The Church—which the Spirit guides in the way of all Truth and unifies in communion and in works of ministry—is both equipped and directed with hierarchical and charismatic gifts and adorned with the fruits of the Spirit.
Lumen Gentium Article 4 Paragraph 1 Topic E
Jesus promised that the Church would always be guided by the Spirit of Truth from the Father.†
If we are guided by Truth, why did the bishops ignored the sexual assault of priest on children, why are there religious sisters practicing new age feminism, and why are there laity who believe abortion is acceptable? For the same reason you and I are not living in the Garden of Eden right now. While the Church is still guided by Truth, some of the humans within the Church are following prince of this world, the father of lies.
All of these examples above are sins against the Truth. They are sins because the offenders know what they are doing is not the Truth but they made it their truth. It is true relative to them.
At World Youth Day 2008, Pope Benedict XVI described this graying of the black and white of Truth “There is also something sinister which stems from the fact that freedom and tolerance are so often separated from truth. This is fuelled by the notion, widely held today, that there are no absolute truths to guide our lives. Relativism, by indiscriminately giving value to practically everything, has made experience all-important. Yet, experiences, detached from any consideration of what is good or true, can lead, not to genuine freedom, but to moral or intellectual confusion, to a lowering of standards, to a loss of self-respect, and even to despair.”
Relativism—as applied to truth—is “a view that truths depend on the individuals and groups holding them”†.
Pope Benedict often spoke of relativism being one of the great tools of our enemy. It seems that a person’s openness to relativism is related to the strength of their faith: those with little faith are more open to relativism while those with more faith are more open to the Truth.
The Truth of Relativism
Relative truths are preferences held up as truths.
There are groups of people who want abortion legal because they prefer sexual promiscuity without consequences (recall what Pope Benedict said about experiences). They convince themselves of the truth that women have right to choose what to do with their own bodies ignoring the fact that the fulfillment of their preference comes at the cost of human lives.
Many—including “good” Catholic—have bought into the lie used over the centuries that unborn children are not real people. This was the same lie Americans used to justify slavery and Hitler used to justify the Holocaust. Those involved in the slavery preferred to enslave a people so they convinced themselves that Africans were non-human so they could consider them property. The Nazis leadership preferred to have the country direct all of their pent-up anger at the Jews who they labeled as non-human. These preferences become their relative truths.
Truth does not require permission to be true. You may prefer not to accept the truth of gravity but if you jump off a 50-story building, you are going to make a mess on the pavement. Gravity is a truth to which we must conform our lives.
The Spirit of God is the ultimate Truth, a Truth that cannot change. If our faith is not strong enough to accept it, through prayer God will help us increase our faith to help us conform to this ultimate Truth.
Practical Tips for Being a Lumen Gentium
I hope you are starting to ask questions about relative truths and the role of Christians living in a pluralistic society. These are great topics for thinking about, discussing, and journaling. Questions of ethics are critical to be able to answer as our society becomes more secular and our technology allows us to do things not dreamed of a century before.