Continuation of the first part of these reflections on the Christian presence in today's society. If the first part focused on the analysis of the situation of our society, this second part highlights attitudes and possible ways to understand this reality and arrive at this assessment.
What is relativism? In a very simple and brief way, we could say that it is a negative, totalitarian and self-destructive religion.
Religion in negative
It means that it is not, as one might think, an egalitarian stance. It is not a mother who opens her arms and welcomes all cultural proposals indistinctly. Relativism is the positive exclusion of the opinion in favor of the existence of absolute truths. It is not that it "relativizes" Christianity, but that it is openly anti-Christian, anti-religious.
This excluding position is self-justified in the name of science, peace and freedom. Of science, because only the experimental would deserve the category of truth. Of peace, because absolute affirmations would be potentially intolerant. Of freedom, because only relativism would allow everyone to live as they see fit, without arbitrary external impositions.
In short, a consecration of moral self-determination. So that the individual who possesses the necessary intellectual and moral stature to dissent, instead of being considered a hero, will be singled out and expelled from the system.
Relativistic ideology colonizes the notion of "law". It cuts some that were considered fundamental, such as individual conscientious objection (as in the case of doctors in the case of abortion) or institutional objection (as in the case of certain health institutions in the case of euthanasia), the right to parental authority (of parents with respect to their children over 14 years of age in matters of gender), or educational freedom (imposing programs without regard to the moral and religious convictions of the parents).
On the contrary, relativism indefinitely expands the portfolio of "individual subjective rights".. Every desire must be elevated to the category of right, as long as it does not harm social coexistence: abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, the equalization of all affective unions, gender self-determination, etc.
And going a step further, relativism allies itself with neo-Marxist thought in what has been called "woke culture". It consists of the generation of identity groups that consider themselves retaliated against and rise up to demand justice from their victimizers. These groups may be made up of women, or people of color, or of a certain affective inclination, or indigenous people, or atheists... And in front of them, as a common enemy, those who for centuries have had the cultural and political monopoly.
Every day, the news reports contain news of gender violence, racism, illegal immigration, political corruption, demographic winter, school failure, youth suicide, or botellones in the middle of covid... Dysfunctions that become chronic, because their moral roots are not recognized, and only the symptoms are fought.
We need only think of the scant success that the tightening of laws, the establishment of courts, telephones, restraining orders and bracelets are having on gender violence... Or the surprising survival and even periodic resurgence of racism. If the absolute dignity of persons is not recognized, all the rest are insufficient means.
Atheist philosopher Douglas Murray believes that post-Christian society is faced with three choices. The first is to abandon the idea that all human life is precious. Another is to work frantically to create an atheistic version of the sanctity of the individual. And if that doesn't work, there is only a return to faith, like it or not.
Jesus reproaches their unbelief to the cities where he has lived, preached and performed miracles: Woe to you Chorazin, woe to you BethsaidaOn the other hand, Sodom and Gomorrah, Tyre and Sidon, famous for their estrangement from God, will be judged with less rigor because they have received less. The history of Israel progresses through cycles of infidelity to Yahweh, chastisement and return. A paradigmatic episode is the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and the deportation of its inhabitants to Babylon. The Western Roman Empire also paid for its moral decadence with its invasion by barbarian peoples.
Even today, the West is in a phase of decomposition. Many years ago, St. Josemaría prophetically warned that "an entire civilization is tottering helplessly and without moral resources. In the curricula of the high school graduates of 2050, relativism will probably not be a cross-cutting criterion, but a subject of contemporary history.
In short, if today's world generates in us bewilderment, insecurity, fear, anger, or the desire to defend ourselves with the same weapons, perhaps we do not understand it. We lack training.
If, on the other hand, it provokes mercy, tenderness or pity in us, we understand it, and we participate in the same feelings of Christ. Something like what a father or mother feels before a child who is anorexic, or drug addict, or who is simply at the age of turkey, and makes life very difficult, impossible even, is very irritating, goes against the grain in everything. If they understand his problem, they will feel mercy, they will try to help him with strength, but they will not consider him an enemy: it is precisely in these situations that the uniqueness of the family bond is manifested.
