by Stephen Wynne  •  •  January 31, 2018

Links loss of faith in institutions to rejection of natural law

NEW YORK ( – One of Europe’s leading prelates is warning that moral relativism is undercutting the foundations of Western society.

On Monday, His Eminence, Cdl. Péter Erdő of Esztergom-Budapest, Primate of Hungary, spoke on “The Role of Religion and the Churches in a Secular State” at Columbia University in New York.

Erdő described a civilization where the domains of knowledge operated separately but in unison, each pointing toward the reality of God.

“Law, morals and religion prove to form an organic whole,” he said, “which is characteristic of Western society right up to the age of the Enlightenment.”

But during the Enlightenment, Christian society was severed from its Catholic foundation, its grounding in natural law, and with that, Christendom began to metamorphose into “the West.”

This breach, Erdő noted, led to a progressive “weakening of belief in the rationalisty of the world” now manifesting as a massive loss of faith in democratic institutions.

Democracy stands or falls with the values which it embodies and promotes.Tweet

Forgetting the Faith, unmoored from natural law, the West came to perceive truth as relative, evolutionary, ever-changing.

The result, the cardinal observed, is that “The idea of relativity and the unknowability of the natural law … gains ground, as also does the separation of law from so-called natural morals.”

In this setting, he said, confusion envelopes society, and it becomes “difficult for the state to decide what is good for man.”

“Even the majority can end up with wrong or harmful decisions,” Erdő warned, “especially if the concept of the common good becomes uncertain because there is no consensus even on the anthropological foundations of law.”

The cardinal pointed to the crimes of Hitler as an ultimate manifestation of the abandonment of moral absolutes.

Soviet propaganda poster

“The trials of Nuremberg showed where the separation of law and morals can lead,” he recalled. “It was not easy to convict people whose actions were based on current, but immoral laws.”

Communism, too, provides its own tragic testament. The Hungarian prelate noted that during the Soviet era, the Communist states of Eastern Europe supplanted traditional morality with Marxist-Leninist precepts.

The collapse of this system in 1989 created a “moral vacuum,” he observed, and in many of these wounded societies — including his own — leaders are working to rebuild moral foundations, going so far as to explicitly declare religion of fundamental importance in their post-Communist constitutions.

But further to the west, Cdl. Erdő warned once-Christian nations have become so saturated by relativism that their democratic underpinnings — their essential social, cultural and governmental institutions — are beginning to quake.

According to the traditional Western democratic narrative, he said, “politicians and parties present and defend their political programs on a rational basis and … mature and responsible citizens make their choices and elect people using rational arguments.”

But more and more, this “picture of reality” is shifting, Erdő said, noting:

There has to be a lot of trust for someone to believe the basic premises of a political program, so that the elected body, based on a democratic majority, can count on the trust of that society. It seems to be a vicious circle. We have to place our trust in somebody in anticipation, in order to let such a decision pass, in which we can trust.

The cardinal’s analysis aligns with Pope St. John Paul II’s view of democracy.

In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”), the Holy Father linked the Culture of Death — the endpoint of moral relativism — to the disintegration of democracy.

“To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others,” he declared. “This is the death of true freedom.”

Three years later, in his address “To the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of the United States of America (California, Nevada and Hawaii),” the pope spoke with even greater urgency, “What is at stake here is nothing less than the indivisible truth about the human person on which the Founding Fathers staked your nation’s claim to independence.”

“The life of a country is much more than its material development and its power in the world,” he reminded America’s western prelates. “A nation needs a ‘soul.’ It needs the wisdom and courage to overcome the moral ills and spiritual temptations inherent in its march through history.”

He also reminded Catholics of the grave moral responsibilities inherent in the exercise of civic life:

In union with all those who favor a “culture of life” over a “culture of death,” Catholics, and especially Catholic legislators, must continue to make their voices heard in the formulation of cultural, economic, political and legislative projects which, “with respect for all and in keeping with democratic principles, will contribute to the building of a society in which the dignity of each person is recognized and the lives of all are defended and enhanced.”

“Democracy,” the pontiff warned, “stands or falls with the values which it embodies and promotes.”

On Monday, Cdl. Erdő — a strongly orthodox bishop — reminded his audience that men and women “cannot grow weary” of “basic moral values,” concluding that despite “the weakness of our recognition” of God, we cannot “give up our pursuit of the truth.”

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