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April 23, 2012

When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger gave his famous "dictatorship of relativism" homily shortly before being elected pope in 2005, thoughts of Alberta politics were likely far from his mind. However, we need to ponder our society's dominant myth of relativism every time we draw near a ballot box.

The key line in Ratzinger's homily was: "We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires."

Relativism gets expressed in many ways in our society - one is that freedom is the paramount virtue. Another is that no one - especially not government or the Church - should "dictate" moral values.

This Alberta election campaign has seen politicians scrambling to be relativists on both counts. No party would allow a vote, for example, that might lead to a ban on government funding of abortion. The only values anyone would enshrine are those of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Abortion is far from being our only concern. The right to life of the unborn is part of the framework of the common good and it is the common good from which politicians increasingly flee.

We are, however, more than isolated individuals. One reason our precious freedom ought to be treasured is that it allows us to forge a common destiny as a society.

Society, like a family, ought first to look after the needs of the weak. If instead it says, "Go out and party and leave your sick and impoverished brother to care for himself," it is a sad excuse for a society. The rot of selfishness is destroying the society.

There are three obvious ways to care for the weak. There are the actions of virtuous individuals, the efforts of voluntary organizations and the power of government. If any of those three legs collapse then the whole edifice of concern for the sick and the poor also collapses.

Government action without individual and collective efforts will create stultifying bureaucracy. Voluntary action alone, however, will never be enough to meet the massive needs of the weak and suffering.

In his homily, Ratzinger named love as the virtue that overcomes relativism. Love grows out of faith and together those two virtues nurture a true humanism. This humanism is oriented to truth and goodness. It will never be satisfied with the egoism of selfish desire.

Too often, what we call freedom is but a code word for selfishness. Too often, tolerance fails to respect truth and goodness.

Rarely is there a perfect choice at the ballot box. Nevertheless, we have a constant duty to oppose relativism and seek the common good. The democratic system is one place where we must strive to build community and overcome the ceaseless desires of the individual ego.