David Quinn - Religion in Europe and the New Moral Absolutism

David Quinn is the founder and director of the Iona Institute, Ireland.
Seminar held in Glasgow
Thursday 26 March 2009

Please note the following text is an outline of the paper presented at the seminar.

Religious believers are often accused of seeking to impose their morality upon others and of not respecting the separation of Church and State. They are told to keep their beliefs to themselves and to stay out of the public arena.

However, what we are now finding is that those who insist on the separation of Church and State, and who insist religious believers must not ‘impose’ their morality on others, are frequently the people behind the rise of a new moral absolutism that is using the power of the State to impose itself upon everyone, especially Christians.

This new moral absolutism can also be termed ‘equality absolutism’ and it is a product, ironically, of moral relativism. But how can absolutism be a product of relativism?

It works as follows. Relativism insists that all moral viewpoints are exactly that: viewpoints. There is no objective morality and, therefore, there is only your morality and my morality. All moral viewpoints must be given equal treatment and no-one should impose their morality on anyone else.

Likewise, all lifestyles must be treated equally because no lifestyle is more or less moral than any other lifestyle.

How does this work in practice? Well, one thing it must mean is that one religion is more or less the same as any other religion, and therefore no religion should be elevated above the other religions or even make a claim to a higher truth.

Homosexuality must be treated no differently from heterosexuality. All families must be treated equally and therefore marriage must not receive special treatment.

From this sort of thinking arise calls to ‘celebrate diversity’, and public education campaigns are launched to ensure this happens.

However, and here is the contradiction, the equality agenda is not content to leave things there. If true equality is to be achieved, then opposition to it must be crushed.

Therefore, Catholic adoption agencies in receipt of public money must accept homosexual couples as prospective adoptive parents.

Faith-based schools are put under pressure to accept children not of their own faith and to employ teachers who don’t share the faith of the school. The same pressure is applied to other religious organisations.

Politicians who are religiously orthodox in their thinking are viewed as suspect from a ‘democratic’ point of view because they do not believe sufficiently in ‘equality’, and may even oppose it. The Italian politician, Rocco Buttiglione, was barred from becoming an EU commissioner because he holds traditional Catholic views on issues like homosexuality.

In Britain, a nurse was suspended from her job because she offered to pray for a patient. This was deemed to be disrespectful towards the patient.

A Church of England bishop was visited by the police for suggesting that homosexuals, with proper counselling, can become heterosexuals.

In Canada, a pastor was brought before a Human Rights Commission (so-called) for describing the gay rights agenda as ‘wicked’. He was fined and ordered never to speak or write on the topic again.

In Spain, the Socialist government has introduced a civics course for schools which is compulsory. Essentially it is a state-imposed politically-correct catechism.

Cases such as these are multiplying all the time. The rise of equality absolutism means that religious freedom and freedom of conscience are no longer properly respected and are under direct attack.

Paradoxically, it means that we have lost sight of what the principle of equal treatment really means. This principle tells us that similar situations must be treated in similar ways.  But it allows that it is acceptable, and sometimes necessary, to treat dissimilar situations in dissimilar ways.

This is why it is acceptable, for example, to treat a same-sex relationship differently from a heterosexual one because only men and women can have children and only men and women can provide a child with a loving mother and father.

The rise of equality absolutism also means that society increasingly finds itself denying the social sciences. For example, social science data confirms that children tend to fare best when raised by their two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage.

But equality absolutists must deny this because of their dogmatic insistence that all family forms are equal – equal in dignity and equal in their effects on children – and must therefore be treated equally.

In addition, equality absolutism violates the separation of Church and State. It uses the power of the State and the law of the land to force itself on the Church and on religious believers, as in the case of the Catholic adoption agencies.

The Pope has called this new moral absolutism the ‘dictatorship of relativism’. In recent years it has gathered tremendous strength and Christians seem oddly apathetic and defeatist in the face of it.

We need to inform ourselves about it, acquaint ourselves with the necessary counter-arguments, and then fight back.