I don't get it. Telling someone they did wrong is wrong, but destroying families is moral and good. What a twisted code of ethics you have.

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  143. Regarding Uganda... There are evil people everywhere, and certainly plenty of them cloak themselves in religious regalia as cover for their evil.

    I wish nothing but peace and happiness for everyone, I am personally not judging anyone. This started out a pretty tame philosphy discussion about how moral relativism makes it difficult to evangelize :-p

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  144. but I couldn't really forget that the Ultra-Christian Ugandan government believes that Homosexuality is extremely immoral and will ruin families and as a result has tried to institute a law that will kill homosexuals in certain situations.

    That's what Uganda has to do with it. When Christians get on their high perch and declare that what someone else does in the privacy of their own home is worthy of death, it is hard for me to "forget the response to it"


    Uganda isn't a Catholic government. And I'll see your reply and raise you one: you forgot to mention the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, too. A military sect that couldn't be further from Catholicism if you tried. The LRA is described as a terrorist organization.

    We Catholics don't blend our faith using mediums and mysticism. And we don't run the country as a government.

    On the other hand, here's what the Catholic faith teaches in regards to how we treat people with homosexual tendencies per the Catechism:

    "They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."

    Now that we're back in from left field, please address Leila's pointed question, which was: "How does "going to the wedding of a woman who is marrying the man she had an adulterous affair with that broke up two families" have anything at all to do with "a sinner can speak the truth" ?"

    We're not talking about offing people b/c they have affairs; we're talking about showing up as a guest at a wedding where there's been infidelity and adultery and celebrating that as if everything is just peachy.

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  145. MaiZeke, you often have some great stuff to say here, and it makes all of us think. But this last string of comments truly is odd to me. I have no idea what any of that has to do with me asking you if having an adulterous affair with one's husband's best friend and breaking up the families is objectively wrong? Can you answer the yes or no question? I assure you, the Catholic Church does not teach that adulterers are to be stoned. That's another religion, actually. I think Jesus was pretty clear that we don't stone, or even whip, adulterers.

    Now, can you tell me if what JoAnna' mother did was wrong?

    Thanks!

    And, I thought this comment by Nicholas was insightful, and worth a response, if you have a moment:

    You say things like " Luckily we as a society have limited how the Catholics and other Christians have been able to control society like that" which is all well and good, but in the end you can't really define yourself by just what you are against. What are you for? Tolerance of everyone that agrees to be tolerant of you? That is the epitome of a morally relative society

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  146. Leila! We have been having lengthy discussions in the public square about how stealing (regardless of whether it is through insider trading or pointing a gun at a banker) is absolutely wrong (except of course in the case of extreme need as you pointed out). We are saying torture is wrong, always! Even for members of Al Queda. We are saying killing is wrong...even for people on death row. We are saying that torturing animals is wrong (even for celebrities). We are saying that child abuse is wrong, even for parents of the child (this is actually a fairly recent--last 200 years--revelation). These discussions are about moral absolutes.

    Just because our society seems to be moving away from accepting the Catholic Church's moral absolutes regarding sexual sin (which I, by the way, do not reject in totality as you know), does not mean we have no absolutes. You seem to think that the only way to have moral absolutes is if they jive with the Catholic Church.
    My take is that we have been getting more moral and more accountable on several fronts, but less so about sex to some degree (and certainly abortion). Although, when I consider how journalists used to look the other way when politicians philandered (JFK), and now they blast them on the front page of every news outlet (Spitzer, Arnold etc.) I think we are demanding more absolute standards on that front.

    I don't know why many so many very religious people seem reluctant to celebrate our progress, and bent on painting the past as a better time. It is like they don't understand the full picture of the past.

    My own mother talks about the past in a rosy way, but when pressed the stories come out. "Oh, yes that one friend was abused by her father for years, but nothing ever happened. Oh yes, there were no protections for the people that worked in dangerous conditions in the mines. Oh, those girls were not allowed to go to college. Oh, well, there were the men who spent their money at the bar."

    I think there was a VENEER of morality, as people publicly went to church etc., but that many, many of them did not feel personal shame that they were doing wrong when they did so. They carried on, by rationalizing that what they were doing was RIGHT FOR THEM. I don't think they went around hanging their head in shame while they sinned, with the exception of girls who who got pregnant out of wedlock and probably active homosexuals.

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  147. Leila said, "If someone is outraged over dog fighting, while they are fornicating and getting drunk on the weekends "because it's a fun lifestyle, man!" then, sorry, but it's still moral relativism. "

    And if JFK was leading our nation in the Berlin Crisis against Communism, and loving his kids, but at the same time fornicating with the stars, it is still moral relativism. When the Catholics under Torquemada were feeling shame for cheating on their wives, but were reveling in the public cruelty applied to heretics who were tortured, it is still moral relativism.
    I see no difference.

