A serious reflection to end the year by Dr Andrew Kania...
A humorous tale is told set during the Soviet regime of an erudite and normally outstanding Ukrainian Professor in Kyiv delivering a lecture to a group of university students of political science; the topic under discussion being "The Pitfalls of Fascism". Having spoken for two hours of the evils done under the name of Fascism in Europe one of the students in the Hall asks the Professor for a succinct definition of the political form he had been so vehemently condemning. The Professor replies in a loud voice, clearly enunciating twice over, that: "Fascism is that system of government where one man preys off the livelihood and aspirations of another". A second student then calls out to the Professor: "Then how would you define Communism?" This time the Professor did not look so sure of himself, for at the back of the auditorium sat the mandatory pair of KGB agents vetting what was taught at places of higher learning. "Ah", says the Professor, nervously eyeing the two KGB agents; "Communism is the converse of the definition of Fascism just provided!"
The term 'political correctness' although first recorded to have been used in the Chisholm vs Georgia United States Supreme Court case of 1793, came to far greater prominence in the 20th Century as a euphemistic tool of the Soviet Union, a phrase describing the guidelines of speech and thought required not to cause 'public offence' to the body Soviet, and by so doing not cause 'private harm' to the individual.
The British novelist, George Orwell, would best satirize 'political correctness', by giving it the name "Newspeak" in his work, 1984. In a passage from the novel, Orwell described how "Newspeak" is the only language ever known to man where the vocabulary of the language is daily shrinking, for what the government allows its citizens to say and therefore think, is slowly legislated to nothing. In Orwell's words...
"By 2050 — earlier, probably — all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron — they'll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of the Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like "freedom is slavery" when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking — not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness".
Political correctness today influencing the names we give to religious holidays and how we publicly practice our religion beliefs...
Most of us in the western world have seen the effects of 'political correctness' not only in what we are allowed to read and write, but most importantly in how we are able to publicly practice our religious beliefs; be it most evident in debates about prayer in classrooms, controversy over the public celebration of Easter and Christmas as a family holiday rather than religious festivals, or whether religious organizations and institutions should receive government funding.
It would not be too far from the mark to say that the desire to create a language spoken by everyone so as to strike social harmony in a pluralistic society, has necessitated that governments find the 'lowest social denominator', and legislate according to this moral mean. For example, if an atheist is affronted at the notion of religion, the easiest way in which to save him being affronted is by legislating religion from out of the public forum.
In this way, under the guise of being a 'progressive' and 'democratic' initiative, religious values, lose their value, and the only people who don't seem to mind, are those who have nothing to lose in the first place — the atheist, or those who don't wish others to have what they have not — faith. We are thus left in a paradigm Jean Paul Satre spoke of in "Existentialism and Humanism": "There can be no eternal truth since there is no divine mind to think of it". (Kreeft, 1990, p. 147). In such a society, devoid of a fundamental belief in an Absolute being, everyman's truth is equal — be it the man who believes in the Incarnation of Christ, His Passion and Resurrection, as well as those individuals who worship the magic crystal, the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, or Yoda and Obi-Won-Kenobi. It is considered to be intellectual to have such a democratized view of 'truths' and conversely primitive to take an Absolutist stance.
The 'relativism' of Catholicism with other world religions...
Tragically many of our young adult Catholic faithful accept the 'relativism' of Catholicism with other world religions as a statement of fact, rather than mere opinion based on an agenda of relativism. Through appeals made to 'authority' at university, these young adults become convinced of Catholicism's status as one of a myriad of 'truths', and as such develop a smörgåsbord of spirituality, taking from all these 'equals' what best fits their mindset and personality. Without a little tinge of naiveté, the young adults accept the 'truth' of their newly constructed spirituality, never apparently seeking to ask what agenda the authorities had in first relativizing Catholicism and Christianity, be it a personal ambivalence to that religion or a political desire to reduce Christianity's status.
