Robert Knight

Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together in his head. He doesn't think of doctrines as primarily "true" or "false," but as "academic" or "practical," "outworn" or "contemporary"... .

- Screwtape (the senior devil in C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters")

Since time began, the devil has done his best work by sowing doubt. In recent years, many people have abandoned the search for transcendent truth, replacing it with a quest for personal fulfillment. This is the alluring but poisonous siren song of relativism.

A direct threat to Christianity and Judaism, relativism is just as deadly to liberal societies, which is why even nonbelievers need to take the threat seriously. If all values are relative, why prefer liberal democracy over a muscular authoritarianism that "gets things done?" If you're a judge, why bother trying to faithfully execute the spirit and letter of the law when you can use your own raw power?

The literary monthly the New Criterion earlier this year took on the problem of relativism squarely. Among the essays in the January edition is "The Temptation of Pope Benedict" by Daniel Johnson. Although the title implies that Benedict might himself have a problem, the piece celebrates the pope's defense of truth.

Having grown up in Nazi Germany, Joseph Ratzinger (the pope's original name) had a front-row seat in a culture shorn of its Judeo-Christian moorings. Over the years (1981-2005), as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before his elevation to pope, Cardinal Ratzinger waged a relentless war on relativism, which he continues to view as the primary foe of civilization.

Mr. Johnson notes that in proportion to the West's plunge into decadence, Benedict's resolve to expose the evils of relativism has increased. In fact, Cardinal Ratzinger's use of the phrase "dictatorship of relativism" four years ago just before he became pope has become a symbol of Christian resistance to godless liberalism. Here's the passage:

"Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine [Ephesians 4:14], seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's ego and desires."


Robert Knight

Robert Knight is an author, senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a frequent contributor to Townhall.