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  148. Leila said, "Do you know anyone who talks about wanting, needing, having to be virtuous?" Yes! But the usually don't use that word. They use the term, "Good." or "Better", or "The best person I can be." Although I do hear the word "virtue" from my church friends. It is a common Lutheran word.

    Many of my friends have come back to me after we were talking about some situation and say something like, "I am sorry I was talking about that person. I was venting, and now I feel guilty. I'm trying not to do that, but I still do!"

    That is the most common sin I see these days. I struggle with it too. It is clear that these folks are appealing to some higher sense of good, and not just OK with talking about people because it makes them feel good.

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  149. Just because our society seems to be moving away from accepting the Catholic Church's moral absolutes regarding sexual sin (which I, by the way, do not reject in totality as you know), does not mean we have no absolutes. You seem to think that the only way to have moral absolutes is if they jive with the Catholic Church.

    Well said, Mary. Exactly what I was going to say this morning.

    My additions: saying that the response to a moral failing is not a moral question is incorrect. Take for example a teenager who has sex. How the parents respond to finding out their daughter is having sex is indeed a moral issue to me (and most of society). These days, it is not considered morally correct to force her to marry the father and stay married to him for the rest of her life. It is also not considered morally correct to alternatively force her to live in a home for unwedded mothers until the baby is born and force her to give the baby up for adoption. Those two moral responses to the moral issue have been shown to be worse for the young woman than the original transgression. These are moral decisions that society has made - and frankly, have imposed on the catholics, and catholics have changed in general. I think we can generally say that the moral responses to moral "wrongs" is less severe these days. This group here doesn't seem to like that, but society thinks of this as a morally correct stance. We don't think anyone can do whatever they please, with no consequences - that is moral relativism. We do think that some things no longer deserve the severe punishments that used to be imposed.

    I will note that catholics no longer think it is improper for women to have the vote, either.

    So, yes, Leila and JoAnna, I agree that what JoAnna's mother did was wrong (and perhaps her father? I can't remember if he had an affair too). However, the response that they should forever live in shame and never marry again, or not marry the "right" person, is a morally wrong response.

    In fact, if it ends up being true that both of them had an affair while JoAnna was in early adolescence, then I think one might look at what was wrong with their marriage in the first place.

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  150. @Mary - I'm sorry, but I think you are still misinterpreting moral relevatism. Although many of your examples are true, some are less so. For example we have had a rather large debate within the US Government not that long ago about whether torture is OK or not.

    But even where we agree, say the idea that murder is wrong. It isn't that we agree it is wrong so much why it is wrong. Remember that moral relavatism is the notion that you can define a circumstance (in this case murder), and that multiple groups can come up with different responses. And those responses are all morally right -- for the people that came up with them.

    Morally relatavistic groups can come to the same conclusion on some issues. The semantic point here is whether one believes that there is more than one valid source of morality.

    Again, this isn't like a terrible condemnation. From secular society's POV it is a good thing. It just runs counter to Catholic ideals and teachings.

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  151. @MaiZeke - No one is saying that moral relativism means people have no morals. Everyone has morals. It is more of a question of how those morals are derived, and what is done when morals between groups conflict.

    For Catholics, the source of moral authority, that which defines right and wrong, comes from Jesus and the Church. In total. I would LOVE to be able to cherry pick the best parts (ie usually the parts I agree with :-p) and leave the rest behind. Sadly, it doesn't work that way :-p

    In secular society, there have been many philosophers over the years that have tried to tackle the issue of defining what is moral, without having to resort to consulting God or some other divine authority. These are often distilled down to notions like that which does the most good, or that which does the least harm, etc. There is a whole branch of philosophy that studies these questions.

    The thing is, that kind of philosophy is a la carte by design. So every moral issue is weighed individually, by every individual, group, and/or culture. And by design they will come up with the solution that is moral, for them.

    Again, the whole point of this thread wasn't (IMO) to bemoan the good old days, or call people out for not doing it right... it was simply an explanation of why evangelization is so much more difficult now... because we lack a single frame or moral reference.

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  152. I agree that what JoAnna's mother did was wrong (and perhaps her father? I can't remember if he had an affair too). However, the response that they should forever live in shame and never marry again, or not marry the "right" person, is a morally wrong response.


    They don't have to live forever in shame. That's not at all what Catholicism teaches. It's not even what Catholics want, or should want, I should say. We want redemption and wholeness for everyone. Even (especially?) for those who've caused hurt to us personally, as in JoAnna's case.


    A marriage has been violated, an injustice has happened against a very sacred union and all that entails, and it's not morally wrong to hold people accountable for that. We aren't in the business of publicly shaming people. But there the Church teaches that we need to rectify a wrong, make reparations for our sins (personal and corporate).


    None of us would go to Mass if it was all about shame publicly or otherwise. We're all at that altar for the exact same reason - we need redemption, freedom from our sin, to be part of our corporate human family as well as our spiritual family. Do you believe in personal responsibility?

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  153. Nicholas, thank you.

    Mary, regarding gossip, of which you say: "That is the most common sin I see these days."

