Justice Anthony Kennedy recently announced his resignation from the United States Supreme Court. Good riddance.
What Shakespeare said about a traitor’s life in Macbeth applies equally well to Kennedy’s life on the Supreme Court: “Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it.” In other words, Kennedy’s decision to resign during the current presidency might be his greatest contribution to the Court, since it gives President Donald Trump the opportunity to feasibly replace him with a much better justice. After all, grave errors define Kennedy’s legacy: deepening our culture’s delusions about sexuality in particular and human nature in general through his rulings on homosexuality, exacerbating the largest mass killing of innocent human life in history through his rulings on abortion, and officially confirming relativism as America’s state religion through his ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey – the one in which he made the definitively relativistic claim, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
That relativism “at the heart of” America’s concept of liberty has doomed the American political system from its beginnings. Many Americans claim their country’s system to be among the best in history due to its “success,” but the catastrophic effects of its relativism prove otherwise. And, as opposed to claims to the contrary, that relativism is not accidental to the system, but rather intrinsic to it, and its disastrous effects are not just recent, but were also present during the time of the Founding Fathers. So, as America’s 250th anniversary nears, it is vital to take stock of its legacy – a legacy stemming largely from its most relativistic doctrine: the false teaching that Church and state should be separate, and that religious freedom is an inalienable right. Granted, the Founding Fathers were not relativists, and many indeed were Christians, but the American doctrine on religion – regardless of the intentions originally behind it – is relativistic, not Christian. Claiming that people have a moral right to religious freedom places all religions, true and false, on the same moral level, thereby divorcing morality from truth, is the essence of relativism.
This has allowed perhaps the most catastrophic effect of relativism to occur in America from the time of the Founding Fathers all the way to now: the unchecked spread of heresies, false religions, and moral error. That could be the most pressing issue in our nation because it could lead countless souls to eternal damnation, a fate infinitely worse than the merely temporal suffering and death on which our nation’s laws are exclusively focused. Governments should always have as their ultimate goal the long-term well-being of their citizens, but the secularity of America’s political system causes it to be shortsighted, fixated on the ephemeral at the expense of the everlasting.
While only orthodox Catholics can recognize the danger of beliefs opposed to traditional Catholic doctrine, all conservative Christians – as well as all non-Christians who embrace natural law – can acknowledge another danger caused by relativism in our country: abortion. If morality is divorced from objective truth, then the moral value of different groups of people becomes relative, leading to the dehumanization of certain groups. The widespread acceptance of abortion in America reveals this; an unborn child’s moral value is perceived to be relative to the mother’s wishes, causing wanted children to be cherished and unwanted ones to be murdered. As a result, America now, by the permission of its own laws, participates in the biggest mass killing of innocent human life in history. We comfort ourselves about the supposed superiority of our political system by comparing it to the barbarism of the Nazis, yet we have our own ongoing, much larger-scale genocide on our hands, and we have the audacity to celebrate it. This is unspeakably heinous not only because untold numbers of people are dying, but also because those dying have not been baptized, so their eternal salvation is uncertain, and countless women are committing an objectively grave sin, so their salvation (as well as that of the people encouraging them) is in jeopardy. Repentance can restore these women’s hope for salvation, but our relativistic culture does all it can to preclude their repentance by relabeling abortion as an empowerment of themselves, not a sin against their children.
Pro-choice advocates may disagree with this assessment of abortion, but almost any American can see the danger of Kennedy’s relativistic words when they are applied consistently, not just to the unborn, but to all human life. If one should be free to “define one’s own concept … of the mystery of human life” even to the point of being allowed to devalue and kill unborn human life, as Kennedy intended in writing those words to defend Planned Parenthood, then why should the slaveholders of American history not have been free to “define their own concept of human life” to the point of being allowed to devalue and enslave black human life? If the definition of morally valuable human life is up for grabs in the absence of a state religion, how can the state prevent heinous abuses of human rights like the South’s dehumanizing system of slavery? In The Civil War as a Theological Crisis’s synopsis of the La Civiltà Cattolica article “Disunion in the United States,” written by European Jesuits during the American Civil War, Mark Noll explains how the Jesuits believed America’s conflict over slavery to have arisen from this absence of a state religion:
While there was much to praise in American religion, the Jesuits nonetheless saw a “great mistake,” a “missing principle … dissolving a great union.” That missing element was “religious unity.” Reconciliation, so the Jesuits thought, would elude the Americans “because they are divided on a moral question, and moral questions are fundamentally grounded in religious dogma.” As they viewed the American conflict, it seemed to them that different American factions were using the Scriptures to mask their economic and political interests. But if Americans understood the true character of religious authority, then it would be possible to use the Bible with greater effect. If the Americans lived where their rights and their trust in Scripture “were assured by an authority respected by both parties, then the Bible could come into the conflict not as a plaything but as in a contest of truth over against falsehood.” Such an authority, which obviously meant the Roman magisterium, could exercise “an almost invincible strength over the two parties, so that one would surrender or that both would be reconciled to each other.” But “dogmas there are very free, as are also moral principles, and everything in these spheres is mere probability. Between two equal possibilities it is hardly a marvel that the two opposite factions come without scruple to opposite conclusions. Their independence makes it impossible to find a solution to their quarrel, both because they lack a central religious authority and because they lack moral honesty, which is itself a consequence of not having a central religious authority.”
This is as true of the Culture War over religion, morality, and abortion today as it was of the Civil War over slavery back then. Because the American political system is based on the separation of Church and state, relativism and its attendant errors, devaluations of human life, and conflicts fill the void left by the Church in the political sphere. After all, what better description of relativism could there be than a state in which “dogmas … are very free, as are also moral principles, and everything in these spheres is mere probability”?
If European Jesuits could recognize the relativism of our political system even back then, when our country overwhelmingly considered itself Christian, then relativism has been part of our cultural fabric for a long time; it is not just a recent aberration. Indeed, it is part of the very foundation of our country, which was founded as a haven for heresies, a place where no Puritans, Huguenots, or other exiles would be officially encouraged to conform to one objective truth.
As we survey the wasteland of enslaved human beings, murdered babies, and – worst of all – damned souls, we have to ask ourselves: is the American system really the one we want?
Editor’s note: This article comes from an anonymous contributor.
Founded in 2014, OnePeterFive is one of the leading traditional Catholic journals in the world. It is committed to rebuilding Catholic culture and restoring Catholic tradition.