Bishop Barron: How the Church can defeat relativism

Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, best known for his Word on Fire Ministry, spoke about the origins of relativism, the challenges it brings to evangelization and the different ways to engage it at the St. John Paul II Lecture Series, he Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Thornton, Colo., Feb. 6.

Bishop Barron called all the faithful to action after explaining the genealogy and challenges of relativism that is embedded in today’s society.

“We Catholics need to be right in the center of the culture, right in the middle of the public conversation, and speaking against this flattened-out, trivializing relativism, in favor of… great objective values,” he said.

To understand the problem of relativism – the view that there is no absolute truth, only particular truths conditioned by culture, space and time – Bishop Barron spoke about its origins in voluntarism and Cartesian subjectivism.

“The coming together of the voluntarist and Cartesian strains provides the breeding ground for much contemporary relativism, namely the subject’s assertion of truth through a sovereign act of the will… In other words, ‘I decide. My freedom decides,’” he said.

Voluntarism is the idea brought about in the Middle Ages that God’s will trumps his intellect, meaning that whatever is true is so because God willed it. This philosophy would lead to see God as a threat and eventually to get rid of him, as Ludwig Feuerbach did, reducing him to a mere invention of the human mind, Bishop Barron explained.

Nietzsche and Sartre built on this idea and considered the human person beyond truth, meaning that freedom came first and the greatest threat to a person’s freedom was God. Nietzsche would then use this premise to proclaim God “dead.”

“[This] is the default position of so many of our young people today,” Bishop Barron said. “[Namely, that] God is a threat to our flourishing, a threat to our freedom, a threat to our humanity.”

Bishop Barron highlighted the role of the Church in the fight against relativism, at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Thornton, Colo. (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

Challenges

Bishop Barron mentioned some of the many dangers that this voluntarist relativism brings to those who want to announce the Gospel: A frustration of the mind’s desire for truth, its radical individualism and spiritual laziness.

“The minute you say will trumps the intellect, that means the intellect’s desire to know, which is one of the most fundamental drives we have, is… frustrated,” the bishop said. This causes “restlessness of the heart and deep frustration of the mind” in young people because they feel they cannot grasp something solid.

Relativism also produces radical individualism and hence, necessarily, divisiveness, he said. If there are only different wills and freedoms, there’s room for “toleration” but no connection to a common truth, value or purpose: “Objective truth, in fact, is one for the most powerful forces that draws us together.”

Bishop Barron recalled Cardinal John Henry Newman’s metaphor of the river to illustrate how voluntarist relativism produces spiritual laziness. “It is the objectivity of the good and the true that give drive and energy to the human project,” he said. Like a river, if the banks are taken away in the name of freedom, it will turn into a lazy lake.

“[Because of relativism], many young people are floating in a lazy lake without purpose or drive,” he added.

Bishop Barron exhorted the Church to boldly proclaim objective values, which bring about authentic freedom. (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

The Church responds

To conclude, Bishop Barron mentioned two key ways to address contemporary relativism, namely the defense of objective values and the proclamation of true freedom.

Drawing on Dietrich von Hildebrand’s distinction between the subjectively satisfying and the objectively valuable, he said that the Church should continue to be the one to unleash the power of objective values that transform the human person.

That which is subjectively satisfying is something that not everyone has to like, such as pizza, he explained. Nonetheless, there are real objective values that in their goodness, truth or beauty, transform the human person and rearrange his subjectivity, such as seeing the Sistine Chapel or listening to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

“Relativism flattens out life,” he said. “We take the best things and we trivialize them to the level of pizza.”

Finally, he distinguished between freedom of indifference, which reduces to the freedom to personally decide something, and freedom for excellence, which he defined as “the disciplining of the desire to make the achievement of the good, first possible, then effortless.”

The main difference is that freedom of indifference makes an enemy out of law, while freedom for excellence internalizes the law to make it part of who he is, Bishop Barron explained. Internalizing the law helps the person become what he is meant to be, in congruence with God and the deepest purposes of his being.

“It’s the Church above all that speaks these abiding, objective truths that ground true and authentic freedom,” Bishop Barron concluded. “That is the best way to engage relativism… We acknowledge it and then we… redirect it.”

COMING UP: Seeds of Hope, Catholic schools to host “2018-19 Around the AoD Tour”

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Seeds of Hope, in conjunction with Archdiocese of Denver Catholic schools, will present the 2018-19 Around the Archdiocese of Denver (AoD) Tour, hosting open-to-the-public school tours at each of the K-8 and high schools that will showcase the faith formation and learning taking place in each of the 36 Archdiocese of Denver schools.

The Around the AoD Tour kicks off on Oct. 2, 2018 and runs through Mar. 19, 2019. To commemorate the tour stops, each person who visits a school on the 2018-19 Around the AoD the Tour will receive a free 2018-19 Around the AoD Tour t-shirt. A representative from Seeds of Hope and a tour guide from each school will greet and lead visitors. This is a chance to see inner workings of the schools, ask questions of leadership and see up close the differences the schools are making in their communities every day. No matter where somebody is in the Denver Metro or Northern Colorado area, there is a 2018-19 Around the AoD Tour stop coming soon to their community.

“We want people in their communities to be able to see firsthand how our schools are building the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth,” said Seeds of Hope Executive Director Jay Clark. “Our schools are the future of our Church and seeing the students and teachers in action with school leaders is an incredibly inspiring way to spend an hour.”

