On April 18, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in the Homily for the Mass for the election of the Roman Pontiff that preceded the opening of the conclave in which, the day after, he was elected pope, said:
“Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4: 14) comes true.
Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine”, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires”.
This sentence opens ideally the pontificate of Benedict XVI in the sign of contrast against relativism. According to the future Pontiff the relativism is “letting oneself be tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine” and its “ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires. “
The positions of the pope on gay rights are well known. I will just mention an article in English, published on the blog Gay Project January 18, 2013 https://gayproject2.wordpress.com/2013/01/18/pope-and-discrimination-of-gays/ .
I don’t enter into the merits of the statements of the pope. I would just like to mention and to develop an Indian legend told by Max Scheler in the first part of “Formalism in ethics and the ethics of material values” an extremely interesting book, published exactly 100 years ago, in 1913, which was intended to clarify what is relativism by treating the matter very seriously. The work is in German, but the Protestant and Jewish cultural influences, perhaps even more than the contents of the book itself, does not make it enjoyable in Catholic circles.
Max Scheler alludes to an Indian legend that I have to expand because it has a considerable explanatory meaning.
Many years ago, in India, a group of blind “wise men” were allowed to approach an elephant and they were told that it was an elephant, each of them touched the elephant only for a few seconds, then they were asked what an elephant was: one said it was a hard object such as marble, because he had only touched a tusk, another said it was like a very big snake capable of writhing in coils, because he had only touched the trunk, and another said it was a big paw.
According to the metaphor it’s obvious that each of the blind “wise men” realized that his point of view was relative and that to better understand what an elephant is it’s necessary to know and understand what others deduced from their own point of view. The truly wise men understand that relativism is not exceeded with the apodictic affirmation of a single point of view but only with a collaborative vision that enriches everyone and allows a better understanding of reality and at least a relative overcoming of the initial relativism. So far Max Scheler and I would say that it is already an illuminating metaphor.
Now let assume that among those blind wise men there was one that had got to stay a long time with other elephants, that certainly would have had a much better knowledge of what an elephant is, certainly a relative knowledge but much less relative than that of those who had could touch the elephant just for a minute, and the wise men, to understand what is really an elephant, would certainly be listening to those who had more experience about elephants.
Obviously if those same blind men were then taken next to a turtle and none of them had ever had contact with other turtles, none of them could have helped “a priori” to understand more and better than others what a turtle really is.
It wouldn’t certainly occur to me, since I’ve never ridden a horse, to explain to an experienced rider which positions are more “natural” to stay in the saddle, because talking about what you do not know means only show your ignorance of that topic, so anyone who is not gay, and does not live being gay from inside, should realize that he has a concept of being gay comparable with the idea of an elephant that can have a blind man who has approached an elephant only for a minute.
Mine is not a defense of relativism and I make explicit reference to Max Scheler if you want to get something serious about these topics.
Strongly assertive and dogmatic positions are supported not by their greater reliability derived from more experience or more rationality but only by a principle of authority. The concepts of “God’s law” or “natural law” are also presumptions, i.e. acts of faith, certainly respectable in themselves, but that in no case can be the basis of visions involving the devaluation of other points of view, or worse the restriction of the freedom of others. This would be like trying to impose the view that the elephant is a huge tusk because one of the blind men, particularly influential, has only touched the tusk (assuming that he has really touched it). If those blind men submit to the authority of one of them, they would not be wise because they would reject the idea of working for a better understanding of the things, that is not compatible with the idea that someone is right by definition. This is not like the Pope says “the dictatorship of relativism” but an elementary principle of common sense for which freedom is not compatible with any ideological dictatorship.
Gay men know the reality of their lives and yet have to see every day, imposed by the violent force of law, as is happening in Russia, or by the abuse of the name of God, as the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church usually do, the points of view of those who does not know what they are talking about.
It is not the relativism reductively understood, according to the words of the Pope, the basis of democracy that must form the foundation of the States, but the principle of mutual respect and collaboration, to guarantee the higher level of awareness for all, assuming that everyone is free to judge as he wants but if the judgment is not based on a real knowledge of the topics but on a mere prejudice, no one can claim in the name of that prejudice to limit the freedom or the rights of others.