“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
I’ve been thinking about this Edmund Burke quote a lot lately, especially in light of a recent column of mine that had some demanding I be silenced.
Recently, I spoke at a National Day of Prayer event here in Fargo. Two things seemed more clear than ever that night: 1) We faithful need each other’s prayers — knowing others were praying for me during that time of public scrutiny brought tremendous grace, and 2) The silence of believers would be detrimental, for all.
When a reader wrote to tell me she only “reviews” my faith columns to make sure I “don’t cross the line,” I thought of the cautionary suggestion in the book “Absolute Relativism” by Chris Stefanick: “It seems that a new relativist inquisition is underway.”
Many believers feel the pressure and weaken. Yet in Scripture, Jesus implores us repeatedly to “Be not afraid.”
The Christian celebration of Pentecost reminds us of the bravery of the apostles in the days just after Jesus’ departure, when the Holy Spirit descended upon them, emboldening them to preach the good news despite risks.
“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,” St. Paul reminded the Romans.
The Holy Spirit is with us, too, and we have each other. Rather than grow quiet, we need to speak the truth, in love.
Another reader recently shared her goal of keeping religion contained inside places of worship and out of public legislation, relaying her desire for people to come together without contention to decide and define morally acceptable laws.
While I appreciate her spirit of peaceful agreement on issues to benefit the common good — a goal with which I can agree — I’m stopped by the first part of her proposal.
Confining the voices of the faithful to church buildings won’t benefit society, and to suggest they should be muted reveals a misplaced notion of how faith works.
By its nature, faith grows outward. We bring what we absorb within our houses of worship into the world, and if sown in truth and love, faith can transform humankind for the good.
We call to mind here the existence of objective truth and the fallacy of relativism.
Relativism espouses that truth is malleable and subjective. But the mindset contains holes. The relativist cannot justify, for example, complaining over a thief hauling off with a prized possession, for the thief has his own “truth,” which must be respected.
A realist, on the other hand, sees truth as it is: objective.
“Every law is the imposition of a moral code that is recognized by a particular group within society,” Stefanick points out. Whether religious or not, everyone, without exception, holds a worldview that naturally seeps into legislative goals and outcomes.
Stefanick distinguishes between rightly and wrongly applied religious legislation.
If Christians were to try to make Sunday church attendance compulsory, that would be wrong. “Forced faith, like forced love, isn’t real, and it violates a person’s freedom and dignity,” he explains.
But, if the faithful try to legislate moral codes that are logical, and based on our innate sense of right and wrong, Stefanick argues, they shouldn’t be silenced just because those laws also correspond to principles found in their faith.
This squelching, he says, would constitute anti-religious bigotry.
As people of faith, keeping our religion out of the public square requires a compartmentalizing that is impossible if we are truly walking in faith.
And we shouldn’t try. The world that existed before Christianity emerged was “extremely vicious,” Stefanick writes. “A Roman father, whose rights were nearly absolute, could leave his child in the snow to die with no consequences.”
Despite an imperfect application of Christianity throughout its 2,000-year history, he notes, its influence has grown tolerance and human rights in our world rather than diminished them.
Objective moral truth wasn’t invented by religious leaders, he reminds, but is written into our DNA, “as every child who has experienced the pain of playground injustice understands.”
On the contrary, we need not look far to see where moral relativism can lead.
Adolf Hitler once remarked, “There is no such thing as truth, either in the moral or in the scientific sense.”
And Benito Mussolini once commented, “If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and men who claim to be the bearers of an objective immortal truth, then there is nothing more relativistic than fascism.”
The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen had another perspective, noting, “The refusal to take sides on great moral issues is itself a decision. It is a silent acquiesce to evil.”
Sheen added that, “The tragedy of our time is that those who still believe in honesty lack fire and conviction, while those who believe in dishonesty are full of passionate conviction.”
Bearing this all in mind, let us encourage one another to move forward with fire and conviction, not caving to a culture that bases its moral truth on a compass pointing only to self, but with a renewed openness to the Holy Spirit’s desire to set our hearts aflame with truth, shared for the benefit of all.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on May 20, 2016.]