Standard and Standards: or Why there can be only one moral truth

I wish to make a few remarks about Fr. Joaquin Bernas’ column “About comments on my columns and blog”.

In this article Fr. Bernas defended his position regarding the RH Bill that he has been advocating in his previous articles especially the one entitled “Conversing with a Bishop”. He explained further his point of view about Church teaching and constitutional law. Intending to dispel confusion about the issue of contraception he, perhaps unwittingly, sowed even more.

He wrote: “The teaching of the Church on contraception is found in various documents. But Church teaching is not accepted by a vast number of people. Persons who adhere to Humanae Vitae, etc. and act in the sphere of the relation of man to God are expected to plan their family according to the principles of the Church teaching. But these same persons should not be faulted if in the sphere of constitutional law they do not oppose a state plan that is not in accordance with Humanae Vitae, etc.  Religious liberty in the constitutional plane does not simply mean freedom to choose what to believe but also freedom to act or not to act according to one’s belief.”

Here we can see the relativism and the double standard of Fr. Bernas. According to him Church teaching and constitutional are both part of him. But in him, the result is not a harmony of the two realms in the one and same truth for all men but in a double truth. Maintaining double truth standards is a consequence of relativism, which is the stance that says there is no absolute truth because the validity of a belief depends on historical, personal and contingent circumstances. Relativism is untenable logically. If Fr. Bernas held this position then he cannot even assert his own statements. We can always tell him: that’s what you think but I think otherwise, I have my own truth. Another consequence of relativism is the idea that there is no such thing as right or wrong: we are free to believe what we want and to do what we want according to our belief. This is what Fr. Bernas calls “religious liberty”.

Fr. Bernas’ relativism continues in his assertions about the natural law: “Indeed, many philosophers who have dealt with natural law agree about its basic structure. While there may be agreement among them about the primary precepts, they often differ in the secondary conclusions that they draw. But, while the issue of whose secondary conclusion is right or wrong is central to philosophical or religious discourse, it is not the issue in constitutional discourse. In constitutional discourse, the issue is what the state may do with the various philosophical secondary precepts. It is similar to the issue of religion. The state does not judge which religion is right or wrong. Just as the state may not prefer one religion over another or over others, so also the state may not prefer one secondary natural law principle over others. Thus, the state cannot be bound to prefer the secondary natural law conclusion that contraception is against human nature. It simply can give everyone a smorgasbord of non-abortifacient contraceptive choices but leave each one to decide what is good for them or not.”

Fr. Bernas makes a distinction about the primary precepts and the secondary precepts of natural law. To elucidate what he means, primary precepts are those that are obvious to all men like “the good must be done and the evil must be avoided” or “respect your own life and the lives of others”. The secondary precepts are those that are less obvious and can be discerned only by wise and prudent persons, like “you shall not steal” or “you must respect the truth and speak it”.

Fr. Bernas locates the precept about the evil of contraception among the secondary precepts of the natural law. That’s fine. It is not really obvious to all men. But his relativism kicks in when he says that not all men recognize that precept and so we should respect the beliefs of other people. He claims that their belief about the non-evil nature of contraception is an “issue of religion” and so here “religious liberty” is at work. And so, the constitutional law has to respect those who dissent from the claim that contraception is evil. But from the tenor of Fr. Bernas’ article, constitutional law cannot respect the view of those who claim contraception is evil because to respect them will be disrespectful of the dissenters. This is where relativism leads to: inconsistencies.

We must realize that in the realm of the natural law, we are in the realm of human reason and strictly speaking this is not the realm of faith or religion which is the space where God’s revelation is given to human reason. Next, we must also realize that among the precepts of natural law, whether they be primary, secondary or even tertiary, relativism is not possible. Relativism destroys both reason and truth.

To conclude, we can say that when it comes to truth, there can be only one truth that binds all men regardless of creed or faith. When it comes to moral goodness or evil – what the natural law teaches to men – there is one and the same moral truth that is valid for all even if many men do not wish to recognize this truth. If men want to shape their relations, both with God and with other men, then they should recognize and follow the moral truth in their private lives and in the life of society. Constitutional law must follow the natural law. If not, we end up with chaos and inconsistencies.

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One comment

  1. Indeed there can only be one truth. And it is that which will set one free.

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