By: Vincent Pham
“Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium)
What is this “throw away” culture that we live in that Pope Francis speaks about in this excerpt? Here in Canada alone, we face the realities of a pro-choice society where we see abortion and euthanasia being favoured by citizens and politicians. Looking to another perspective, what is being done for the marginalized of the City of Toronto including the immigrants, the lower-income citizens, the homeless? These are concerns that relate to what Pope Francis calls the “throw away culture” in which people who are not seen as “ideal” to a certain standard, are marginalized and cast out to the peripheries.
I believe this “throw away culture” ties into what is called relativism – the philosophy that there is no absolute truth, and that truth is relative to a person’s feelings, thoughts and opinions. Ethical relativism is the theory that holds that morality is relative to the norms of one’s culture. Whether an action is right or wrong depends on the moral norms of the society in which it is practiced. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in 2003 said in his contribution to a book titled, Faith, Truth, Tolerance – Christianity and the World Religion that relativism is “the greatest problem of our time.” Relativism implies that there is no such thing as an objective truth or an objective standard. It goes by the mentality, “As long as I feel that X is good, then it is good.” In a relativistic world, you can say, “2+2=5 because I feel that is right.” Since truth in relativism is subjective, it will differ from person to person and thus, no one can say, “You’re wrong!” in any circumstance.
That is the path our society is heading towards now, particularly when it comes to morality. When we look at abortion or euthanasia, these things have risen in our society because of this relativistic philosophy. The dignity of the human person becomes undermined when it is relativized as in such philosophy, the human person can be seen as a mere object, as something that can be kept or thrown away. This is a result of a society that has no objective standards.
This type of mindset is dangerous because first of all, the people who are already marginalized in society are pushed further away to the margins of society. This includes the disabled, the elderly, the migrants, and refugees and here in Canada, the Indigenous people. While we may think marginalization of peoples is something so far away, I have come to realize that it is all around us and the reality is, people must live with such a reality. I realized this further when I read Subdivided: City-Building in an Age of Hyper-Diversity. Right within the city of Toronto, the privileged advance while the under privileged are casted aside. This is evident in the distribution of resources and services right in the city. Looking at the Jane and Finch area alone, we see how deprived they are of social services and recreational services while areas such as Downtown Toronto are dense with resources and recreational spaces.
When speaking of issues of life and death, relativistic people themselves would create standards on who gets to live and who does not. That is dangerous, because it puts the most vulnerable people at risk, even in matters of life and death. Those who are voiceless are aborted or euthanized because others believe that their life is not worth living in accordance with their own subjective moral compass.
Do we see a pattern in the rhetoric of relativism? What is common throughout these issues that pertain to relativism is “the self”. Notice how in relativism, everything is centered around a certain individual and the pronoun I or me are used extensively. This is the case as relativism is a selfish philosophy. People with this type of mindset are only concerned about the gains of oneself and not of others.
It was mentioned in out last student Zoom meeting by one of our team members that those who are not productive in society are cast aside as they cannot contribute to it. That is exactly what we see in relativists. However, those who abide by objectivity still recognize that every human life deserves dignity and love. Human beings cannot be objectified – they cannot be seen as objects to be kept or thrown out. That is the truth, that fact.
Why do people quickly approach relativism and seemingly favours it over a world of objective truths? Simply because relativism is so easy to live by as it takes no thinking – you only do what you feel is right and no one can say anything against it because “it may be wrong for you, but not for me.” On the other hand, living in a world with objective truths requires everyone to put much effort into decisions as we need to think twice about our choices.
While relativism sounds attractive, in the long term it waters down truth and when there is no objective truth and objectivity to morality, the walls of society start to crumble as innocent lives are lost, priorities become egoistic and ultimately, decisions are no longer made for the common good.
If we truly want to live in harmony with each other, we must cast aside our egos, and sometimes that means making sacrifices to care for our neighbours who may be less fortunate than we are, and those who may be different than us. That also means re-prioritizing our to-do list so that we can reflect a much bigger picture rather than just our needs. However, one thing that is certain in a world of objectivity is that at the end of the day, everyone will have their fair share and needs addressed – indeed, truly living with the dignity they deserve as human beings because ultimately, “it is good and pleasant […] when kindred live together in unity.” (Ps 133:1)