John Paul II would further describe in opening, Veritatis Splendor the roots of such à la carte spirituality: "man is constantly tempted to turn his gaze away from the living and true God in order to direct it toward idols, exchanging 'the truth about God for a lie'. Man's capacity to know the truth is also darkened, and his will to submit to it is weakened. Thus, giving himself over to relativism and skepticism, he goes off in search of an illusory freedom apart from truth itself". (1993, par. 1)
Moral Relativism is also based on the odd supposition that in the entire history of mankind, God has never attempted to communicate His Law or His existence to any individual, for if He had — then there would exist proof of the Absolute. Following from this no Mystic can be a moral relativist, for as a Mystic they are aware of and live in the presence of God — and they know that at some stage in history — God, the Absolute has provided humanity with Sacred Scripture. In the eyes of a moral relativist the mystic is the most deluded person on earth, for they have a certitude of belief in a Being that does not exist in the first place.
Even religious based institutions, in the contemporary era where moral absolutes are scoffed at, and moral relativism is lauded, are afraid of being perceived as intolerant, or narrow-minded, and are now foundering in a sea of 'political correctness', diluting belief in order to be all things to all men, and in the process running the risk of losing their identity.
A contemporary example from a Catholic hospital...
One ready-to-hand example is that of Catholic health care institutions removing crucifixes and icons from rooms in order to satisfy the requests of patients who are not Catholic. (cf. O'Leary, The West Australian, Saturday, December 23, 2006, p. 5). In this case the willingness to take down religious symbols and icons revealed a huge divide between the status of icons in the Western and Eastern Church.
Whereas it has been argued since this particular action occurred, by the Hospital in question, in Protestant-like fashion that faith is much more than icons, in the Eastern Church, our father among the Saints, John Chrysostom, would defy such an argument, (as quoted in St. John Damascene's tract against the iconoclasts): "If you insult the royal robe, do you not insult him who wears it? Do you not know that if you insult the image of the emperor, you transfer the insult to the prototype? Do you not know that if you show contempt to his image, whether it is a wooden carving or a copper statue, you will be judged not for insulting lifeless matter, but for showing the emperor contempt? Dishonor shown to the emperor's image is dishonor shown to the emperor himself". (St. John the Damascene, 1980, p. 68). The point that Chrysostom and the Damascene go on to both make — is how much greater are the images made of Christ and his Saints?
Where to now for our Catholic institutions
So where to now for our Catholic institutions in the age of 'political correctness'? The rationale for the existence of such institutions such as our excellent Catholic Hospitals and Catholic Schools, is not only that they offer our increasingly diverse community an excellent service, but that this service is inextricably intertwined, and primarily motivated, with and by, Catholic, Christian, charity (cf. 1 John 4: 19). This rationale should in no way be confined or restricted by notions of 'political correctness'. It goes without saying that no patient in need should be refused treatment, and no student in need, refused education, based on the fact that they do not believe in God as a Catholic believes in God; but similarly no patient or student who receives hospitality from such a Catholic organization should then question the very foundations on which this charity was first offered to them; nor should the institution, place shrouds over those symbols which are integral to the spiritual devotion of its faithful, thus taking from public view what the Church has for centuries deemed as most worthy of the highest honor and indicative of its very religious identity.
Christ never told the parable about a Good Samaritan who prior to tending the wounds of the victim of the robbers, had to alter his personal religious convictions in order to carry out his act of charity. Additionally no individual, be they Muslim, Christian or Jew, should ever have to apologize for believing in God the way they so choose; nor should the institutions which are built up by communities of such believers, negate their particular religious charism because they offer a service to a member outside their Faith. If a person knows that they will not enjoy the food at a banquet that they have been invited to, they always have the option to politely refuse the invitation outright, prior to making an impolite scene at the banquet by demanding the host offer a cuisine that suits their palette.
