Acton Institute Powerblog

A Dictatorship of Relativism

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An excerpt from Cardinal Ratzinger’s “Homily at the Mass for the Election of the Roman Pontiff,” given yesterday:

How many winds of doctrine we have known in these last decades, how many ideological currents, how many fashions of thought? The small boat of thought of many Christians has often remained agitated by the waves, tossed from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, etc.

Every day new sects are born and we see realized what St. Paul says on the deception of men, on the cunning that tends to lead into error (cf. Ephesians 4:14). To have a clear faith, according to the creed of the Church, is often labeled as fundamentalism. While relativism, that is, allowing oneself to be carried about with every wind of “doctrine,” seems to be the only attitude that is fashionable. A dictatorship of relativism is being constituted that recognizes nothing as absolute and which only leaves the “I” and its whims as the ultimate measure.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Excellent choice! Pope Benedict will continue the legacy of John Paul II. Reading several biographical accounts, I am confident the new Holy Father will live up to his name as the “Zinger of the Rats”. The Catholic church will only get stronger.

  • Michael JR Jose

    A wonderful quotation. We should not let the word ‘relativism’ go unrepeated. Even more, we should repeat it at every opportunity. We should repeat it until even schoolchildren and journalists understand the word. The notion that “my opinion is a good as anyone else’s” is utter folly. There is nothing democratic and useful about it. For example, I am very interested in the opinion of trained nuclear engineers on the safety of various designs of reactor. And I am not at all interested in anyone else’s. Why should I be? Unchecked, the opinion-mongering is mere subjectivism – the personal heresy – the little brother of relativism.

    Relativism is promoted by sociologists and anthropologists intent on using the general chaos and babble that ensues to implant their (almost always Marxist) views. The other forked-tongued variant, now on the wane in the UK at least, is ‘multiculturalism’. What urban clod would admit “parity of esteem” to cultures that are illiterate and innumerate and have their moral code embedded in tribalism–compared, say, to cultures that produced Plato, or Havard, Yale, Oxford, and Cambridge? Yet that is the inevitable logical outcome of the slops of cultural relativism if allowed to go unchallenged.

    Long live the Pope!

  • Dictatorship of Relativism — the key Church issue is the question of Truth. If God exists, there IS an absolute Truth, whether or not our Bible is telling us correctly what it is.

    But I think this is an underlying issue, like the foundation of sand under a house. The visible house is more likely to be *Secular Hedonism* — do what feels good, without respect to what God wants. And secular hedonism is more like a houseboat; even if the relativist sand underneath is washed away, the happy houseboat, the pro-sex Love Boat, keeps on floatin’.

    Last year I was trying to get comfy with Secular Fundamentalism instead of the Culture of Death as the name for the main opposition to the Culture of Life, but now I think it’s Secular Hedonism. (Perhaps my prior Libertarian indulgence, and current repentance, makes me biased though.)