Friday, February 24, 2017





 


Who Am I To Judge?: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love.  By Edward Sri, Ignatius Press, 2016.


DOCAT: What to Do? – The Social Teachings of the Catholic Church.  Ignatius Press and Augustine Institute, 2016.


Who Am I To Judge? and DOCAT are both books that seek to make the teachings of the Catholic Church clear, accessible, and relevant to the readers.  Who Am I To Judge? is written by a professor of theology and scripture, who wrote this book to explain Catholic teachings to a wide audience, including young people who have grown up in a culture that sees claims to absolute truth as intolerant.  DOCAT is a collection of questions and answers to explain, justify, and defend various Catholic positions on a wide variety of issues.  These are books that have resonance to all individuals, but they are particularly geared towards younger Catholics, many of whom have never been exposed to a thorough defense of Catholic principles.


Who Am I To Judge? opens with a true story about a young Catholic college student who was bullied and publicly shamed for holding orthodox Catholic beliefs, and who rapidly came to embrace moral relativism as a means to protect her social standing and to avoid the condemnation of her peers.  Sri uses this anecdote as an example of the intellectual and moral culture of many college campuses, and extrapolates it to his own experience teaching.  In his introduction, Sri writes:


“Sixty-five college students every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Most of them don’t want to be there.  How do I present the Christian moral tradition in a way that is captivating and compelling to these young people– especially when so many of them think of morality as a bunch of arbitrary rules from religion, assume each individual should be free to make up his own morality, and balk at the slightest hint that someone might be trying to tell them what to do?”


It should be noted that this is not a book that bashes the younger generation, but it does attack the broader culture, along with the pervasiveness of moral relativism, which contends that there is no absolute truth and that all individuals but determine what morality is right for them, and everybody’s personal definition of ethics is right for them.  Sri understands that this is a seductive worldview, allowing one to feel sophisticated and nonjudgmental.  Sri notes that when he was younger, he did not have the background education to properly understand and defend Catholic doctrine, but it was through a thorough guidance system that he was able to comprehend and embrace Church teachings, and now his career and this book intend to provide a source of information to a new generation.  He writes:


“Over time, thankfully, through good friends, mentors, teachers, priests, and books, I eventually came to see more clearly the beauty of the Catholic moral vision.  It makes sense out of life.  It points to what makes us truly happy.  It shows us the pathway to virtue, friendship, and lasting love.  It also encourages us to face the truth about ourselves– our faults, our weaknesses, our sins– in light of the truth about God’s unwavering love for us.  It thus leads us to a profound encounter with Christ’s mercy and to a power that enables us to live and love in a way we could never do on our own: the power of God’s grace.  Indeed the Christian moral life is the pathway to human flourishing.  Only by living the way God intended for us, by living in union with Christ, can our hearts’ deepest desires be fulfilled.


But that’s not the average person’s impression of Catholic morality and certainly not that of the majority of college students I was preparing to teach.  Most had been shaped by the culture’s individualistic outlook on life and came with the presupposition of moral relativism.  For them, morality was just personal opinion.  Each individual makes up his own truth.  Each decides for himself what is right or wrong.  The one really bad thing to do in life is to make a judgment about someone else’s moral beliefs.  That would be intolerant.”


Who Am I To Judge? is a sharp rebuke to moral relativism (and nihilism).  Sri explains that the purpose of his book is to provide logical answers to big questions.  The point here is to shift the boundary lines of the debate.  While Catholics are often on the defensive in discussions, Sri goes on the offensive.  He provides a series of counter-attack comments that cause the proponents of moral relativism to examine the basis of their own beliefs, and to illustrate that Catholic stances on issues are not merely medieval superstitions, but instead are logical and well-reasoned positions that can be justified through reasonable argument.


“This is the challenge that we will address in this book: How do we talk about morality in an age that no longer believes in moral truth?  If anyone making a claim to truth is viewed as an intolerant bigot, then how do we even begin to speak about some actions being wrong all the time?  After all, who wants to be perceived as a mean, judgmental person?  If I live in constant fear that I might be shamed for my moral convictions, then maybe it’s just better to keep quiet.


This short, highly readable book is meant to help you rise above the mainstream “anything goes” attitudes around you and give you greater clarity and confidence in talking about morality with relativistic friends– greater clarity about how to think with a classical moral worldview and greater confidence in sharing that beautiful vision with others.  I am convinced that the more we are immersed in a proper moral vision, the more effective we will be in responding to the relativistic mindset.”


Sri’s work is intended to help Catholics defend the tenets of their Church in a debate.  DOCAT is a resource consisting of questions and answers, organized by topic.  Love, the Church’s social mission, the human person, the Church’s social doctrine, the family, human work, economic life, politics, the international community, the environment, peace, and love in action.  Each section contains numerous questions that the both faithful and the doubtful might ask about morality or Catholic teaching, and then responds with a substantial reply of what the Church says and why it says it.


 DOCAT’s introduction states:


“The social doctrine of the Catholic Church contains a wealth of resources for how to live out the faith in pursuit of charity and justice.  DOCAT presents this social doctrine of the Church in a way designed specifically for young adults, helping you to respond effectively to Pope Francis’s challenge to work for greater justice in the world.


Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other important Church documents, DOCAT is written in a style and format just for you.  Through probing questions and thought-provoking exercises, DOCAT teaches how to understand and joyfully live according to the principles of truth, justice, and charity set forth in the social doctrine of the Church.


The truths of the faith are not meant to be merely an intellectual exercise– they are meant to make a real, tangible difference in daily life.  As Jesus tells his Apostles at the Last Supper, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).


What does this love look like?  It is loving your neighbor as yourself and praying for those who persecute you (cf Matthew 5:44).  It is giving food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned.  Love of God cannot be separated from service to others because when you care for others, you are serving God (cf Matthew 25:34-40).


Translated into multiple languages and distributed throughout the world, DOCAT can have a profound effect on young Catholics everywhere.  By learning to live a life transformed by God’s love, we can then, in turn, transform the world.”


DOCAT is interestingly designed.  The bulk of the text on each page consists of the question and answer format.  Lots of assorted pictures (mostly photographs) of a wide variety of subjects cover the pages, and on the sides of each page are quotes from numerous figures, not all of them Catholic.  Figures as diverse as G.K. Chesterton, George Bernard Shaw, Mohandas Gandhi, John Steinbeck, Albert Einstein, and scores of other notables are quoted.  Additionally, a series of little stick figure drawings are printed in the lower right corners of the odd-numbered pages, turning DOCAT into a flip book.


Both of these books are excellent resources, and can serve to educate and inform, because they are crafted in an extremely readable manner and advance their arguments clearly, firmly, and confidently.

 


–Chris Chan