    It might be the only thing that we "feel" is a personal failing anymore. Because there is a lot more sin going on in people's lives than gossip (as ugly as that is).

    I don't know… I pretty much give up in trying to explain, Mary. I think we are talking past each other unless I am missing something. I will let the readers sort it out, but I have reached my point of clarity.

    Ultimately, the concept of sin in this society is relative, and based on one's feelings. The perfect illustration of this is on this blog every day. If someone says, "It's wrong to shred a child in the womb", we get: "That's your opinion. I don't think that fetus it's a person." Or if we say, "It's morally sinful to masturbate" we get "It's healthy to masturbate and it makes me feel good -- a physical release!" Or if we say, "you cannot do evil to bring about a good; the ends don't justify the means" you get someone who says that it's okay to do terrible things if the cause is important enough. Or if you give a college kid the play "The Lottery" which used to HORRIFY students with its evil ending, college kids today do not see the problem at all and tend to yawn and shrug ("It's what they decided to do in their society").

    There may be things that people still "feel" are wrong, but there is no guarantee that they will "feel" the same way about it in a decade. The sexual issues are the perfect example of that phenomenon.

    It's a disposition, and understanding, a mood, a feeling. That is where we are.

    One could have a society where everyone is doing good, but if they are doing good based on a feeling that could change, i.e., based on a mindset of moral relativism, then it's still a relativistic society, and the whole thing could topple when the public "mood" changed and enough people (morals by democracy) said it was time to call evil good and good evil.

    Anyway, I defer to the others to pick this up. Nicholas has great points, having just come out of the mindset of moral relativism. And I haven't had breakfast. :)

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  154. MaiZeke, I'm unfamiliar with a Catholic teaching that it was immoral for women to have the vote?

    Also, you say that there are moral absolutes, and this fascinates me and I want to press you: What is the source of those moral absolutes?

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  155. Part of the problem is that for a good swath of our history the Catholic Church / Christianity in general has been around at the same time as secular governments and certainly enjoyed some political power and prestige. So it is difficult to separate the two.

    I'm not sure that you can go back and separate why women were treated badly in the middle ages, or even in the US why it took so long for women to get the vote, and assign blame proportionally to different institutions.

    However, that being said it seems fair to say that the Catholic Church does stipulate that there are inherent differences between men and women, by design.

    That does bring along with it some additional issues than if you were to simply believe that humans are simply the most evolved, advanced, adaptable, and sentient primates seem so far on planet Earth.

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  156. So, yes, Leila and JoAnna, I agree that what JoAnna's mother did was wrong (and perhaps her father? I can't remember if he had an affair too).

    He did not, to my knowledge, have a physical affair with anyone. I heard vague rumors but never any solid accusations (remember, I was 13ish at the time all this was going down) about an alleged "emotional affair" he may have had with a co-worker but I don't know how much credence to give that rumor, and I've never asked my dad. Water under the bridge, and all that.

    However, the response that they should forever live in shame

    Again, where do you get this? When did I ever say that I believed my parents should "forever live in shame"? I want them to realize their sin and repent of it, yes. My mother, at least, recognizes what she did was wrong even if she doesn't regret her current situation (being married to my stepdad).

    But going to her wedding and celebrate the situation that destroyed my family was a bit much, don't you think?

    and never marry again, or not marry the "right" person, is a morally wrong response.

    How do you know who is the "right" person? And of course they shouldn't marry again if they're already married. The Church teaches that nothing but death can dissolve a valid sacramental marriage. My parents were both baptized Christians when they married, so their marriage is presumed valid and sacramental. Neither of them was free to remarry since they were still married, in God's eyes, to each other. Neither the government NOR THE CHURCH has the power to dissolve a valid, sacramental marriage despite the fact that many Christians have succumbed to this erroneous belief.

    In fact, if it ends up being true that both of them had an affair while JoAnna was in early adolescence, then I think one might look at what was wrong with their marriage in the first place.

    Again, that's iffy. However, if either of them wanted to seek a declaration of nullity from the Catholic Church (and I've encouraged them both to do so), I'd support them 100%, Based on conversations I've had with both of them I do believe their marriage may have been invalid from the get-go. (For example, my mom once made a comment that she only married my dad because she was so desperate to get out of her house -- indicating that she may not have been fully cognizant of the meaning of marriage when she entered into it.)

    However, since neither of them are Catholic, both have bought into the lie that the State has the power to dissolve a marriage (clearly against Christian teaching), when only the Church has the authority (given by God) to examine their marriage to determine if it actually occurred, and to declare it null if they conclude it didn't.

    Also, MaiZeke, you never answered my questions about whether you'd celebrate "joyous events" with your daughter if said events went against everything you deeply, sincerely, believed in.

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  157. However, the response that they should forever live in shame

    I am more and more convinced that MaiZeke is less interested in arguing against an actual Catholic teaching and more interested in arguing against a pretend Catholic teaching of her own imagining.

