Relativism and Religious Liberty

Kathryn Jean Lopez at NRO writes:

For far too long, we have tolerated insulting public conversations about our moral responsibilities in economic life. Something similar has been happening in the religious-freedom debate over federal threats to conscience, most notably the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate for insurance coverage of contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. One side is trying to drown out serious concerns about religious liberty with cries of the “war on women,” in the hope that single women aren’t discerning voters and will take the charge at face value. Of course, proving that cynical insinuation wrong is our work as citizens. We must educate ourselves and others to ensure that our politics are worthy of the dignity of the men and women they exist to serve

. Based on comments here, those I’ve received privately and from what I’ve read on other sites, I think think it fair to say that there isn’t a single position on a wide range of public policy matters that is shared by all, or even most, Orthodox Christians. While this is lamentable in moral matters it is a good thing in practical or prudential matters. Let me go explain. In the prudential order, not only can we disagree among ourselves we should disagree. No one person can truthfully claim to have the single right answers in prudential matters. Yes there certainly are wrong answers both practically and morally. But how best to bring the Gospel to our culture or how best to foster a just social order, these are practical questions that don’t lend themselves to quick and definitive answers. Why is this? Because the practical order is dynamic. No matter how well I understand things the truth of the situation and its myriad details is always more than my grasp of it. Moreover because human beings are free the situation is constantly shifting. This is why, to return to the quote at the top of the post, a robust religious liberty is essential to a free and just society. We disagree not only in practical matters but on those of ultimate significance. But, and I hear you ask, are you advocating relativism? No, I’m not. Far from it in fact. There is such a thing as objective truth in not only religion but morality as well. Acknowledging our differences is not relativism but humility. It is only when I see freedom as an end in itself that I fall into relativism. We live in a fallen world and so we, I, will abuse freedom. I frequently confuse liberty with license. Religious liberty like economic freedom is abused when it becomes the goal. We distort both when we forget that they are means to pursuing the good, the true, the just, and the beautiful and all to foster human thriving. And so we disagree among ourselves and thank God for it! Not because there is no truth (the very fact of our disagreement testifies that there is) but because I need the intellectual asceticism inherent in your challenge of not just my views but of me. Relativism, I would suggest, is nothing more or less than my refusal to accept the ascetical struggle at the heart of the intellectual life and the life of social engagement lived in a manner commensurate with human dignity. In Christ, +Fr Gregory

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