What is Radical Secularism?
WHAT IS RADICAL SECULARISM?
In Centesimus Annus Pope St. John Paul II points out that at the heart of culture lay morality and at the heart morality lay religion. And, by insisting on a vibrant, publicly assertive moral-cultural order, Pope St. John Paul II throws down a gauntlet to the modern world and what he called “skeptical relativism”.
Radical Secularism is driven by this skeptical relativism which basically holds that there is no such thing as an objective truth. There’s just what I believe, you believe, a group, a nation believes; nothing is objectively true. In a fully packed short paragraph, Catholic social teaching challenges this conclusion:
“Authentic democracy is possible only in a state ruled by law on the basis of a correct view of the human person…Nowadays there is a tendency to claim that agnosticism and skeptical relativism are the philosophy and the basic attitude which correspond to democratic forms of political life. Those who are convinced that they know the truth and firmly adhere to it are considered unreliable from a democratic point of view, since they do not accept that truth is determined by the majority or that it is subject to variation according to different political trends. It must be observed in this regard that if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.” (Pope St. John Paul II, 46)
“The greatest challenge of our time is secularization” (Pope Benedict XVI)
“As Saint John XXIII wrote: ‘There is nothing human about a society based on relationships of power…it proves oppressive and restrictive.'” (Pope Francis, 8)
The Church insists on a dialogue with society. A dialogue unashamedly based on Catholic social teaching.
THE DICTATORSHIP OF RELATIVISM
This theme is picked up and aggressively developed by Pope Benedict XVI who made our battle with what he called the “Dictatorship of Relativism”, a major theme of his pontificate. “The greatest challenge of our time is secularization” (Encounter with the Youth, 3) he declared, and went on to say that society creates an illusion that God does not exist or that God can be restricted to the realm of purely private affairs. He insists that Christians cannot accept that attitude.
In fact, Pope Benedict XVI even went further than Pope St. John Paul II when he said that the marked presence in society of that relativism “which, recognizing nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. Within such a relativistic horizon an eclipse of the sublime goals of life occurs with a lowering of the standards of excellence, a timidity before the category of the good, and a relentless but senseless pursuit of novelty parading as the realization of freedom.” (Address to the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Canada-Ontario, 4)
“The ‘Dictatorship of relativism’, in the end, is nothing less than a threat to genuine human freedom, which only matures in generosity and fidelity to the truth.” (Pope Benedict XVI)
“Freedom…demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate”. (Pope Benedict XVI)
“We are free only if we stand in the truth of our being, if we are united to God.” (Pope Benedict XVI)
Why? “Without truth, without trust and love for what is true, there is no social conscience and responsibility, and social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power”. (Caritas in Veritate, 5) “[F]idelity to the truth…alone is the guarantee of freedom“. (Pope Benedict XVI, 9)
When religion is excluded from the public square radical secularism is the result: “Public life is sapped of its motivation and politics takes on a domineering and aggressive character. Human rights risk being ignored”. (Pope Benedict XVI, 56)
Catholic social teaching is built on three foundational principles - Human Dignity, Solidarity and Subsidiarity. Human Dignity, embodied in a correct understanding of the human person, is the greatest. The others flow from it. Good governments and good economic systems find ways of fostering the three principles.
This means a correct understanding of the human person and of each person’s unique value. All Catholic social teaching flows from this: the inherent dignity of every person that comes from being made in God’s image.
Solidarity is not “a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of others. It is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 38) Love of God and love of neighbor are, in fact, linked and form one, single commandment.
Subsidiarity “is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry. So, too, it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and a disturbance of right order to transfer to the larger and higher collectivity functions which can be performed and provided for by the lesser and subordinate bodies”. (Pope Pius XI)