Only a society which has embraced relativism could possibly accept works of art such as bunny rabbits and basketfuls of eggs displayed in our churches during the Easter season. According to the creed of relativism, each church is entitled to decorate the sacred space in an individual way and in whatever manner is deemed “meaningful” for the people.  Of course “meaningful” only really applies to those in charge of liturgy whether they are the members of the liturgy group, the Pastoral Council, the sacristan or even the priest.

While eggs have some vague connection with the Resurrection, rabbits certainly do not.  In fact, the inclusion of the popular bunny into Easter celebrations is not alone inappropriate it is un-Christian. This particular animal is in fact associated with pagan festivals. The Vernal Equinox takes place around the same time as Easter. At this time, the Teutonic deity Eostra, is honoured as the goddess of spring and fertility. Her emblem is the rabbit because of its high reproduction rate. It is quite likely that this festival has been revived as a New Age celebration and has been taking place in our own country.

Rabbits of course do not lay eggs so it is difficult to see how the tradition of making nests for them to lay eggs, ever began. Apparently this tradition was brought from Germany to the United States in the 18th century.  Eventually nests evolved into baskets and rabbit eggs were exchanged for sweets and other small edible gifts.

These pagan practices became incorporated into Catholic celebrations in the mistaken belief that this will make liturgy attractive to young people. However nothing could be further from the truth. Nonetheless, today the Easter bunny has become a prominent symbol of the most important Christian feast although most people know that these practices have no place in Easter celebrations.

What does relativism have to do with all this?  Put at its simplest, we understand relativism to be the belief that there is no universal truth and that everything depends on what is the prevailing opinion of the moment.  The way in which the church is decorated for Easter ceremonies therefore depends not on tradition and not on liturgical instructions, but on the particular desire of those who are permitted to carry out whatver they consider expresses their own views.

When we remember that Pope Benedict claimed the greatest problem of our times is the dictatorship of relativism, we cannot help but wonder if he realised (or does he now realise) how prevalent un-Christian ideology has become. This applies to all the evils we are obliged to witness in the world. How for example, can relativism be worse than abortion or euthanasia?

On the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Irish Times carried the following statement:

“The new leader of the Roman Catholic Church has denounced moral relativism, the idea that moral principles have no objective standards. Pope Benedict XVI has characterized it as the major evil facing the church.”

If the statement of His Holiness that the principle of relativism is the greatest problem, surely things have only worsened since his first recorded statement as Cardinal Ratzinger in 2003 and his subsequent re-affirmation of this, particularly remembered at the funeral of Pope John Paul II.

So what exactly is relativism and why is it the greatest problem.

Let us look at a couple of examples.  For those who are believing and practising Catholics, the very idea of termination of life is not just unacceptable but abhorrent. This applies whether the life is that of the child in the womb or the person who wants to end his own life for any reason.  That is what we would think but once relativism insinuates itself into our faith, we find otherwise orthodox Catholics saying things like “I wouldn’t do it myself and personally I don’t think it is right, but how can I impose my belief on anyone else?”

What is going on here is that there is a denial of objectivetruth. The concept of truth has been denigrated to mean one’s personal opinion or what some people call conscience. Therefore in this way, truth itself is undermined.

How can we convince others that relativism itself is an untruth?  If they are willing to listen there are a couple of sentences which can help.  Relativism is at its worst when it comes to very big questions like those that have been decided in Ireland by referenda. We have seen and heard the debates on these issues.  It is rare that minds will be changed by rational argument because as long as fundamental truth is not acknowledged, it all comes down in the end to personal belief.

“Are you willing to discuss this?”   If your opponent is not open to discussion there is nothing to be gained by the attack and defend approach  but if he will listen it is possible to show how mostly our lives could not be lived without people believing in truth that is not alone their own truth but something accepted by most civilised others.

When confronted with “That is your truth and this is mine…” it might be helpful to state:

“I don’t subscribe to the dictatorship of relativism because it is easily proved wrong.”

There are universally accepted rules without which it would be very hard to live. For example, there has to be some objective agreement on honesty. We would not get far with internet trading if everyone involved had their own opinion on whose money it is. Rules apply to games like football – can we imagine what the World Cup would be like if every player had his own ideas?  What about the Rules of the Road?   Try teaching a teenager to drive while disregarding those old instructions that inhibited his father’s generation.  It is not very likely that he will pass his driving test!

That’s easy enough to understand but when it comes to questions of morality the stakes are higher. Yet even here we can arrive at the conclusion that there are actually standards of behaviour which are universally accepted.

In 2015 Pope Francis declared that moral relativism is “the spiritual poverty of our time,”

“The spirit of the world,” he cautioned, tempts us with “the deceptive light of relativism, which obscures the splendour of truth and, shaking the earth beneath our feet, pushes us toward the shifting sands of confusion and despair.”

When humanity becomes estranged from the guiding principle of truth based on a higher authority, it is not surprising that the evils of abortion, euthanasia, transgenderism and assaults on human dignity including religious freedom, all become subject to opinion and personal ideas.

Pope Francis has spoken on this and condemned the idea of liberty without any limits. Echoing the words of his predecessor, His Holiness claimed that the concept of tolerance hostile to truth is one of the chief challenges to the Church in the present day. The Pope added that internal emptiness is the consequence of the elusive search for happiness when the search is carried out by doing all things just because they are personally desired.

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