May 3, 2012
According to recent statistics, young people (ages 12 to17) spend 103 hours a month watching TV and an average of 31 hours a week using the internet. In the many programs and sites that they view, they encounter the prevalent philosophical thought of our day. It is part of the cultural air that we breathe.
Up until the 17
th century, there was the pre-modern world. Widely held was the belief in God and the supernatural. God was the Creator. He had a plan for his creation. His authority was respected.
With the Age of Enlightenment (17
th century), faith gave way to reason. God was toppled from the pinnacle of his creation and man became the center of the universe. An emphasis on individualism – coming from the Renaissance -- broke the hold of tradition and authority. Human values replaced religious values.
In the late 19
th and early 20
th centuries, we entered the modern age. With the advances in science and technology, there arose a way of thinking that affirmed our own ability to reshape and even create our environment. The role of the Creator was cast aside and reason itself lost confidence in its own ability to arrive at truth.
In our postmodern times, we live under the cloud of the philosophical skepticism of such thinkers as Heidegger, Marx and Freud. Knowledge is no longer a matter of an objective truth arrived at by reason. Rather, knowledge is simply an individual’s perception of reality. We can never know, according to postmodernism, whether or not what we know corresponds to reality.
Postmodernism is not a set of truths. Rather, it is the denial that there is such thing as absolute truth. Postmodernists assert that all worldviews have an equal claim to the truth. Truth only exists for the individual. No one can claim an absolute truth that is universal. But this claim that postmodernists make is self-contradictory. If there is no absolute truth, how can they absolutely claim that all truth is relative?
Since postmodernists argue against an objective truth which is valid, whether anyone believes in it or not, they logically argue for moral relativism. No one should impose his or her values on others. In terms of morality, no longer is the question asked, “Is this objectively right or wrong?” More important is the answer to the question, “What works for me?”
Making all truth individual and relative has given birth to a certain way of looking at human sexuality. If there is no objective truth to human sexuality apart from personal preference or inclination, then everyone is free to do as he or she pleases with his or her body. This type of thinking has fostered a culture of contraception and a widespread acceptance of alternate lifestyles.
By the same logic that postmodernists deny absolute truth and espouse moral relativism, they also embrace religious relativism. No religion can make a claim to absolute truth. All religions are equally true. Furthermore, such an attitude leads to cafeteria Catholicism, whereby it becomes legitimate to select what truths to believe and what moral values to accept, according to one’s own taste. There is no longer a place for a magisterium claiming authority from Christ himself to teach.
Ever since the 1950s, this postmodern way of thinking has seeped into almost every discipline of knowledge. It has found entrance into the education system, the legal system and the world of the media. It has made tolerance foundational to the way we live with each other. However, the only people not to be tolerated are those who hold that the truth is objective and that truth matters. Today, truth is on the gallows of postmodernism. What response can the believer make?
Catholicism teaches that there is truth that can be arrived at by reason and truth given by revelation. But truth is never divorced from life. And here is where Catholicism can most effectively respond to the challenges of our individualistic and skeptical age.
From the very beginning, Christianity never separated the truth of faith from the truth of moral values. In fact, even before the term “Christians” was coined, their religion was called “the Way.” Six times in the Acts of the Apostles, this designation is found. The reason is quite simple. Faith is not simply an idea. It is
praxis. It is a way of living. Christianity has to do with every aspect of life.
At the birth of Christianity, Christians stood out from the rest of pagan society by the way they lived. This is what distinguished them and led others not only to the truth of the faith, but to the truth about this world and life itself. “In accordance with her very nature, the Church must again and again ‘make the way known.’ She must make visible ever anew the moral context of the Faith” (Cardinal J. Ratzinger, “Presentation of the Encyclical ‘Veritatis Splendor,’
Inside the Vatican, November, 1993, p.14). When we, the members of the Church, live our Catholic faith unashamedly and to the fullest in every aspect of our lives, we show forth “the splendor of truth.” We let others see how truth makes a difference. Thus, we do our part in dismantling the gallows of postmodernism on which truth now hangs.