Distinction between being hospitable to one's guests
There exists a great distinction between being hospitable to one's guests and being untrue to oneself; no matter how much political correctness would have us bathe the two in a hue of grey. What is required by all believers, especially the children of Abraham, is that we have a mutual respect for one another, an understanding that we share a common spiritual heritage — a lineage stemming from a single Creator. What should also be remembered is that respect is a two-way process, one in which at times we are hosts and at other times we are guests. When these roles are offered to us either by choice or necessity, we must fulfill our particular obligations, dutifully, with love and good will; neither seeking to impart our religious beliefs on another, nor demanding that our charitable hosts change their identity in order to suit our particular circumstances; thus being in the latter case — a poor and uncharitable guest. If one is a patient in a hospital in a predominately Muslim country and a nurse is wearing a niqab or burqa, one should respect the reasons for so doing in their Faith, and not desire any alteration to religious practice, solely trusting that the health care is the best that can be offered by that hospital, irrespective of the colour or creed of the patient.
What we need in a pluralistic society is not moral relativism, for this will in the end dilute belief in any God and the sanctity of Revelation; what we need is an unequivocal love for our own faith, married to a deep respect for the rights of others to believe as they so choose, in their own homes, in their own institutions, and as our guests. We neither show ourselves to be Christians by being blind to the spiritual integrity of others, nor by being blind to the upholding of our own spiritual identity and that of our Catholic institutions. A golden mean must be struck — a mean that at no stage denies the presence of Christ, neither in how we minister to others, nor in the form of Scripture, nor in any piece created by man that points toward how the Church glorifies and better comes to know God. A person may apologize for what they write and what they say — but they should never apologize for the mere act of breathing.
'Political correctness' should not find us denying our faith, in order to make others happy, but rather, we as members of a Church active in the world, should be a presence of Christ and his teachings; noting always, that Christ was a politically incorrect individual not because he was a 'liberal', but because he was unequivocal on matters of Truth, even to the point of being despised by His own people, 'liberals' and 'conservatives' alike. Christ was the merciful forgiver of sins, the young rabbi who mixed with sinners, but he was also the preacher who set even stricter rules about marriage, and who cleansed the Temple. Today he would be politically incorrect and hated by all lobbies and all political spectrums; with the exception of those who in their heart but desire the following of His commandments (cf. Mark 12: 28 — 31).
The greatest threat to the argument of moral relativism expounded by its disciples is that from the mouth of Christ(cf. Matthew 16: 13 — 20). Christ was not only a prophet, not only a great teacher, not only a friendly wise man — Christ was God, and being God He must stand, in the eyes of Catholic faithful, above all other truths that occupy the surface of the globe. To be a Christian and propound moral relativism, is similar to the husband who says he is happily married and a fervent supporter of monogamy, but all the same has a legion of adulterous liaisons — irreconcilable; either you believe Christ is God — or not; the equation is simple.
It is the full Truth of Christ that we as His Church must witness to in the world — be that as clergy or laity, through our daily devotions and our professional lives. For it is better to be condemned for walking a certain path, and knowing the direction we are headed, than being caught in a morass of grey, not knowing which way is up or down, in or out, only knowing that there seems to be a lot of similar disoriented 'friends' to keep you company. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger alluded to this same point, when he warned the prelates of the Church that any future Pontiff must recognize the danger of moral relativism. As Cardinal Ratzinger stated in his pre-conclave address in 2005:
"How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking... The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves — thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth. Every day new sects are created and what Saint Paul says about human trickery comes true, with cunning which tries to draw those into error (cf Eph 4, 14). Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and "swept along by every wind of teaching", looks like the only attitude (acceptable) to today's standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires."
As Catholic Christians we must be wary of any social theory devised on the false premise that a person can be all things to all men. Such a supposition, will inevitably lead to the individual becoming so pluralistic in their values, that no compass invented by man would ever be of use to them, for want of them ever taking an Absolute stance from which to gauge their bearings — their feet never firmly planted — their hearts never fully committed. If a society follows such a chameleon-like pattern, then 'political correctness' and 'moral relativism' will one day accomplish its goal — destroying the notion of the Absolute in the hearts and minds of men, and in the process leaving a nation's citizens with only two real certainties in life, deprived of a caring God, all they have is materialism and death.
©2006 Dr Andrew Thomas Kania