A Primer On Relativism For Catholics

Have you ever talked with someone who said, “Well that’s your opinion” to every point you tried to make? Have you ever felt there was something wrong when someone said, “All religions are equally true” but didn’t know exactly what? Or finally, has anyone ever told you, “There is no absolute truth, everyone makes their own truth”?

These ideas are accepted on a grand scale today without question and, like most ideas accepted without question, reveal a sort of laziness of the intellect that is quite dangerous. Irrational ideas need coercion to survive, because the human intelligence longs for truth and revolts against ideas and worldviews that contradict reality.

The sad truth is we’ve all been manipulated. We’ve been soaked in baths of poisonous ideologies our whole lives. We’ve been read false narratives of how the world works since childhood. It’s not really our fault. We were born into them. We inherited them, in many cases, from our parents as well as our ambient culture. And like Neo in the movie The Matrix, we wander about with a feeling something is not quite right with the way the world is being presented to us, but can’t quite put our finger on why it’s wrong. I would like to focus for a moment on one of the most pervasive, as well as pernicious, of these false narratives: the ideology of Relativism.

What is Relativism?

Modern Relativism is a sort of ideological hodge-podge of many different old philosophical theories, centered around the notion that there is, in reality, no absolute truth, no one set of truths that applies to all men, everywhere, at all times. Advocates of the relativist ideology claim, especially in the realm of ethics and morals, that what is morally right or wrong for one may not be for another. This can be true in a limited sense. For example, stealing may be wrong in most situations, but it is not wrong to steal a loaf of bread from a rich man to feed your starving family. Relativism grabs on to exceptions such as these and applies them universally. In other words, it claims that because there are exceptions, that means there really no universal code of morality, no “Natural Law” written in human nature by a creator. In fact, they say, “Man” really does not exist. We have no nature, we create our own selves, our own “nature”.

In essence, Relativism is a kind of false humility. It denies that there is even an objective “real world”, or at least denies that we are capable of knowing it. Who do we think we are, they say, to claim that we can say something is true for everybody? The Relativist “elephant in the room” is of course not talked about: When you say there is no absolute truth, you are asserting as an absolute truth that there is no absolute truth.

The Implications of Relativism

Let’s face it, the truth is often hard to face. It sometimes makes us feel bad; people will often do just about anything to avoid facing the truth, because they realize if they accept it, they might have to change their lives in accordance with that truth. I have an old friend who recently revealed she had not baptized her last two children. “I don’t want to pass my ‘Catholic Guilt’ on to my children” she said. Instead of facing the hard truth of her life, that perhaps she had in fact done bad things that her guilt was coaxing her to ask forgiveness for, she apparently preferred to make an incredible, irrational leap of intellectual pride, in effect saying, “The truth of the Catholic Faith makes me feel bad. Therefore, it is not true.” Lies, even when you lie to yourself, always engender more lies, in a sort of Pinocchio-like downward spiral of diminishing returns; the more you fabricate a false reality by lying, the more lies you have to construct, until the whole flimsy construction inevitably comes crashing down.

When someone says everyone has their own truth, that there is no objective, absolute truth that applies to everyone, what exactly do they mean? Do they really understand the implications of what they’re saying? The very fact that they are making such a broad statement, obviously applying it to everyone, strongly suggests that deep down they really do not even believe their own claim. Whats more, no one who says these sort of things actually lives it out in their own life. If you stole their car out of their driveway, and when they objected you replied, “Actually, it’s my car”, they most certainly would not answer, “Oh, I suppose you’re right, since your truth is just as good as mine.” No, our human nature demands that the claim correspond to reality, which is the very definition of “truth”. I bought the car, you didn’t. Even those fully committed to the idea that truth is different for everyone would hesitate to let the hard-won fruit of their labor be driven out of their driveway by a stranger.