Signing up for a tour is easy – just visit seedsofhopedenver.org, call 303-715-3127 or email info@seedsofhopedenver.org to choose a tour
date and t-shirt size.

2018-19 Around the AoD Tour Schedule

Tue., Oct. 2, 2018
Sacred Heart
1317 Mapleton Avenue, Boulder, 80304
11:00 AM

Tue., Oct. 2, 2018
St. Louis 
925 Grant Avenue, Louisville, 80027
1:00 PM

Tue., Oct. 9, 2018
Annunciation
3536 Lafayette Street, Denver, 80205
11:00 AM

Thu., Oct. 11, 2018
St. Stephen
414 South Hyland Park Drive, Glenwood Springs, 81601 11:00 AM

Thu., Oct. 11, 2018
St. Clare of Assisi
31622 Highway 6, Edwards, 81632
1:00 PM

Tue., Oct. 16, 2018
St. John the Baptist
350 Emery Street, Longmont, 80501
9:30 AM

Tue., Oct. 16, 2018
St. John the Evangelist
1730 West 12th Street, Loveland, 80537
11:30 AM

Tue., Oct. 16, 2018
St. Joseph
127 North Howes Street, Ft. Collins, 80521
1:30 PM

Tue., Oct. 30, 2018
St. Mary’s Greeley
2351 22nd Avenue, Greeley, 80631
11:00 AM

Tue., Nov. 6, 2018
Holy Family HS
5195 West 144th Avenue, Broomfield, 80023
11:00 AM

Tue., Nov. 6, 2018
Nativity of Our Lord
900 West Midway Blvd., Broomfield, 80020
1:00 PM

Tue., Nov. 13, 2018
St. Vincent De Paul
1164 South Josephine Street, Denver, 80210
9:00 AM

Tue., Nov. 13, 2018
Our Lady of Lourdes
2256 South Logan Street, Denver, 80210
11:00 AM

Tue., Nov. 13, 2018
Most Precious Blood
3959 East Iliff Avenue, Denver, 80210
1:00 PM

Thu., Nov. 15, 2018
Bishop Machebeuf HS
458 Uinta Way, Denver, 80230
11:00 AM

Tue., Dec. 4, 2018
All Souls
4951 South Pennsylvania St., Englewood, 80113
11:00 AM

Tue., Dec. 4, 2018
St. Mary’s Littleton
6833 South Prince Street, Littleton, 80120
1:00 PM

Thu., Dec. 6, 2018
Blessed Sacrament
1973 Elm Street, Denver, 80220
11:00 AM

Thu., Dec. 6, 2018
St. James
1250 Newport Street, Denver, 80220
1:00 PM

Tue., Jan. 15, 2019
Frassati Catholic Academy
3951 Cottonwood Lakes Blvd., Thornton, 80241
11:00 AM

Thu., Jan. 17, 2019
St. Rose of Lima
1345 West Dakota Avenue, Denver, 80223
11:00 AM

Tue., Jan. 29, 2019
Our Lady of Fatima
10530 West 20th Avenue, Lakewood, 80215
11:00 AM

Tue., Jan. 29, 2019
Notre Dame
2165 South Zenobia Street, Denver, 80219
1:00 PM

Tue., Feb. 5, 2019
Assumption
2341 East 78th Avenue, Denver, 80229
11:00 AM

Tue., Feb. 5, 2019
Holy Trinity
3050 West 76th Avenue, Westminster, 80030
1:00 PM

Thu., Feb. 7, 2019
St. Francis De Sales
235 South Sherman Street, Denver, 80209
11:00 AM

Tue., Feb. 12, 2019
Sts. Peter and Paul
3920 Pierce Street, Wheat Ridge, 80033
11:00 AM

Tue., Feb. 12, 2019
Shrine of St. Anne
7320 Grant Place, Arvada, 80002
1:00 PM

Tue., Feb. 19, 2019
St. Thomas More
7071 East Otero Avenue, Centennial, 80112
11:00 AM

Tue., Feb. 19, 2019
Our Lady of Loreto
18000 E. Arapahoe Road, Foxfield, 80016
1:00 PM

Tue., Mar. 5, 2019
Good Shepherd
620 Elizabeth Street, Denver, 80206
11:00 AM

Tue., Mar. 5, 2019
Christ the King
860 Elm Street, Denver, 80220
1:00 PM

Thu., Mar. 14, 2019
St. Catherine of Siena
4200 Federal Blvd., Denver, 80211
11:00 AM

Thu., Mar. 14, 2019
Guardian Angels
1843 West 52nd Avenue, Denver, 80221
1:00 PM

Tue., Mar. 19, 2019
St. Therese
1200 Kenton Street, Aurora, 80010
11:00 AM

Tue., Mar. 19, 2019
St. Pius X
13680 East 14th Place, Aurora, 80011
1:00 PM

About Seeds of Hope: The mission of Seeds of Hope is to cultivate minds and hearts for Christ by making a transformative Catholic education financially accessible to any family who seeks it. Seeds of Hope accomplishes it mission by providing tuition assistance to schools across the Archdiocese of Denver for families in need through fundraising activities. Seeds of Hope also partners with the Archdiocese of Denver’s Office of Catholic Schools on a Variable Tuition Program that helps calculate affordable tuition for families. Learn more about Seeds of Hope at www.seedsofhopedenver.org.