The problem with relativism

Further thoughts on what nuns taught us in Roman Catholic schools in Syracuse and the Midwest.

They taught us what was right and wrong. Now that seems like a simple matter. Unless you bring “relativism” into your thinking. You know, the old “Relative to what?” game. It’s a nice day. Oh? Relative to what?

The nuns did not deal with relativism: This violates the Ten Commandments. This is a sin. That is not true. It is a lie.

This training helps sort matters for me. For instance, there is a famous politician who years ago was involved with fraud using securities. My securities licensing and training assured me her dealings were fraudulent.

Many years had passed by the time this got into the news. The statute of limitations kept authorities from charging her. Whenever she was questioned on it, she changed the subject. Nobody mentions it any more. But I know it was wrong. She committed a crime. No matter where she may rise in her political life I will know she is a crook. Thanks to the nuns.

Years ago I was visiting a friend at Christmas. His brother arrived. He was a highway supervisor for a county. He announced that one of the suppliers to the county had given him a big entertainment system for Christmas.



“It’s always a nice gift, every Christmas,” he boasted. “Last year it was a fancy barbeque.”

He and the family saw nothing wrong with this. “Relative” to the highway budget in the millions, I suppose it was peanuts. A token gesture. Relative to gifts that get handed out in business, it was nothing unusual. And, after all, prices ruled. Therefore this gift could not cause him to favor this supplier. Relative to those factors, this was just a gift.

But it was wrong. I know it was wrong because he would not dare tell county commissioners he had received it. I know it was wrong because the nuns taught us so.

We see a parade of corruption out of Albany and Washington. We read about corruption that flows like water in Illinois, especially Chicago. We know New Jersey’s state flower is plastic. Its state bird is dead. Its state motto is “Steal”. Its state dance is the perp walk. And its state hobby is corruption. We see and know these sad things.

But we also know someone defends them: You gotta admit everybody does it. Sure he helped out a few pals, but look at his record. You have to grease a few palms to get anything done these days. Compared to what some of these other birds do, what he’s done is nuthin’.

It seems to me that it is harder to swallow these excuses if you learned from the nuns of old. Sins were sins. No allowances. No wiggle room.

This brings to mind an incident aboard a Navy ship when I was 19. A sailor had discovered a way to sneak into a storage space for the ship’s store. He offered to collect watches for others. They buzzed about it until one of them objected. “That’s stealing. It doesn’t matter that it’s just Navy stuff. It’s stealing. It’s wrong.”

Yes, he happened to have been taught by nuns.

Some kids were never taught such distinctions. Their teachers did not make such judgments. Maybe their parents never did. Nobody said to them “That is wrong. It is a sin.” Some were taught that sins to one person are not sins to others. Relativism.

There are several reasons I love to read about Harry Truman. One is that he saw things in simpler manner than perhaps any other president. He saw black and white and not many shades. Lies were lies to him. Wrongs were wrongs. And the scale of things did not enter into it.

When he sent letters to his wife from the White House he bought his own stamps. He could have handed the letters to his secretary. She would have had them franked with the other mail. But, Truman said, that would have been stealing. Even at three cents. Even for the President.

Big politicians who accept vacations, flights on private jets and campaign money for favors would not agree. The nuns would. Bless ‘em.

From Tom...as in Morgan.

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