Moral principles do not depend on a majority vote. Wrong is wrong, even if everybody is wrong; right is right, even if nobody is right.
The Venerable Fulton Sheen said that, in 1953 according to the lovely graphic I’ve seen around.
What is right is not always popular; what is popular is not always right.
Not sure who said that; I think it was then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who also said the truth is not determined by a majority vote.
I actually started writing this musing before the late June opinions from the US Supreme Court; it’s sort of an evergreen subject, since humans seem to be very social animals and “but everyone is doing it” has a very strong emotional impact. Sometimes it’s so strong that people come to a conclusion and then try to find reasons to hold it– I have to avoid focusing on that too much, it really doesn’t bring out the best in anyone and is an unproductive starting point anyways.
What “everyone” else is doing can be a handy tool if you have limited information… a very important thing to ask yourself is which part of “everybody” has the results that I want?
Another important thing to look at is if folks’ actions match up with your understanding of what they’re saying– language is wonderful, but sometimes what you hear isn’t what they mean, and sometimes folks don’t manage to live up to what their philosophy says they should do, or choose a specific option in what their philosophy says is allowable. Looking at what actually happens is part of natural law.
Counter to what some folks seem to take it to mean, “natural law” doesn’t mean “if it’s found in nature, it’s OK.” I’m sure there are some of it that are exactly that, but in this context it’s more like “those aspects of morality that can be figured out by observing creation and thinking about it.” My favorite example is one I only ran across on accident while reading blogs–a topic for my next post, I think–where Saint Augustine in The City of God very clearly spelled out how and why all variations from the norm in humans, even those so deformed they aren’t recognizably human, if they are moral beings are then considered to be “man”. This is the kind of thing that should work well in stopping the perennial human sin of treating various groups of Other as non-persons, if we could just manage to consistently apply it. (Note: that’s probably the biggest tripping point with all morality, isn’t it? Actually applying it, consistently. If it were easy and to immediate advantage and gratification, it would hardly need to be said, any more than arguments against cutting off your arm need to be said in most cases.)
There is a section of the population that will disregard anything you say just because it supports a religious view– generally the real flaw seems to be that they just don’t like the conclusion, and “you’re only saying that because you’re Catholic” is a handy hammer. Those will be the ones you run into the most, not because there are more of them– I don’t believe that there are– but because they’re the ones that will not change their minds and refuse to change the subject. Sometimes, they change the subject to whatever the conflict is, especially if it’s something like the approval-seeking of the homosexual marriage decisions. This can make it very difficult to talk about delicate subjects, because you spend a lot of time essentially saying “no, I don’t hate you. No, that isn’t what the Church actually teaches. No, I don’t eat puppies. And so on.
There is another portion of the population that is willing to listen, and doesn’t have any pre-existing conclusions. They’re pretty easy to talk to, although very rare. (Obviously; they change category once someone talks to them and they think about it enough to draw a conclusion.)
There is a third portion that, while not irrational, has different basic assumptions that cause their conclusions to be the same as those of the first, irrational group. They can be really fun to talk to, but also frustrating– you can agree on all the facts, and still come to different conclusions.
An example of a different baseline is that there is absolutely no difference between male and female that is any more than cosmetic. (This is the assumption embedded in the “homosexual marriage is the same as interracial marriage” line of thought. No, I don’t understand how someone can think that something as basic as ability to reproduce is nothing, and asking either brought up “there are too many people on earth” or name-calling as they assumed I was being snide. For the record, I do actually want to know how folks can justify thinking that ‘race’ is as big of a difference as sex, since one is a rough grouping of visual clues to ancestry, while the other is an essential biological difference needed to continue our species.)
A fourth group is where trying to learn about natural law will give you an advantage– these are the folks who agree with the first and third group, but haven’t considered the basic assumptions. Basically, they agree with those they’ve heard, but they don’t have an attachment to the idea. Like the old saying goes, if you tell a man that the stars are suns, he’ll believe you, but he’ll touch a bench that has a “wet paint” sign.
How you interact with those people will depend on them, and you, and hopefully a boatload of grace to figure out the right thing to say or do. Hopefully, you can get people to be interested in how and why the stars are suns, if not sway him to hold it as important as the question of if he’s standing next to a dry bench that someone didn’t remove the “wet paint” sign from.
People think about stuff that is important to them, and directly impacts their lives– even if it’s just via their self image. The more you learn, the more you are going to be able to reach them. Hopefully, you’ll reach them in time to keep false beliefs from hurting them.
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