"Do to others whatever you would have them do to you..." - Mathew 7:12
We all know the Golden Rule. While we may use slightly differing variations, use different words, or understand its meaning apart from the teachings of Christianity (or outside of religion at all), if you're reading this you probably know what it means to "do unto others as you would have others do unto you." The extent to which this teaching inculcated society is a credit to just how pervasive Christian thought is in our society. Such pervasiveness also goes to show the beauty of how Christianity is founded upon natural laws and philosophical values easily understood outside of the context of religious belief.
However, even though the moral underpinnings of Christian thought can be separated from the theology of Christianity (e.g. Aristotelian teleology), such separation creates problematic conclusions when ethical ideas are drawn out to their logical end. There are plenty of examples, and I need not go into detail here.
The Golden Rule is "golden" for a reason. It is a valuable proposition, and one that transcends religion. Yet, it is impossible to fully grasp the weight of this command without the context of Christ's Sermon on the Mount. The argument can also be made that the commands which Christ expounded upon in the Sermon itself cannot be properly understood apart from the entire context of Christ's ministry. This is the beauty of Catholicism specifically because no one aspect of Catholic teaching can be isolated and understood entirely, nor thrown out without undermining every other tenant of the Church. Every teaching relies and builds upon other aspects and teachings of the Faith. Perhaps I can elaborate in some other post.
So what does all this have to do with 21st century values? Quite a lot I would argue.
It seems that we have our values out of place in our society today, which is quite frankly, the goal of modernism. Things are, shall we say, out of order. Values that should be our higher priorities are not; meanwhile, other values, which are good in themselves but not applicable on their own, are placed on the highest of pedestals. Everything is, to state it eloquently, "mushy." There is no real "right" and "wrong" anymore - just a vague, leftover, watered-down version of the Golden Rule commandment that if put succinctly would read: "treat others well."
Such a statement, while not morally or ethically unjustifiable, is woefully incomplete. And that's where modern morality fails to satisfy on so many levels.
Take for example one of the hottest topics of the day: homosexuality. To put it lightly, the debate surrounding homosexuality is raging all across our country right now. Opinions and arguments run the whole gamut, from the Westboro Baptist "Church" side of things to the NAMBLA point of view (both groups are equally reprehensible in the opinion of this author). Personally, I believe that sex is designed by God as a unitive and procreative action, with the two purposes of sexual activity being inseparable. As such, marriage between a man and a woman is the only union that fits such a definition. Any activity outside of this dual purpose is wrong, morally indefensible, and ultimately sinful. However, the modern world does not see it this way.
Somehow, rather than sexual morality being viewed as one inseparable aspect of a comprehensive ethical system based on reason and purpose, other values have become more, well, valued. Modern notions of "tolerance," "understanding," "expression," and "consistency" have become the highest ideals to which we can aspire. Any activity, speech, or display with even the faintest hint of "discrimination," "hypocrisy," or "intolerance" is roundly criticized by modernists. At the same time things that were once vices or simply wrong are now seen with ambivalence at best and heralded at worst: selfishness, pride, greed, envy, promiscuity, the list goes on and on.
To those of us who, for example, believe in and defend marriage as being between a man and a woman, such trends are disturbing. Further still, those same people who preach "tolerance" et al, many times proceed to label those with whom they disagree as "bigots," "racists," "homophobes," etc. It's all very "tolerant" really.
The problem is not that these ideals are bad in themselves. Quite the contrary! No one wants blatant, unjust discrimination, intolerance, or the like. You'd be hard pressed to find an advocate of traditional marriage (outside the Westboro crowd) that also wanted hypocrites running things. Understanding, tolerance, acceptance, etc., are all very worthwhile and noble values. But they need a basis of logic, reason, facts, and ultimately a little faith too. Otherwise, these noble values are only grounded in themselves without reason and purpose. This is precisely the relativism which Pope Benedict XVI warned us about. See, if we have everything, we really have nothing.
This inversion of reality is going on. It is happening right now, right before our very eyes. One need look no further than the backlash towards ESPN commentator Chris Broussard after his defense of traditional marriage. Somehow, stating one's beliefs, no matter how grounded in reason they are or how charitably explained, is grounds for public humiliation. Even merely refusing another's business is now a hate crime.
So what can we do to stand up against this onslaught of modernist relativism? We must continue to ground ourselves in truth, reason, and faith. Without these, we are lost. The secular world may be too far gone to be rescued from the jaws of modern secularism, but we believers must continue to stand up and preach the truth. Relativism is ultimately doomed to failure because it has no firm basis in reason and truth. It is a self-defeating proposition because it has no boundaries other than arbitrary limits imposed by society's thought "leaders." Such arbitrary boundaries will ultimately prove to be the undoing of relativism and modernism. But this final undoing and collapse of modernism may be a long way off. Until then we have to trust in the Lord and ask for His wisdom and guidance. We must walk with charity and kindness on our hearts, and yes, we have to follow the Golden Rule. Our Lord said to "judge not, lest we be judged," and so it is. The modernists may have hijacked a lot of what Jesus Christ said, but we know ultimately He is the judge and will have the final say.