Our Greatest Problem

by Mr. O'Connor

Happy Opening Day, but I’m actually not going to write about the greatest sport of all time; rather, today’s edition is about the greatest problem of our time (and maybe of all time).  According to many, including Pope Benedict XVI, the greatest problem of our time is relativism – the idea that objective truth, especially in the moral and religious realm, doesn’t exist, but the truth varies from person to person and culture to culture. 

Without necessarily naming the problem, Lourdes Classical seeks to combat this problem every single day, starting in pre-school!  But in 8th grade we spend a significant amount of time debunking this destructive philosophy (if you can call it that) in detail.  Given the relativistic air we breathe, I’ve found this unit to be the most important and fruitful one I teach.  We have no shortage of examples from the culture to show students before they start to excitedly find examples on their own almost daily.  Thanks to the classical education offered here, each year I find our students more and more “pre-disposed” to make mincemeat of relativistic thoughts, whether they are from the media or even a supreme court justice (sadly), and the unit takes less time to master each year.  It also sets the stage with a critical foundation for a fruitful study of Pope St. JP2’s “Theology of the Body.” 

The final assessment asks students to write an imaginary dialogue with a relativist.  Here are the first 2 pages of one 8th grader’s 4.5-page off-the-cuff answer: 

[I noticed the “tolerance” bracelet on her wrist and wanted to see if she knew what it actually meant.]

Me: I like your bracelet.  I see those everywhere but I don’t quite understand the point that they are trying to get across.  What’s your name?

Girl: Ali.  My sister and I got these a few months ago.  We both strongly agree that everyone should stop disagreeing with people and we would have a more peaceful world.

Me:  But isn’t the definition of tolerance “enduring actions you don’t agree with.”  So in order to be tolerant, don’t you have to disagree with the action?

Ali:  What makes that so true?  Who are you to judge whether or not a person is bad just because they can do what they want?

Me: [At that point I knew for sure she was a relativist.]  Agreed, we cannot judge a person’s soul, that’s only for God, but we can and must judge an action.

Ali: That’s not true! In fact, there is no absolute truth!

Me:  Do you believe this is true for everyone?

Ali: Yes! [She looked down, realizing what she had just said.]

Me: So what about 2 + 2?  Does it not equal 4?

Ali: Well, only scientifically verifiable statements are true.

Me: So in order for that statement to be right, it has to be scientifically verifiable.  Is it?...