Conscience and the Dictatorship of Relativism

July 15, 2009

Of the modern thought which claims to set people free but actually enslaves them

From Inside the Vatican:

An American professor of law and ethics writes an article in a prestigious medical journal calling for laws restricting the rights of medical professionals to follow their consciences, and testifies before a U.S. Senate committee to the same effect. Is this an example of the “dictatorship of relativism” warned about by Cardinal Ratzinger the day before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI? Our contributing editor provides an analysis…

The day before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger warned the world of a “Dictatorship of Relativism.” The choice of words was striking. In repeating it I sometimes say the “Tyranny of Relativism” but quickly remember the word used was dictatorship.

It is true that relativists are now brazenly attempting to dictate to consciences. In the United States, where the nonestablishment clause of the Constitution protects religion from government interference, some are twisting that noble tradition to set government against religion and the human conscience formed by religion.

Simply put, the Dictatorship of Relativism is now demanding that when religious faith comes into conflict with non-faith, faith must give way. When belief comes into conflict with unbelief, belief must give way. When religion comes into conflict with anti-religion, religion must step down. The model expected by the authors of the Constitution that religion would inform consciences and consciences would form those who make the laws is being scrapped by some who insist—dictate—that personal conscience must play no part in public affairs. As when relativists insist “there are absolutely no absolutes,” this is an absurdity. Out of what conviction can anyone claim personal conscience must not come into play? Convictions usually reside in the conscience.

A striking case has recently illustrated this problem.

Professor R. Alta Charo, J.D., who teaches law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin Law and Medical Schools in Madison, thinks there should be limits to the influence of conscience in public policy, and that the law should require health care professionals to violate their consciences in certain cases. On June 20 she testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to this effect. Four days earlier she published an article stating her views in the June 16, 2005 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most prestigious peer-reviewed medical journals in the world, which as such, ought to be scientific and objective.

On June 20 the American Medical Association also approved a measure which would force pharmacists to fill prescriptions for all legal drugs even if filling those prescriptions violated their consciences. This was in response to lawsuits by three Illinois pharmacists to stop Governor Rod Blagojevich’s executive order mandating pharmacists to dispense all legal drugs. The lawsuit claims the governor’s order violates state law which allows health professionals to opt out of acts they consider morally offensive. These issues have been brought to the fore by the socalled “Plan-B morning after pill,” also known as emergency contraception.

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