Tuesday, April 17, 2012

John Paul II on Democracy

In the Gospel of Life Pope John Paul lays out some important principles regarding the culture of life. He touches upon the limits of democracy. Here is what he has to say: "Ethical relativism characeterizes much of present-day culture. There are those who consider such relativism an essential condition of democracy, inasmuch as it alone is held to guarantee tolerance, mutual respect between people and acceptance of the decisions of the majority, whereas moral norms considered to be objective and binding are held to lead to authoritarianism and intolerance. But it is precisely the issue of repect for life which shows what misunderstandings and contradictions, accompanieed by terrible practical consequences, are concealed in this position. It is true that history has known cases where crimes have been committed in the name of 'truth." But equally grave crimes and radical denials of freedom have also been committed and are being committed in the name of 'ethical relativism.' When a parliamentary or social majority decrees that it is legal, at least under certain conditions, to kill unborn human life, is it not really making a 'tyrranical' decision with regard to the weakest and most defenseless of human beings? Everyone's conscience rightly rejects those crimes against humanity of which our century has had such sad experience. But would these crimes cease to be crimes ir, instead of being committed by unscrupulous tyrants they were legitimated by popular consensus? Democracy cannot be idolized to the point of making it a substitute for morality or a panacea for immorality. Fundamentally, democracy is a 'system' and as such is a means and not an end. Its 'moral' value is not automatic, but depends on conformity to the moral law to which it, like every other form of human behavior, must be subject: in other words, its morality depends on the morality of the ends which it pursues and of the means which it employs. If today we see an almost universal consensus with regard to the value of democracy, thies is to be considered a positive 'sign of the times,' as the Church's Magesterium has frequently noted. But the value of democracy stands or falls with the values which it embodies and promotes. Of course, values such as the dignity of every human person, respect for inviolable and inalienable human rights, and the adoption of the 'common good' as the end and criterion regulating political life are certainly fundamental and not to be ignored. The basis of these values cannot be provisional and changeable 'majority' opinions, but only the acknowledgement of an objective moral law which, as the 'natural law' written in the human heart, is the obligatory point of reference for civil law itself. If, as a result of a tragic obscuring of the collective conscience, an attitude of skepticism were to succeed in bringing into question even the fundamental principles of the moral law, the democratic system itself would be shaken in its foundations, and would be reduced to a mere mechanism for regulating different and opposing interests on a purely empirical basis." What is the Pope saying here? Democracy is good but it is not an end in itself, and if its should lose its moral compass, it cannot survive. The Roman empire was once the largest and most feared empire of all time. It extended through Europe, Africa, and Asia. It did not succumb to another empire. It was overrun by Barbarians from the North. When Rome lost its moral compass it collapsed from within. Some have accused Catholics of imposing their own morality on government in recent HHS mandate debates and other life issues. This is not a matter of religious belief. It is a matter of truth that can be known by the natural law. This is the argument of the Pontiff. When you lose that perspective of the natural law and truth than anything becomes possible-ethical relativism. This is where we are today. America has lost its moral compass. We need to wake up and realize that we cannot terminate the lives of 1.5 million unborn children in the name of "women's health" each year, and expect to survive as a country. We need to reclaim the moral values that forged this country in faith

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