Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Relativism of Pontius Pilate; the Relativism of Our World Today


(Christ the King (B): This homily was given on November 21, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 93:1-5; Revelation 1:5-8; John 18:33-37.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Christ the King 2021]

Imagine that Pontius Pilate had been interviewed by a newspaper reporter on Good Friday—right after he condemned Jesus to death (presuming, for a moment, that they had newspapers back then—which of course, they didn’t—you have to use your imagination here).

If the reporter had asked him, “Why?  Why did you do it, Pilate?  Why did you condemn Jesus of Nazareth to death, even though you knew that he was innocent of the charges they brought against him?” how do you think Pilate would have responded?

I’ll tell you what I believe he would have said.  I think he would have said something like this to that reporter: 

Oh yes, I know that Jesus of Nazareth was innocent.  I have no doubt about that.  The chief priests and religious leaders of the Jews came to me and accused Jesus of being a political revolutionary and a threat to Caesar, but I could tell right away that this man was no threat.  He had no political aspirations whatsoever!  He was a little delusional, yes: he spoke about having a kingdom in some other world.  But there’s no crime in being delusional.  Now in most cases like this, I would let the accused go free immediately—but Jesus’ case was different.  In this particular situation, given the circumstances, I think it was right to do what I did.  Sure, I killed an innocent man—I know that; but there are times when killing the innocent can be the right course of action.  Think about it.  The people were ready to riot in the streets.  If that had happened, I would have ordered my soldiers to get the crowd under control, and probably a number of people would have died in the process—or at the very least many would have been injured.  So my act of condemning Jesus to death, as regrettable as it was, probably saved many lives.  And not only that, because I gave the crowd what they wanted, they now have much more respect for me, and for my office, and for my authority as procurator.  Even though I’m a Roman—a foreigner, a Gentile—the Jews will probably think of me in a much more positive way in the future.  These are all good things that have come about because of the death of one innocent man named Jesus.  So it was well worth it.

Pontius Pilate, my brothers and sisters, was what we would call “a moral relativist.”  A moral relativist is somebody who believes that, as the old saying goes, “everything is relative.”  In other words, there’s nothing that’s always right; there’s nothing that’s always wrong; there’s no such thing as objective moral truth. 

That’s precisely the way Pilate thought, which is why, when Jesus said to him, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” he responded by saying, “Truth?  What is that?”

For the relativist, right and wrong are determined by circumstances—or feelings—or personal preference—or some other subjective criterion.  For the relativist, what’s right for one person might not be right for somebody else.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was very vocal in his condemnation of moral relativism during his pontificate—as all the recent popes have been.  Even while he was still a Cardinal, Benedict called relativism “the greatest problem of our time.”  And he was not exaggerating!  Then, in 2005, just after he became pope, he said, “Relativism, which recognize[s] nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires.”

And that, my brothers and sisters, is a prescription for conflict and disaster—in families and everywhere else in society—because it means that each person thinks that he or she should be able to live by his or her own rules.

Can you imagine a family where everyone lived by their own rules?

Can you imagine a country where everyone lived by their own rules?

Well, you might not have to imagine it in the near future, because that kind of country—that kind of world—is fast becoming a reality.

And it will become a reality unless we do something to stop it.

I hope it’s not news to anyone that our civil government is currently being run, to a great extent, by moral relativists: moral relativists of both parties, and of no party affiliation (the so-called “independents”).  Some of them will call themselves Catholic or Christian, but the policies and laws they support indicate an inner allegiance to relativism, not to Jesus Christ.  You know the people I’m talking about: the ones who say, “Oh yes, I am personally opposed to that, but I can’t impose my morality on anyone else”; or they say, “I am a Catholic, I am a good Catholic, I’m a devout Catholic, but . . . “

Believe me, Pontius Pilate would be extremely proud of these politicians, because those are precisely the kinds of things that he would say: “Yes, I am personally opposed to the death of Jesus of Nazareth, but I can’t impose my belief on this angry crowd in front of me”; “Yes, I am the Roman procurator who is supposed to make sure that justice is done, but in this case I think it’s okay to dispense with justice.” 

A relativistic world is a very dangerous world—because, since there are no universal moral laws, evil people will very often go unpunished (sometimes they will even be rewarded), and good people will often be condemned.

Just like Jesus.

By the way, as far as I’m concerned, moral relativism can very easily be refuted with one simple question.  If you ever encounter a relativist who says to you, “There’s nothing that’s always right; there’s nothing that’s always wrong; there’s no such thing as objective moral truth; it’s all relative,” say to that person, “Okay, then answer me one simple question: When would it be morally permissible to rape a child?  You’ve just told me that there are no moral absolutes, and that everything depends on circumstances.  Well, alright, under what circumstances would that behavior be morally acceptable?”

Unless you’re having a conversation with a mentally deranged individual, this should help the other person to see that there is at least one universal moral norm.

And, of course, if there’s one universal moral norm, why can’t there be others?

Chris Stefanick, who speaks to teenagers all over the country, has written a great little booklet entitled, “Absolute Relativism: The New Dictatorship and What to Do About It.”  In it he lists 8 bad effects of relativistic thinking.  I’ll conclude my homily today by sharing these with you: 

1.    Relativism robs us of a sense of meaning.  [That should be obvious.  If there’s no right and wrong, then it doesn’t matter what we do here on earth.  Thus there can be no ultimate consequences to our good and evil behavior.  So life is essentially meaningless.]

2.    Relativism leaves us with no criterion for moral decision-making but personal taste.

3.    Relativism deprives children of formation.  [You can’t teach your children right from wrong if there is nothing that’s objectively right and nothing that’s objectively wrong.  You can teach them your opinion, but that’s about it.]

4.    Relativism separates us from one another.  [As I said earlier, if we each do our own thing, we will be in constant conflict with one another.]

5.    Relativism undermines the right to life.  [The example of Pilate’s condemnation of Jesus shows us that.  As a relativist, Pilate had no problem robbing an innocent man of his right to life.  None whatsoever.]

6.    Relativism makes it easy for those in authority to manipulate others.  [Remember the HHS mandate?  The Little Sisters of the Poor sure do!  That was government coercion at its worst!]

7.    Relativism puts the freedom of speech under attack.  [If those in power decide that you should not be allowed to voice your opinion, that will be the law and there will be no arguing against it.  Just ask the folks at Twitter about that.]

8.    And, finally, relativism destroys faith.  [That, also, should be obvious.  After all, if nothing about God is objectively true, then the whole basis of our religious practice goes right out the window!]

So my message to you today is very simple: Learn to recognize relativism, and learn to resist it—to actively resist it!

And teach your children and grandchildren and siblings and friends and co-workers to do the same thing, for their own sakes, and also for the survival of our country.