    How else to explain this?

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  158. Leila and others,
    During World War II our society bombed Japan with the first and last deployment of nuclear bombs. We have all agreed on this blog that it was a crime against humanity. Total evil. We even ran massive concentration camps for Japanese Americans right here in the United States! Legally!!!!!!

    During WWII there was a very very very small and fringe anti-war movement. IF you talk to people of the war generation, they mostly say, "We had to do it." They don't even know the facts....that Japan was about to surrender anyhow.

    Fast forward to Vietnam...loud angry protests from the supposed depraved generation. Fast forward to the second Iraq war....WORLDWIDE CONDEMNATION. Protests in the streets...total reversal of the goodwill we garnered after 911. People wanting to try Bush as a war criminal. "Unjust war is unjust!" people are saying...no relative feelings. THIS IS MORAL PROGRESS!!!

    Saying that we are a morally relative society because the world does not (as it supposedly did in the past?) accept the Catholic Church as the one true authority seems to misunderstand the fact that the world is composed of many different cultures and religions. Right in my town we have Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and one person who is a Zoroastrian (I think). The Hindus think it is morally repugnant to show your legs, but eighty-year old ladies let their bellies hang out. I would be shocked to see an elderly lady in a half-shirt at church, but not a woman in a knee-length skirt.

    It is my understanding that Hinduism is founded on the idea of castes and that some are born "untouchable" while others are "Brahmin". I reject this as a Christian, but I am sure there are many Hindus who accept their religion as the purveyor of absolute morals. If I went to certain regions there, I am sure if would be easy to evangelize to them about the evils of intermarriage between castes, as they would all accept one absolute authority: Hinduism.

    Many people accepting one absolute authority on what is right and wrong does not make that absolute authority objectively just.

    Saying that all young people today are morally relative seems like overreaching in the extreme. I know....I taught hundreds of them every day.

    They are more relative about sexuality...no doubt, but that is really all I see (and abortion). But...the abortion issue, I think is one partly of propaganda and not truly thinking things through for many. If you drill them about personhood, they really start to squirm. Abortion foes are right to push on about defining personhood...I think this is where we will win.

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  159. Mary, in one last ditch attempt:

    First, there are plenty of folks in America and the world who are still very much pro-war (and it's always when they think it's necessary). But let's focus on the folks here in America who condemn our wars (in other words, they condemn other people's actions, since "they" would never support a war or kill a combatant). If you approached those same people and asked them about their personal sins ("Hey, you know, when you are having sex outside of marriage with different partners, and then going home and masturbating to porn every night, that is simply morally wrong. You need to change your ways and turn back to God and goodness.") how would they respond????

    If you can see that they (who are appalled by an "unjust war", or any war) would look at you like you had six heads and tell you, "Hey, lady, that is so none of your business, because my sex life is good for me! It makes me happy and it is moral and good. Don't dare tell me otherwise, and in fact it's you who are evil to dare say that my choices are bad", then you just got confronted with someone who is a moral relativist.

    They believe wanton war is wrong because they "feel" it is (and so what if everyone else agrees and if they are objectively right? They didn't come to that conclusion out of a sense of wanting to conform themselves to the moral law! They don't even believe a moral law exists!).

    Really, that is my last attempt to have you see the distinction in the disposition of the heart which is what we have been (or were supposed to be) talking about all along.

    Blessings!

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  160. Mary, do you have a copy of the movie Pinocchio?

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  161. @Mary

    You actually just gave the poster argument FOR moral relativity. That is exactly what it is. You have described it to a T!

    In your examples, the Christians can have one absolute standard for morality, the Hindus can have theirs, etc.

    That is moral relativity. Each group has their own moral compass, as define by their own culture.

    The Church doesn't buy into that notion. It tends to get downplayed of course, in the interests of ecumenism, interfaith dialogues, etc. But the Church holds that it is the universal authority for morality. Including... everybody.

    And that you have to accept it as a whole. Which is the part that most people (certainly myself included) have balked at, at least sometimes.

    Moral relativity isn't generally a notion or a label you apply to individuals... I think that is where some confusion is coming from. Like the example of JFK or whatever. At best those describe symptoms.

    Let me give you a personal example. The Church teaches (and I am being loose here, so don't beat me up on any technical mistakes it is for illustrative purposes :-p)

    Sex is for married people and is further defined as being necessarily open to conception. Marriage is a union of a man and a woman, equal compliments to each other.

    Homosexual oriented people fall in love with members of their own gender. They don't meet the criteria above. That is heartbreaking on many levels. Would it be so terrible to create or adjust a different standard, to accommodate them?

    I myself have thought that many times. Certainly it is an idea that I still struggle with.

    But the Church teaching is either right, or wrong. If it is right, then can we just go ahead and create a new standard to accommodate people who just want the same kind of happiness that is available to others?

    The same can be said for divorce. "Till death do you part" -- but she got married so young, she made a mistake, he was a jerk and it didn't work out... Can we giver her a mulligan and a second chance?

