Monday, April 26, 2004

Ethical Relativism and Public Policy

In a seminal speech, Religious Belief and Public Morality -- A Catholic Governor's Perspecitive, delivered almost 20 years ago at Notre Dame, then-NY Governor Mario Cuomo delivered a complex explanation for his support of Pro-Choice legislation.

Known far and wide for his rhetorical skill, the speech is 'classic' Cuomo (emphasis mine):

The hard truth is that abortion isn’t a failure of government.  No agency or department of government forces women to have abortions, but abortion goes on.

Catholics, the statistics show, support the right to abortion in equal proportion to the rest of the population.  Despite the teaching in our homes and schools and pulpits, despite the sermons and pleadings of parents and priests and prelates, despite all the effort at defining our opposition to the sin of abortion, collectively we Catholics apparently believe—and perhaps act—little differently from those who don’t share our commitment.

Are we asking government to make criminal what we believe to be sinful because we ourselves can’t stop committing the sin?

The failure here is not Caesar’s.  This failure is our failure, the failure of the entire people of God.


In the context of today's debate over Kerry's Catholic duty vs. Public commitment, I wonder if taking the ethical relativist position (Relativism is a "philosophical theory asserting that there is no absolute truth, only truth relative to the individual, or to a particular time or culture, or both. To put it another way, relativism may be defined as the radical denial of objectivity") plays well with the voters. If it does, can relativism work when applied to other issues where public policy is in deep conflict with Judeo-Christian teachings -- the death penalty, unjust war, and policies toward the working poor?

Cross-post here.

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