Infanticide and the ‘dictatorship of relativism’

Baby by Amy Quinn (CC0 1.0)

Baby by Amy Quinn (CC0 1.0)

As the jurors continue to deliberate in the case of abortionist Kermit Gosnell, many of the mainstream media outlets have finally gotten around to giving the issue some coverage. The case involves an abortion doctor known for killing the live babies who survived his abortion attempts. As the newborns lay on the table, crying and very much alive, he would snip their spines to end their lives.

As I recently read the Washington Post’s account of the trial, one of the comments on the story struck me as particularly troubling. Even if a woman decides to choose death for her infant child – an already-born baby, fully alive and breathing – the commenter said, “Who are we to say she’s doing something wrong?”

What we see in this comment is precisely what Pope Benedict XVI warned about eight years ago, a “dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive.” People are unwilling to denounce an act as atrocious as infanticide because they have been taught that they can never judge another person’s actions.

And yet we must judge other people’s actions. We cannot judge their souls, we cannot condemn them to hell, but in order for society to function, we must firmly decry certain actions as being wrong. Our nation’s laws are founded on a judgment that certain actions, such as stealing and murder, are objectively wrong.

Deep down, we realize this. When school children are gunned down in Newtown or innocent people are killed by bombs at a marathon in Boston, we instinctively know this is wrong. Everyone comes together – despite differences in race, religion and cultural background – to condemn such behavior. No one says that we should refrain from judging these actions. Just think of how absurd and inappropriate that claim would sound if applied to the perpetrators of these attacks: “Who are we to say they’re doing something wrong?”

That’s the double standard that comes with relativism. On one hand, people are told not to judge others or condemn their actions, even if the result is a dead infant. On the other hand, people find that their natural human response to violent atrocities is anger and indignation at something that cannot be justified, because they intrinsically know that it is objectively wrong.

And so we are left with an incoherent society in which no one can judge other people’s actions…except when they can. Planned Parenthood has capitalized on this moral confusion with its new “not in her shoes” campaign, which tells people that they have no right to condemn the murder of a pre-born child because they do not know the situation that the mother is experiencing. This line of thought ignores the real issue: Murder is murder, and it’s wrong, no matter what someone else may be experiencing.

As we work to promote the Church’s teaching in the 21st century, it is important for us to acknowledge the relativism we are facing within the culture. We must heed Benedict XVI’s call to counter this relativism with truth if we are to show the errors that come from a worldview in which there is no objective right or wrong.