    These are NOT easy questions, in any sense of the word.

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  162. Gwen, you don't have to answer, but why don't you and your boyfriend get married?

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  163. Leila said, "They didn't come to that conclusion out of a sense of wanting to conform themselves to the moral law! They don't even believe a moral law exists!"

    That is not true. Most do think a moral law exists. As far as I can tell, even most non-religious people have the moral code: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." In fact, I can only think of one person I know well who would openly disagree with this, and they are a nihilist.

    Most seem to now agree that killing a born human being (excepting direct bodily threat to oneself) is the highest evil. This is good. How can it even compare to say, using contraception or having a child out of wedlock?

    I think the moral progress in our world over the last several hundred years has been that people have widened the circle of who they view as "human" and thereby deserving of this equal treatment: slaves, women, children, people of different colors, people of different creeds. Radical departure from previous eras. The GLARING exception to this is the refusal to see the unborn child as a person. Terrible! Let's keep working on it! Point out the inconsistency in this! By all means!!!!

    I do see some backsliding that does not relate to sexual sin...many current television shows seem to glorify meanness and conspiracy etc. I do not allow my kids to see such crap and I do not participate in discussions where women and men talk about these inane shows...I call it out for what it is...fostering meanness.

    Leila has signed off, but how about others? Do you know a single person who would disagree with the moral absolute of the Golden Rule?

    Also..Leila talked about a youth saying it was moral to kill one child to prevent the deaths of 50, and citing this as EVIDENCE that we have BECOME (we were not previously) a morally relative society.

    Point me to the study that asked students this thought question 200 or even 70 years ago. My guess is you would get quite a few people answering the same way. Thoughts?

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  164. Leila,
    I have read the real Pinocchio stories and seen the Disney movie.

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  165. As far as I can tell, even most non-religious people have the moral code: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

    But they believe in the context of what they FEEL they would or wouldn't want someone to do to them! Not in light of the moral law! For example, "Of course we may starve Terri Schiavo to death (who was not even suffering from an illness, only a brain injury), because if it were me, I would never want to live that way! So, yes, kill her!"

    That is moral relativism, under the guise of "do unto others"!

    As for the torture and kill question about saving the fifty: There is a phrase everyone used to know and understand: "The ends don't justify the means." It presupposed a moral law and a call to conform to goodness. An objective standard of goodness which exists outside of ourselves and our feelings! Ask a person a generation or two ago, and they would say "the ends don't justify the means". It was an axiom! Now, it is exactly the opposite! Even christians I know don't understand or believe the concept that "the ends don't justify the means."

    I am frustrated and I am going to give up. If I push it, it will be my pride only, and the need to be "right" and that is not good for me spiritually.

    Mary, please watch Pinocchio again, and ask yourself why it is different from movies for kids today. I really hope you will watch it. A movie like that would never be made today.

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  166. Nicholas,
    Your points are interesting, but that was not what the article said. Again, it said specifically "Modernity’s embrace of moral relativism is not only a rejection of Catholic morality, but of the morality of all previous eras. "

    I don't think Christians are going to convert a single person by talking about moral relativism...you have a much better time objectively demonstrating how Christianity (if actually practiced as Jesus intended) is more in accordance with The Golden Rule than other absolute morality systems. Show how Christianity fosters love, well-being, cohesiveness, health, education and peace.

    Leila is never going to convince me that homosexual marriage is sinful by saying that the Catholic Church has the authority to declare it such; she has a much better chance by objectively showing that the activities homosexual men and women engage in cause disease, physical trauma, promote psychological problems, break down families, foster meanness and war.

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  167. Look, what you are describing is moral pluralism, not so far over the edge as moral relativism. Moral relativism is if I say, "Hey! If murdering is good for you, then go do it!" This is not a moral stand that is taken by our society, our society is not morally relativistic. This is one of the big problems with Catholicism - the pope says it is either absolute morality, or pandemonium. We do not have pandemonium, society has a set of moral standards that we all do follow. It just happens to not be the one that the Pope wants the whole world to follow.

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  168. Mary, oh, I want to say so much but I am going to go off topic and ask if you, personally, ever do anything purely out of obedience?

    Obedience is one of the virtues. Should it be, in your opinion?

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  169. Sorry Leila, because I am going to to call you out on this: "There is a phrase everyone used to know and understand: "The ends don't justify the means." It presupposed a moral law and a call to conform to goodness. An objective standard of goodness which exists outside of ourselves and our feelings! Ask a person a generation or two ago, and they would say "the ends don't justify the means". It was an axiom!"

    I took a Philosophy of Western Thought class back in high school. We discussed Jeremy Bentham and utilitarianism at length, and this topic. My own father attended Fairfield University in the 1950's and talked to me about his classes where they discussed such ideas when I was in high school. Seemed like the same discussions exactly. Today, there is such a class in our high school.

