When we let go of objective truth or moral absolutes, well anything can happen. Two cases that demonstrate the point. This year marks the 25th Anniversary since the Rwandan Genocide. The UN had Peace Keepers, troops on the ground and when the killing broke out the commander contacted the UN Headquarters and the UN President told him to stand down, “we don't take sides”. Which was in effect taking a side. You can never be neutral when it comes to evil. You either fight it or are complicit in it.
After WWII and the Holocaust, the UN adopted a resolution that it would, “prevent and punish genocide”. Even with that mandate it still did not act. It was then the UN showed itself a most useless organization. Over 800,000 were killed by the end of 100 Days of slaughter, including those inside hospitals, churches and schools. Most of that could have been prevented if the UN and the rest of world stuck by the ancient moral norm that killing the innocent is always wrong and we have a duty to prevent it as much as reasonably possible. The UN threw out any objective truth in favor of politics. What was the point of the Peace Keeping Troops if they weren’t going to keep the peace?
Despite the world’s “No Never Again” after WWII genocide the UN let it happened again. But the story of Rwanda doesn't end there. What would happen subsequently would be the "nest example of Reconciliation and Healing the world has ever witnessed. Proving, as St. Paul called it “the wisdom of the Cross”, the Christian principle that forgiveness is the only way to absorb violence and end it. Vengeance is a bottomless pit that is never fully satisfied. Reconciliation, which requires both sides is hard work but its fruits are peace, solidarity and healing.
Another example of the abandonment of objective truth is what happened with Oberlin College. A jury awarded a $44 million judgment against the College in a defamation lawsuit. The case involved a local Bakery who caught several students shoplifting and stopped them and reported it to the Police. The students admitted to shoplifting but other students and Administrators at the College decided it was a case of racism and racial pro"ling since the shoplifters were black. There ensured a long campaign to defame the Bakery and destroy its business. Now you would think that $44 million would sober up the College and bring them back to sanity but instead the President thinks that this was a case of two different opinions and that the legal system shouldn't be used to punish opinion. Not only that, she also stated, “You can have two different lived experiences, and both those things can be true.”
In other words, all truth and reality are subjective. With that line of thinking there can be no right or wrong, just opinions in the eye of the beholder. Without objective truth we are left with a raw power play and the strongest wins. Which in our world means whoever has the most Twitter followers or favorable media coverage. In the case of Oberlin, the objective reality is that stealing is wrong, if you are black or white or poor or wealthy. Thank goodness the Jury understood what is at stake when you jettison the rule of law.
This is where we need to be careful with ourselves. Self-deception is so common. The Church holds up objective truths and moral norms for all people so that we don't fool ourselves or allow ourselves to justify wrong or harmful behavior. But the truth is we do it all the time. We call that sin. Anytime we sin we have to first start along the process of telling ourselves that objective truth is not so objective. We do this by telling ourselves that stealing five dollars is nothing compared to robbing a bank. There may be a difference in degree but not in kind. Stealing is stealing, whether you are Robin Hood or Bonnie and Clyde. The hope of course, is that we catch ourselves before we go from shoplifting to robbing a bank or from telling a “white lie” to committing perjury. Like a tear in a garment, most sin starts out small and then unless a repair happens, the tear in our conscience only gets bigger. Jesus had a lot to say on this subject, among them: “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not kill and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment’ but I say, whoever grows angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.”
One of the reasons we come to Church is so that we can expose ourselves to objective truths and be reminded of moral norms less we engage in too much rationalization and justification and convince ourselves our sin is now our virtue. The students and staff at Oberlin convinced themselves they were standing up against racism but what they were doing in reality was defaming, libeling and destroying a family run business. They did that by turning thievery into a virtue and crime fighting into a vice.
What are you willing to pay for denying reality? These two examples show that letting go of objective truth can cost $44 million in damages or 800,000 lives. But it can also cost you your soul.
Fr. John B.BACK TO LIST