My Moral "Relativism"

A reader of the book offers this critique:

You haven't broken any new ground in discovering that "doubt" is a permanent fixture of the Christian life. St. Paul told the first Christians what you have gone to such great Tcscover_26 lengths to discover - that we will never know God fully here on earth. We must make do with sufficient but incomplete glimpses, most powerfully seen in the life of Christ:  "Now I see dimly, but then face-to face." This is a day-to-day reality for every Christian who has ever tried to walk the walk, and the idea that the orthodox, the evangelical, the fundamentalist, as you like to put it, is immune from doubt is absurd. Do you have any evangelical friends? Ever been to there church picnics? Ever sat in a small bible study and listened to there fears and doubts? Doubt is everywhere and we wouldn't be human without it.

You quote Benedict XVI for the proposition that the individual conscience takes a back seat to papal authority. The statement you cite was made in response to the argument that a Nazi executioner acting according to an ill-formed conscience would be blameless. Ratzinger's conclusion regarding the interplay between conscience and authority is quite different. He approves of this statement by Cardinal Newman: "I shall drink to the Pope, if you please, - still to conscience first and to the Pope afterwards." Ratzinger concludes:

"The true sense of this teaching authority of the Pope consists in his being the advocate of the Christian memory. The Pope does not impose from without. Rather, he elucidates the Christian memory and defends it.  For this reason the toast to conscience indeed must precede the toast to the Pope because without conscience there would not be a papacy. All power that the papacy has is power of conscience."

You and Ratzinger agree that conscience is preeminent. But Ratzinger believes that the conscience must be formed by the truth an objective categorical truth; whereas you believe that conscience is purely subjective. And that idea of the preeminence of the subjective conscience is the heart of your argument.

This is, indeed, an argument close to the core of the book. But my reader misunderstands my point. I go to great pains to insist that skepticism is not the same as moral relativism. A relativist believes that there is no truth as such, no objective moral reality. A skeptic may affirm, as I do, the notion of an objective truth - but insist on the weakness of the human mind to know it fully. And so, in practical life, we eschew the moral certainties of fundamentalists.

Ratzinger's view of the conscience is that if it contradicts the Pope, it is not a real conscience. I disagree. And, yes, this does mean living in the knowledge that we do not know everything, and believing that the source of faith is always a mystery, not a transparent truth. This requires the nerve of living in a world without an easily accessible objective truth. Some possess this nerve; others don't; still others see that nerve itself as a sin, or as a rejection of God. I think it is an intelligent person's best option in the modern world. And I rest my cautious, doubt-ridden politics upon this fragile foundation - convinced merely that it less fragile than all the others.