Prophets are often ignored, especially in modern times and particularly when they are right. Such is the case with two men who made bold declarations decades apart, declarations that have sadly come to fruition today. The first was Bishop Fulton Sheen, who said years ago on his television program:
“America, it is said, is suffering from intolerance - it is not. It is suffering from tolerance. Tolerance of right and wrong, truth and error, virtue and evil, Christ and chaos. Our country is not nearly so overrun with the bigoted as it is overrun with the broadminded.”
The second was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in his last homily in 2005 before becoming Pope Benedict XVI:
“We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”
It’s hard to look at society today, especially in the US and Western Europe, and not see the prescience of these statements. They echo the last verse of the Book of Judges: “All the people did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25). This is true in every facet of life, but particularly in the area of moral truth. The irony of relativism (and “tolerance”) is that those who hold to moral truth are the only ones not allowed to voice an opinion because that opinion is “intolerant.” Nowhere is this more pronounced than with regard to the teachings of Jesus.
If you want intolerant, non-relative statement that can neither be ignored nor reconciled with the current my-truth-is-whatever-I-say-it-is mentality, try these:
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:17-18)
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6)
It’s a shame Jesus wasn’t more clear when he said things. St. Peter echoed this in one of his first sermons. Speaking of Jesus, he said:
“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)*
These are not the kind of statements that get you elected to public office or garner “likes” on social media today, for one simple reason: they are the Truth. And when the truth about who Jesus is and what he said gets obscured and pushed aside by relativism and tolerance, everything else breaks down. Of course there are many who would, in all seriousness, argue that neither of these verses is to be taken literally. I will let C.S. Lewis have the last word on that, from his book Mere Christianity:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
* For a great teaching on St. Peter’s statement in Acts 4:12, see Bishop Robert Barron’s homily here.