I rang a friend of mine over the Christmas period to find out how he was getting on since it was the season of goodwill and all of that. I hadn’t spoken to him for a number of years. “I hear you’ve gone all holy Reid,” he amusingly joked. We had a long conversation about work, our children, football and about life in general. His words haven’t left me though.
I deal with his statement in my autobiography in the chapters ‘The Meaning of Life’, Parts 1 and 2. Obviously, he didn’t read the book. I would like to touch on a topic which I have alluded to before in this column - relativism. It is the most important problem of our time. I hear you ask, “Doesn’t he know that Donegal are playing in the McKenna Cup on Sunday? Shouldn’t he be giving his opinion on this game”? To be perfectly honest, I’m like Rory Gallagher, I don’t care much about the McKenna Cup. Besides, we are not fielding even a second-string team. Declan Bonner has been tasked with playing his U-21 outfit for this competition. The McKenna Cup has run its course since the GAA changed the time of year that the National League is played. It runs straight into the more important league now and if there are postponements, games can even overlap.
To say that I have gone “all holy” is an oversimplification of something more profound pertaining to how I should lead my life. My dear departed friend, Fr. Paul, is in my thoughts a lot these days. My wife Maura called me into the sitting-room the other day to watch a testimony on the internet that Fr. Paul gave about Medjugorje. He talked about how society is so caught up in materialism and how the light has gone out for many people. Although he didn’t use the words “moral relativism”, he alluded to this philosophy.
Relativism is the philosophy that there is no objective reality, but that truth is relative to what each person thinks. “You have your truth, and I have mine.” “Don’t impose your morality on someone else”. This tells us to make up our own truth. There exists an “agree never to disagree” philosophy necessary to guarantee peace, tolerance and equality in a pluralistic world.
Conversely, people who think we can know the truth in moral or religious issues are considered intolerant, judgemental, bigoted and maybe even downright dangerous. Isn’t this judgemental in itself? Who am I to judge? I certainly do not want a relativist who believes that there are no moral truths imposing their faith of relativism on me. I will still respect them. People are afraid to resist this imposing. We chose instead to go along with it in case we are deemed intolerant and bigoted.
Our young people are pressurised into believing that there are no moral absolutes, that is, no right or wrong. It’s a make-believe world. Relativism takes the meaning out of life. Don’t we need surety and peace in life? And does life have inherent meaning or not? Is it something I discover or do I make it up for myself?
The relativist will say that there is no meaning to life, make it up for yourself. The realist lives a life of discovery where there are moral absolutes which gives him or her a sense of purpose and hope. With relativism, there exists a poverty of purpose and a crisis in meaning. Today’s culture deprives us and especially our youth of reasons for hope. This can only lead to despair. We also give into endless distractions where there is no meaning. Is that what we are supposed to do until we die? I did for long enough until I met Fr. Paul.
We need a moral compass and structure. The President of America, Barack Obama, tells us that sin for him is “acting out of alignment with my values”. He is typical of many people. He has made up a value system for himself. You see, it is popular, attractive and convenient. “Values clarification” has replaced ethics and training kids in virtue in public education in America. It’s well on its way here too. They are taught that they have their own value system while others have theirs. No wonder children are so confused. We cannot discuss or even mention ethics today because we are “hurting someone’s feelings”.
How dare anyone question same-sex marriage, abortion or euthanasia. Is it because it will compromise our own value system? Relativism is the only attitude that seems acceptable in modern times. When we buy an appliance such as an android phone, an instruction manual comes along with it that teaches how to use it. We are free to do whatever we want with the phone like taking it into the swimming pool with us. We wouldn’t do this because we know it will damage the phone. Moral laws are given to us to guide us in life. Again, we are free to break these laws. If we do, we will break ourselves and hurt other people in the process.
John Lennon’s dream of “imagine there’s no heaven … no hell below us … no religion, too,” then we could “live life in peace” proved so wrong time and again in the 20th century. Take communism, for instance, with its strong commitment to atheism. In one small communist country alone, Cambodia, 1.7 million people died at the hands of the government from 1975 to 1979, with entire families, including infants, being put to death by the tens of thousands if they were a perceived threat to the Communist Party. Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy, didn’t recognize any objective reality - moral or religious - to which he should conform, he invented his own moral code and enforced it on everyone he could. If truth is really relative, why not?!
Your average relativist wouldn’t go as far as the above-mentioned examples, but the modern world is increasingly full of examples of relativist intolerance toward those who believe in objective truth. Consider the Ashers in Belfast, who are a deeply Christian family. Their bakery business was taken to court last year for refusing to bake a cake for a gay man with a message in support of same-sex-marriage. Many people, especially politicians, say that they are personally opposed to abortion but that a woman has the right to choose and so it’s ok. This is all carried out, of course, in the name of ‘tolerance’! Really?
An example of tolerance was Saint Mother Teresa, whose faith motivated her to a life of service to everyone irrespective of creed or lifestyle; from feeding Hindus living in the slums of Kolkata to starting New York City’s first AIDS hospice and much more.
I hope that I have given you some food for thought for 2017. As Sergeant Phil Esterhaus from the TV show Hill Street Blues used to say to his police officers in the 1980s: “Hey, let's be careful out there”.
And as always, keep the faith!