    Where was the moral outrage at the bombing of Hiroshima saying "The Ends don't justify the means!" at the time of the bombing? It seems that later generations were the one to ask this question, not the war generation. How odd.

    Leila, I think you have created an idea in your head about the past that is not real. It might be real about people not being openly homosexual, and not having baby showers when they got pregnant out of wedlock, but I think that is about it. Again...facts.

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  170. Moral relativism is if I say, "Hey! If murdering is good for you, then go do it!" This is not a moral stand that is taken by our society, our society is not morally relativistic.

    The irony here is that this statement is written by a woman who supports Roe v. Wade, which has allowed the legal murder of 50+ million unborn human beings. MaiZeke, you don't even condemn the murder of babies in the process of being born.

    Your statement is invalidated on its face.

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  171. @Mary - Well, I wouldn't argue that the originally posted article is perfect. It is largely that priest's opinion.

    My point is that to a Catholic, the "Golden Rule" is meaningful because Jesus commanded it. That fact that it is also a really good idea is a bonus. If Jesus had been a nudist, this would be a much more embarrassing religion :-p

    Even if you cannot find people who think the Golden Rule isn't a good principle, it is the source of the authority that is critical. If you think it sounds like a good idea, then that also gives you full license to ignore it.

    @MaiZeke - OK, I am certainly willing to be open to debate about whether relativism or pluralism is a more appropriate term. I would also state that in the context of single culture, probably does fit more. For my own part I have been careful to specify different groups or cultures. And it probably would be hard to find one that thought murder was OK.

    Even with moral relativism there is an underlying assumption that the moral values that are embraced have been tested and thought out by those in that society, and are not indiscriminate or capricious.

    To me what is important to the discussion in this context are a) the presence or lack of an agreed upon moral authority and b) whether that source is held to be absolute.

    Mary has referenced a few times the idea of "moral progress." The Church would hold (at least as I understand it) that there is not really such a thing. Morality has remained the same, it is just that people are either better or worse at adhering to it at various points in time.

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  172. Okay, Mary. Because people studied all sorts of philosophers, that must prove that everyone was a moral relativist back then. (??)

    You do realize that the very PURPOSE and GOAL of philosophy and universities (back when either one meant something) was to seek and find objective truth, right?

    Today, no one will admit that Truth exists, outside what we "feel" it is.

    But I'll take it under advisement to stick to "facts" and logic next time, since I'm all about "feelings" on this blog….

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  173. Obedience to God is a virtue. But...I am not convinced the Catholic Church is the infallible voice of God.

    I am VERY wary of the concept. I think too much obedience causes serious problems. People with absolute power are corrupted...absolutely. THis is a truism, as I see it, so I actually find a healthy amount of disobedience to be a good thing...it means people are thinking and not being controlled blindly. The slightly rebellious and questioning students always struck me as more normal than the docile ones. They made teaching harder, but they made me get smarter and work harder.

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  174. "There is a phrase everyone used to know and understand: "The ends don't justify the means."

    Or, I'll make it easier for you. "Two wrongs don't make a right."

    Presupposition: There are WRONGS and RIGHTS.

    That one does not do a wrong act (means) to get to a good end (RIGHTS). i.e, the ends don't justify the means. Axiomatic.

    Every mama in past eras knew this and taught it. And the question of what was "wrong" or "right" did not depend on one's feelings. It depended on the understanding of a higher moral law (natural law) which did not have its source in ourselves and our feelings.

    Mary, what do you children know about sin? Meaning, personal sin? Who are they accountable to?

    Nicholas, you are correct that we Catholics don't believe that humans "morally evolve" as a species. There is no new sin, and human nature (and concupiscence) remains the same.

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  175. And if any of that was fuzzy or confusing, I apologize and will step away now. Sometimes, these dialogues make me dizzy. ;)

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  176. Obedience to God is a virtue.

    How can God expect us to exercise the virtue if we can't know what Truth is? How can you, Mary, be obedient when you don't even know for sure what you are supposed to be obedient too? So, what has God done, leaving us with no Truth to be obedient to? How do we practice this virtue, practically speaking? Help?

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  177. Moral relativism is if I say, "Hey! If murdering is good for you, then go do it!" This is not a moral stand that is taken by our society, our society is not morally relativistic.

    The irony of this statement struck me as well, Leila.

    A significant segment of our society DOES say, "Hey! If murdering [an unborn child] is good for you, then go do it!" To justify it, they throw out arbitrary standards [i.e., relativistic standards] for why an unborn child isn't a human being, isn't a person, etc.

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  178. Also, are you implying that we Catholics are not "thinkers" after all of your time on this blog? And who is it that has "absolute power"? I can't imagine that you are talking about the Pope? He has very little power in the sense that you mean, and he certainly can go to hell if he is evil, so what do you mean?

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/11/pope-is-not-as-powerful-as-you-think.html

    I am confused!!