Relativism seems like an attractive idea: if everything is relative, if there is no objective truth for everyone, if everyone creates their own reality, then there is really no good and no evil, and I can live literally however I please, do whatever pleases me. I can avoid the hard choices that make me feel bad, and settle into the warm, fluffy mattress of pleasure and good feelings. Good is then judged not by the way things are, but only by what makes me feel good, and evil is judged by what makes me feel bad. Herein lies the sneaky tyranny of Relativism, the “dictatorship of Relativism” that Pope Benedict XVI warned us about. You see, Relativists(those who subscribe to this way of thinking) only think truth is relative when it comes to other people’s views. Their own truths, on the contrary, are paradoxically held to be absolute, unquestionable, and if need be, enforceable. If there is no absolute truth, then there is no Absolute Truth either. In other words, the principle of my actions is at that point no longer a rational God whose reasonableness I must conform to (morally and intellectually). The principle of my actions instead becomes my own petty whims and changing passions, to which everyone else needs to conform. It becomes every human being’s full-time job to make sure I never feel bad. My feelings become my god. Therefore anyone who dares oppose my almighty feelings by presenting me with an inconvenient truth that contradicts my emotion-based opinions will be dealt with ruthlessly.

This phenomenon is very clearly seen in the worldwide melee over “gender identity”. It quickly became obvious that when the attractive power of objective truth, especially the truth about God, is cast aside, all that remains is the strongman power of the rich, the powerful, and the influential. The unchanging biological truth of Man’s nature, taken for granted by everyone for all of human history, is steamrolled over, replaced by whatever faddish opinions the most powerful happen to hold at any given moment. Any dissent must immediately be crushed, lest the light of truth reveal that the Emperor, in fact, is not wearing any clothes. Those who disagree are branded as irrational bigots and “phobics” of every kind, until fear of becoming a social outcast causes them to surrender. Yet even those who cave in to the threats of the Relativist juggernaut are not safe; you must be light on your feet if you are going to toe the Relativist line. What is held to be the supreme evil one day may become the supreme civil right the next. One does not have to look far to find examples of what happened when one person or elite group tried to make an entire culture or country bow down to their erroneous conceptions of human nature: the Nazism of Adolf Hitler, the Communism of Lenin and Stalin, and the contraceptive ideology of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, just to name but a few.

How do we protect our minds from the Relativist ideology?

I have briefly presented the dangers of Relativism. Here are a few ways we can protect our minds from being tossed about like a rudderless boat on the stormy seas of a Relativist world:

Think. Don’t just accept an idea because it sounds good or because everyone is saying it. Check the source. Constantly check whether an idea presented to you is in accord with what the Church teaches. When you feel strongly about something, ask yourself, “Where did I get this idea?” Those who told it to you may have not had your best interests at heart. As my old novice master Fr. Didier used to say, “If one day you find you have strong opinions about something you know nothing about, it’s a sure sign you’ve been manipulated by someone. Better find out who.”

Educate yourself. Relativism thrives on ignorance. Unplug from the media that constantly tries to shove Relativist dogma down our throats. Read books about the Faith. Inform yourself before forming an opinion. Study philosophy, if you can, it will help you learn to discern reality from ideology. Even a little philosophy can help you easily see through the Relativist smokescreen.

Believe and follow the official teachings of the Catholic Church—all of them! Not only does the Church have 2000 years of wisdom behind her, she also has the Holy Spirit Himself to guide her “in all truth”, as Christ foretold. Don’t pick and choose the teachings you like, and ignore the ones you don’t. A “cafeteria Catholic”, that is to say, a Catholic Relativist. Pray for the courage to not be afraid of facing a hard truth that may force you to change your life. Jesus is the Truth. As Pope Benedict XVI said, “Christ takes nothing away from what makes us truly human, and gives everything!”

The Littlest Bread Now Available!

Four years in the making, one brother’s valiant crusade for a better Catholic children’s book continues with The Littlest Bread: A Small Host’s Journey Into Light. A perfect gift for First Holy Communion Students! Buy a copy(or several!) now by clicking on the “SHOP” menu item above. Payment through the site is by PayPal.

You can also Venmo me: Gabriel-Martin-09647, along with your name, snail-mail address, e-mail address, and number of books.

Or go old school! Make out a check to Gabriel Martin and send to:

Mysterius Monk Press

435 Pennwood Cir

Englewood, CO 80113

Please send $22.95 + $5 S&H per book. If you feel you can’t afford the full price, e-mail me at: mysteriusmonkpress@gmail.com and we can talk.

Books can be signed by the author! Please include how many books you would like signed, and any message you would like me to write(e.g. “Happy Birthday Ezra”).