Loving the world around us with a maternal heart requires a formative effort to understand it. Because one cannot love what one does not understand. Each of us must consider the means and the time we have available for this formation: participation - in person or not - in courses and talks, reading, listening to podcasts, spiritual direction....
To the extent that we understand and love our world, we will be able to help it. The desire to do so is not enough. We have to be right about what it needs. Relativism is an autoimmune system, which fights its defenses, and therefore can only be helped from the outside. This means two things:
1. As opposed to the woke culture, which promotes the identity confrontation of groups and ideas, to pay attention first to the concrete person.
2. Faced with the post-truth that shamelessly manipulates the discourse in favor of ideology, appeal first of all to real experiences.
This summer I had the privilege of making a pilgrimage to Santiago. After praying at the tomb of the Apostle, walking through the city we were surprised by a young woman who offered to all passers-by the tasting of a famous sweet. The next day, when we were about to return, someone suggested buying some typical product to take to the families. We remembered the establishment from the day before, we went and we were attended by someone with an extraordinary commercial talent. Almost without exchanging words, he took some little crystal glasses out of the fridge and offered us a delicious herb liqueur, followed by the best Santiago cake imaginable, and a series of tastings so long that it would be impolite to describe it. Such magnanimous treatment resulted in us leaving the establishment laden with packages. I was later able to verify on Instagram that this is house policy. The same saleswoman explained it to us like this: "I know that, if they try it, they will take it".
The time has come for Christians to have the same business policy: to offer the possibility of tasting what we have, because many will take it. Others will not appreciate it, but if our product is really good, in the face of their rejection we will feel tenderness, mercy; not anger, failure or frustration.
The post-truth era is the era of reality. Truth is a statement about something; reality is that something that truth is about. If I write that it is cool here in Burgos today, whoever reads me in another time and place may or may not believe it. But whoever is in Burgos today will experience it, will say: "this is real, I am feeling it myself". Today it is necessary to experience faith as reality. These experiences can be multiple, but I would like to focus on three.
Love. God's love for everyone is experienced in charity. It is felt in the friendship of the authentic Christian I meet; in the hospitality of the Christian group, which is not exclusive, but welcomes everyone with open arms - regardless of their political thinking, or their affective inclination; in the love of Christian marriage: because logically we have the right to propose love between a man and a woman, faithful and open to life: whoever wants to try this product will find that it is very good (on the other hand, to confuse it with "homophobia" is a worrying symptom of "logophobia"); and finally, preferential attention to those most in need: the poor, the sick, the elderly... If these loves born of faith are superior to conventional loves, then they will produce a kind of wound, like that of the arrow that pierces the heart. The heart will be moved and will say: "this is true, this is superior".
In the old comics, when a character came up with an idea, a light bulb would be drawn on. Sometimes, in the middle of a walk or under the shower, you discover the solution to a problem you didn't know how to solve before. This feeling of "I've seen it!" is also produced by faith when it illuminates existential questions: the meaning of life, of pain and pleasure, or what there is after death, or what happiness consists of. These questions, which everyone asks because they are natural, do not receive any answer today. But a life that turns its back on these questions is inauthentic. And yet the proposal of faith fits perfectly with reason and the heart. It is like the glass slipper on Cinderella's foot. As Tertullian said, "anima naturaliter christiana".
In addition to answering existential questions, faith also provides a framework for scientific progress. Neuroscience and paleoanthropology, astronomy and physics, are constantly making discoveries. But their data are partial and specialized, and if they claim to explain everything, they cease to be science and become ideology. Science is like a balloon of knowledge that is swelling, and in that same measure its surface of contact with mystery increases. The more science, the more mystery.
