#ImWithHer Immaculate Heart of Mary Poster from Nelson Fine Arts

A lot of bad things happen in a world that has lost God. One is the disappearance of the rational freedom that is the natural setting for faith, science, morality, and pursuit of the common good.

Just before he was elected pope, Cardinal Ratzinger noted that modern man is “building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate standard consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

The claim seems paradoxical. What kind of dictatorship makes the ego and desires of each individual the standard? It sounds more like anarchy. And besides, such a dictatorship couldn’t keep a believer’s ego and desires from turning toward God. So what and how would it dictate, and why was the Cardinal so worried about it?

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The natural result of relativism is not liberation but the advent of a false this-worldly transcendent—the will of the leader, nation, working class, technocratic managers, or whatever. Man is social and rational, so he won’t accept the disappearance of standards that connect him to his fellows and order his thoughts and actions. He is also weak and self-centered, so he looks for something purely human that can spare him the trouble and risk of giving himself over to God, the only solid way to go forward and get out of the situation he’s fallen into

Nietzsche was a famous example. He spoke of the death rather than loss of God, but the significance was the same, and he responded by calling for a superman who would create his own standards. Nor was he alone. When not restrained by a strong religious sense American democracy also makes the ego and its desires the final standard. That side of the American spirit has given rise to the heroic individualism seen in Emerson’s call for radical self-reliance and the Supreme Court’s claim that “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.“

Such efforts to create one’s own moral and spiritual reality, which are a sort of self-divinization, never go anywhere because no one is able to carry them out. But if there is no God, and man cannot make himself God, there is no order transcending ego and desire that can give us a position and footing in the world. The result is that we become very small and weak.

Dictatorship and Relativism