Avoiding Indie Publisher “Rookie Mistakes”

My experience in self-publishing over the years has led me to catalog various traps to which well-meaning indie publishers can unwittingly fall prey. Here are a few of the more glaring examples that I recently identified while reviewing several kids’ books the printer sent me as samples of their previously printed titles:

  1. After looking at your book for a long time, you can lose objectivity, and you start to think people who have never seen the book before will see it as you see it. The cover illustrations of all three book samples the printer sent me lacked a clear presentation of what the book was about to those unfamiliar with the story/drawing style. Either it was uncertain what the illustration was showing, or the title lettering was too cluttered and flowery. I had to read one of the books in its entirety before I understood that the cover portrayed a king putting a crown on his princely son. A good cover should clearly and immediately(at best, iconically) illustrate the main focus of the story.
  2. Good writing shores up shoddy illustrations much better than good illustrations shore up shoddy writing. I learned this lesson from the cartooning world, and boy, is it true. The aforementioned book about the prince was written in a strangely sloppy rhyming scheme, clashing with the somewhat impressive (albeit digital) illustrations. I had to force myself to slog through its grating, muddled, Dr. Seuss Lite cadence. In contrast, the graphic novel based on a Heinlein sci-fi classic seemed much more approachable. You knew from the get-go the story would be good, even if the artwork was a bit “middle school detention hall” style.
  3. The book’s title is much more important than many writers understand. One of the titles, “The Furry Princess” oddly focused on the fact that the characters are all anthropomorphic animals, which last time I checked was not a novelty in children’s literature. Might as well have named it “Talking Animals”. “Golly’s Folly” assumed that you already know (and care) that Golly is the name of the prince. Even worse, the title itself contains the spoiler that the prince’s Prodigal Son-like adventure ends in…well, prodigality.
  4. And last but not least, NO ONE CARES YOU THINK YOUR BOOK IS AWESOME. They really don’t. Your job is to make them care. In about 1.4 seconds, nonetheless. If your title and cover art manage to grab them, you will have maybe another precious 5.7 seconds of their attention as they flip through your book. You have to convince them in that critical blink of an eye that they cannot simply put it back on the shelf. Your book must have a cool, casual confidence to it. Readers can tell a mile away when you’re “trying too hard”(the sad death knell for many a picture book). For example, the sample book about the prince even included an overbearing appendix of “talking points to discuss with your kids”, as well as a list of Bible verses for reference. For me, this editorial choice completely drained the book of its last drop of quaint wonder and turned it into a schmaltzy episode of Davy and Goliath. The more you tip your hand with such self-indulgent 4th wall breakers, the less mystique your book will retain.

The good news: knowing what not to do is already half the battle. Avoiding the grosser deal-breaker blunders that make prospective buyers wrinkle their noses and reshelf your book is not really that hard once you know how to identify and eliminate them. This will allow the more elegant elements of your book to shine through, uncolored by obvious rookie errors.

The Essentials of Writing a Catholic Children’s Book

Hostie in search of his Makers in The Littlest Bread.

Over the last year and a half I have had the privilege of working on a storybook for Catholic children. The book is called The Littlest Bread: A Small Host’s Journey Into Light, and follows the adventures of Hostie, a (unconsecrated!) communion host accidentally abandoned in a convent bakery. Though snubbed by his fellow baked goods, Hostie through various trials eventually discovers his lofty destiny.

Though as a former newspaper cartoonist this was not my first book, I quickly realized storybooks were a different ballgame; just because I had read many kids’ books did not necessarily mean I could make one. The piles of well-intentioned but mediocre derelicts languishing in discount bookstores served as a haunting reminder of this fact.

So what makes a good children’s storybook? I decided on three essentials:

-Brevity: As a kid, I was bored to death by wordy, preachy kids’ books. I needed to boil the story down to its utter essentials: 999 words, not one more.

-Mysticism: The idea that some tiny switch can move the grand clockwork of the universe (as G.K. Chesterton would say) entrances children. Hence the success of Harry Potter, and the staying power of fairy tales. And what could be more “magical”, like a fairy tale come true, than the mystery of the Eucharist?

-Clear, beautiful illustrations: Having been spoon-fed Looney Tunes and Silly Symphonies along with my strained peas, I was annoyed as a child by poorly drawn cartoons and books. No matter how good the tale, if the pictures are carelessly executed, the story will fall flat.

In an age of excessive novelty in children’s literature, The Littlest Bread draws upon an ancient truth of our Faith: He has lifted up the lowly. I pray this book will help open young minds to the wonder and mystery of the Eucharist.