Science and faith cannot conflict if each respects its own method. Otherwise, one and the other degenerate into ideology. An economist turned artist titled one of his books: "Do you really believe that you are just skin and bones? Surely not. As a young woman said to her materialist boyfriend: "If you think I'm just a bundle of cells, then you don't love me". I am the subject of unique and unrepeatable ideas, convictions, projects, virtues and loves.
The essence of Christianity is neither a moral nor an idea, but a Person. In Capernaum, after the Eucharistic discourse, all are scandalized and leave. Jesus does not qualify his words, but places his Twelve on the threshold of abandonment: "Do you also want to go away? Peter replies, "Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words of eternal life." He does not say "where would we go?": very close by, in Capernaum, he has family, house and profession, like those who have left. What distinguishes them is the experience of Christ. Neither do they understand the promise of the Eucharist, but they have seen him multiply loaves, calm storms and raise the dead, and they know that what the Lord says "goes to Mass".
As Benedict XVI masterfully taught, even today one begins to be a Christian through an encounter with the glorious Christ, contemporary and fellow citizen of every person. An event that takes place in the Sacraments, the liturgy and prayer. This summer, on a stage of the Camino, a pilgrim confided to me that he was unemployed and that his wife had just left him. But, surprisingly, he added that when things were going well for him he did not remember God, whereas now he had discovered that only God understood and helped him. I advised him to take advantage of his stay in Santiago during this Holy Year to make a good confession, and he replied: "Yes, I have to do it because I have never gone to confession". We can imagine the joy of this man, after the merciful embrace of Christ, what a unique experience: who else can forgive sins, who else can reconcile with oneself and with God!
It is also through the contemplation of the Gospel that Christ becomes palpable. A way of entering the scenes that highlights their topicality for me. Chekhov was rather agnostic, but among his stories he had a predilection for one entitled "The Student". It tells the story of a bachelor of theology who returns home for the Easter vacations. On Holy Thursday he attends services, and on Friday he takes a long walk. On his way back, he crosses the grounds of a house, on the porch of which a mother and daughter are warming themselves by the fire. He approaches them to converse, and they recall a similar scene that the three of them know well and have just heard in the services of the previous day: when Peter, warming himself by the fire, denies the Lord three times, Jesus looks at him, goes outside and weeps bitterly. To his surprise, those women - the two of them - begin to weep also. The student continues on his way, reflecting: If Vasilisa burst into tears and her daughter was moved, it was evident that what he had told, what had happened nineteen centuries before, was related to the present, to the two women and, probably, to that deserted village, to himself and to the whole world. If the old woman burst into tears it was not because he was able to tell it in a moving way, but because Peter was close to her and because she was interested with all her being in what had happened in Peter's soul. A sudden joy stirred her soul, and she even had to stop to catch her breath. "The past," he thought, "and the present are linked by an unbroken chain of events that emerge from each other. And it seemed to him that he had just seen the two ends of that chain: when he touched one of them, the other vibrated. Then he crossed the river on a raft and then, as he climbed the hill, he gazed at his native village and the west, where a cold purple light shone in the sunset streak. Then he thought that the truth and beauty that had guided human life in the garden and in the palace of the high pontiff had continued without interruption to the present time and would always constitute the most important thing in human life and in the whole earth. The events of Christ's life happen today, and they happen to me.
Perhaps after the current Christianophobia will come a post-secular stage, and then the Christian springtime that St. John Paul II already announced in 1987. The saints see very far ahead. It is not infrequently necessary for something to break down completely before it can be fixed. In any case, "the apostle is not more than his Master", and the agents of the new evangelization have to show Christ. They must be saints rather than intellectuals. Martyrs rather than social warriors. Witnesses rather than teachers. Friends before polemicists. Proactive rather than reactive. Cheerful rather than cantankerous. Hopeful rather than overcast. Laymen rather than priests. Women rather than men. Leon Bloy used to say: "When I want to know the latest news, I read the Apocalypse". There we are given the sign of a fragile Woman, about to give birth in front of an enormous dragon, "clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and crowned with twelve stars".