Fr. John's Letter Archives

Enjoy re-reading Fr. John's weekly bulletin letters for the past year.

Moral Hoops

05-18-2014Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

How often do we hear, "if it feels right then its ok" with the caveat: "as long as it does not hurt anyone"? That seems to be the prevailing moral norm of our society. When you make a claim to objective moral truths or absolute values or that some things are intrinsically wrong you're usually told that you are some kind of right-wing control freak that is trying to "impose" your religious values on everyone. The problem here is that the truth is the truth and no matter how much you want to relativize it to a person's feelings it has a way of asserting itself sooner or later.

Case in point: the recent episode with Donald Sterling, the owner of the professional basketball team in Los Angeles. Mr. Sterling shared his feelings privately with another person, saying he did not want her seen in public with black people. Once his remarks were made public he was soundly condemned. Now if you use the prevailing moral standard he was just sharing his "truth", the way he felt with another person. What's wrong with that? Furthermore he really did not harm anyone as the remarks were private and he did not take action on them. Once the remarks were made public they offended just about everyone but doesn't he have a right to his own moral beliefs, especially if they "feel right" to him? After all if there are no objective moral truths that our reason can grasp then who are we to judge Mr. Sterling's feelings that he expressed privately?

What followed was a good lesson in universal moral truth. Mr. Sterling was soundly condemned since racism is intrinsically wrong, always. Here we have a case of a moral truth that is not based on feelings or individual choice but absolute moral norms. It's ironic that the same people who insist on relativizing every value all of the sudden stood up for a universal moral truth. That certainly proves that there are things that are intrinsically wrong, that is, in and of themselves and no situation can make them right or good. The case of Donald Sterling demonstrates that apart from our feelings there are objective standards of right and wrong to which we should conform our feelings and not the other way around. The quick moral condemnation of the racist remarks of Mr. Sterling was not the result of the feelings of the majority but of the fact that those feelings conformed to the objective moral truth that racism is always wrong. If it were just a question of feelings what would happen when the majority felt the opposite? I think we've already seen that in the segregationist history of our country.

Mr. Sterling was subsequently banned for life from the NBA as punishment for his racist remarks. For the most part everyone seems to be ok with that consequence. Yet when a Catholic employer terminates an employee for failure to follow the moral teaching of the Church all sorts of objections are made to that consequence. This past year one Catholic School dismissed a teacher for entering into a same-sex marriage and of course the usual recriminations followed and then the lawsuits.

Here's the question: why in one case is punishment acceptable for violating an objective moral truth and in another it is deemed discriminatory and intolerant? In the first case, the judgment on racism is based on a moral principle that rests on objective reason. In the second, the morality of the action is based on subjective feelings. When morality is based on subjective feelings rather than reasoned moral truths then whoever has the loudest voice wins the moral argument. That makes for a rather chaotic society that quickly looses its cohesiveness. What we have presently is a society where some moral judgments are based on objective truth to which our feelings conform and other moral judgments are based on feelings to which we make our morality conform.

So the next time someone tries to tell you there are no objective moral truths upon which moral judgments can be made remind them of the Donald Sterling affair.

Fr. John B.