In a previous post, I explained how Christians — and everyone of good will — can defend authentic truth from the “dictatorship of relativism.” This is an essential task for today’s Christians. It is just as important — and perhaps even more controversial — to hold fast to authentic goodness in the face of today’s relativistic challenges.
It is common in the modern world to think that value is subjective and that goodness is relative to time, place, and personal inclination. In this perspective the human person stands before the world in a neutral position. All possibilities are open and equally inert in terms of value. None is any more valuable or desirable than any other. Nothing is good in itself, it only becomes when it is arbitrarily desired by some agent. But this is neither wise nor true.
- Just because I want something, it does not follow that it is really desirable.
In the realm of practical reasoning and maturity it does not get any more basic than this: something is not desirable because it is desired. Rather it should be desired because it is desirable in reality. To put it another way, desire is not self-justifying. Just because I want something it does not follow that it is really good or desirable; just because I am attracted to an activity it does not follow that I have right to it.
- Feelings and desires are not the basis of goodness.
This point is closely related to the first. As with truth, what is really desirable is not determined by desire or feeling. Rather what is good and desirable is written into the fabric of reality. Our desires and feelings are good or bad insofar as they correspond to what is really desirable. Read The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis.
- Some things are really desirable and others are not.
There is no distinction more important for recovering authentic goodness than the distinction between what is really desirable and apparently desirable. Sometimes we just want the wrong thing. Some things really are just desirable whether we like it or not. How do we know the difference? The good is that which actualizes and completes the being of the agent. To put it another way, the good is proportionate and consistent with the reality of the agent. This may be illustrated with numerous examples: teachers should communicate effectively; fathers should provide for their children; spouses should preserve their fidelity; the human person should practice self-preservation, learn the truth, etc.
- Goodness is not relative.
Goodness is based on being and being is consistent with itself. Remember the principle of non-contradiction: the same thing cannot be and not be at the same time and in the same respect. Goodness is not relative to desire; goodness is written into the fabric of being.
- The importance of authentic goodness.
Obviously authentic goodness is important. In our own times we lie and say that all things are valuable and good if we desire. We demand that all paths are open. We demand no restrictions, no deference to wisdom, custom, or divine law. And what is the result? Malaise, decline, anger, frustration, and spiritual darkness. Some things are really desirable and others are not. Until this distinction is accepted and lived out, the path of authentic goodness will remained closed to modern man.