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  179. Leila,
    I didn't know this: "the very PURPOSE and GOAL of philosophy and universities (back when either one meant something) was to seek and find objective truth, right?" but why would they need to seek it if it was already determined by the Catholic Church? I thought it was to educate people on a wide variety of subjects, including religion.

    My point was that, from my Dad's experience, we were having the same kind of discussions he was, but in a different generation. My kids are not teens yet, so I will give myself some homework and ask my friends with teens who are enrolled in the philosophy class to describe their discussions. Maybe you are right, and nobody will be able to defend "the end justifies the means."

    I'll give everyone else a challenge...go ask war generation folk how they thought about bombing Japan BACK THEN. Ask them to recall the thinking at the time.

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  180. Yeah, the "absolute power" comment confused me, too. The Church (and Her leaders) can issue doctrine and create disciplines all the livelong day, but Catholics have total free will regarding whether or not to follow those precepts.

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  181. "why would they need to seek it if it was already determined by the Catholic Church?"

    ... so you're saying that the Catholic Church back in, say, 1850 had already determined objective truth regarding (for example) the morality of embryonic stemm cell research?

    Wow, I knew the Church was amazing, but I had NO IDEA we had already mastered time travel!

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  182. "Mary, what do you children know about sin? Meaning, personal sin? Who are they accountable to?"

    I use the word sin sometimes, but also the Golden Rule with my children regarding, lying ( or wildly exaggerating, our current challenge!), stealing, cheating, being violent, and generally not being loving (and not going to church on Sunday or praying but we are a bit looser with these sometimes...not trying to be).

    I don't use the word sin with things like, being divorced, (we don't talk about other sexual stuff yet, as they are young...I think this is OK?) or being greedy (the greedy one is only because it is also a huge challenge and I have more luck directly appealing to the Golden Rule.) I use the 10 Commandments basically.

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  183. JoAnna,
    Good point! But...if killing is wrong...then no discussion. They had already decided the fetus was always a person.

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  184. Leila,
    Not sure what spawned the "you think we are not thinkers" bit. Obedience? I think we had this discussion before....But I am still a bit fuzzy on how Catholics discern when to be obedient and when not to be.

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  185. But I am still a bit fuzzy on how Catholics discern when to be obedient and when not to be.

    Mary,
    When = always.
    Obedient to the Church, always, as it has been instituted by Christ. To be obedient to Her is to be obedient to Him.

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  186. Mary, which post of mine were you responding to with your 11:16am comment?

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  187. Sorry, I thought it was obvious that I think you are thinkers...but I do know MANY Catholics and very religious persons who are not, and I have intimate experience with them. We have covered this. This blog is very good! Simcha Fischer and Jen Fulweiler too. But...just like medical doctors can be blind to certain things, and men can be blind and I can be blind, I sometimes think people on this blog can be blind to how they have ideas that are not substantiated. Me too! For example, I used to have the preconception that liberal people donated to charity more than conservatives (not counting church donations even). Leila disabused me of this notion with facts. I changed my mind, and now go on to tell it to others...some of who refuse to accept it!

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  188. JoAnna....stem cells

    Nubby...OK, but what if you are the wife of Joe Kennedy and your marriage gets annulled by the Catholic Church after 12 years and kids. You should be obedient and accept that the Catholic Church is correct here.

    This woman was not so obedient. She was a woman of means and went outside the church to get help and legal advice. She took it all the way to Rome, where it was overturned. But I can imagine many others thinking they should be obedient to the Archbishop. After all, it would be chaos if everyone appealed to Rome.

    See?

    Thanks...gotta go...seriously delinquent today in my duties as a mom and housewife!

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  189. OK, but what if you are the wife of Joe Kennedy and your marriage gets annulled by the Catholic Church after 12 years and kids. You should be obedient and accept that the Catholic Church is correct here.

    This woman was not so obedient. She was a woman of means and went outside the church to get help and legal advice. She took it all the way to Rome, where it was overturned. But I can imagine many others thinking they should be obedient to the Archbishop. After all, it would be chaos if everyone appealed to Rome.


    This is incorrect, Mary. The woman was being obedient in both cases, because the Church teaches that the participants in an annulment case may appeal to Rome. EVERY PARTICIPANT in an annulment case has the right to appeal to Rome (chaos or not, it is their right) if they feel that the diocesan tribunal's decision wasn't correct! So I don't see how you can call her disobedient if she was acting perfectly within the Church's rules regarding annulment proceedings.

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  190. To be fair, I do think a chunk of this discussion has been derailed or is expressing a different notion than moral relativism.

    People have been hypocrites and blind to their own flaws forever, and that isn't always the same thing.

    The idea that people have become their own moral authority is actually distinct from moral relativism, at least the way I understand it. But I suppose it is a similar concept.

    I think that many of the examples being talked about in this thread are really more about something like secular humanism.

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  191. Good point! But...if killing is wrong...then no discussion. They had already decided the fetus was always a person.

    Actually, killing isn't always wrong (self-defense, for example). Murder, however, is always wrong. But then you have the pro-abortion side arguing that abortion isn't murder, it's killing in self-defense or similar twisted logic, or that the killing of embryos is justified since embryonic stem cell research could save lives [even though that isn't the case at all], etc.

    You're absolutely right that some basic truths (murder of an innocent human being is wrong) have already been defined... but then you have the people who claim that an embryo isn't a human being, etc., so these questions have to be studied to ensure that whatever doctrine develops regarding issues like embryonic stem cell research is not contrary to the objective moral law.

    After all, faith and reason are not incompatible; on the contrary, they are complementary.

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  192. Nubby...OK, but what if you are the wife of Joe Kennedy and your marriage gets annulled by the Catholic Church after 12 years and kids. You should be obedient and accept that the Catholic Church is correct here.

    This woman was not so obedient. She was a woman of means and went outside the church to get help and legal advice. She took it all the way to Rome, where it was overturned.


    How is this disobedient?

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  193. To be fair, when discussing something like obedience the frame of reference is usually compliance, not resistance.

    So an example of a legal battle with appeals and such is probably not the go-to example of the virtue of obedience.

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  194. Mary, but again, how can you (or anyone)practice the virtue of obedience if you don't know what it is that God is asking you to obey?

    To whom are your children accountable, and how can they know what to obey if there are not objective rules and truths provided by the one asking obedience?

    Doesn't obedience mean sometimes obeying even when we have not investigated or fully understand the rule? As long as we have legitimate authority above us, isn't that enough sometimes? If we only "obey" when we've thought every nuance through and decided that there are enough studies to convince us of something that we tend to agree with anyway, then is that really obedience?

    And yes, philosophy is actually the study of wisdom, of seeking metaphysical realities, among other things. Truth is what is real. It is outside of our own selves. We seek wisdom and truth. And universities, which were begun by Catholics, were the place to dive deeper into all kinds of Truth, from philosophical truths to scientific truths and theological truths. But diving deeper into something does not mean that we don't have "truth" to begin with.

    Think about it. I study science in grade school, I dive deeper into it in high school, then further in college, and then further in grad school and the research lab. The Church loves intellectual pursuit! But always grounded in the idea that Truth exists and it's our job to find it, not to determine it.

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  195. I think also something that needs to be addressed is the idea of the internal moral compass. Everyone has one. With the exception of sociopaths or people with specific kind of mental illnesses that effect or erode this, I would hope we can all agree that everyone has at least some sense of right and wrong.

    Most philosophical interest in morals I think tends to focus on this individual or cultural level. This is where you see the kinds of questions and exercises that people have alluded to in the thread. One of the more famous ones goes something like

    "You work in a railway switch yard, and you see an out of control train. Within moments, it will run down and kill half a dozen track workers. As a switch operator, you can hit a button that would divert the train to another track, where there is only one track worker. If you hit that button, you would save the six people, but the one will surely die. If you do not push the button, six people die. There is no time to call out for help or stop the disaster. Would you push the button?"

    And these kinds of questions and exercises are interesting and have their place, but are also fundamentally different from what we mean as the absolute moral authority of the Church. There is no one right answer to the question above, even though people can certainly get into extremely heated debates about it.

    While moral/ethical exercises like the above might tell you something about yourself, it doesn't really fit into the religious discussion.

    Secular humanism is a movement to develop a moral and ethical framework that best suits the needs of all people. It sounds like a great idea on its face. Their principles and values read like a wonderful goal. The problem is two-fold, at least from a Catholic POV.

    First, even if successful, these are the best ideas of flawed human beings. They would have to be flexible by nature to continue to fit the needs of an ever changing population, comprised of billions of people in many diverse cultures. What is the moral authority here? This is the best we decided to be the least common denominator for all, at the time we last printed a copy?

    Second, going back to the idea of this being designed by flawed human beings? A central tenet of Catholicism is that we are flawed, sinful, and unable to reach perfection without the grace and intercession of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. So how exactly is our collaboration with our fellows, excluding God, going to actually yield a moral framework that actually best suits our needs? Do we even understand what our needs are (from a spiritual standpoint)?

    So the Church has the unenviable task of having to say no to a lot of ideas that on their face seem like they should be wonderful.

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  196. Nicholas, you would have loved the "Moral Reasoning" Doctrinal Quiz Shows!

    Here was the first:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/09/answer-to-dqs-moral-reasoning-101-ends.html

    Here was the second:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/11/answer-to-doctrinal-quiz-show-and.html

    In you scenario, the switchman would not be morally culpable no matter which choice he made, or if he made no choice at all. (Just for the readers who are wondering!)

    Also, I love that you mention the internal moral compass (natural law). I wrote about that here, and I so want Mary to get on the list to receive the book. It's so important to know what the natural law is, and how the conscience works and how we can deaden our conscience either through sin or "compassion" or as a result of poor formation:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2011/06/if-you-read-only-one-book-this-year.html

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