Chick-fil-A and the ‘dictatorship of relativism’By: Bishop James V. Johnston
“We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.” –Pope Benedict XVI, April 18, 2005 homily prior to the conclave that elected him pope.
This past week an unusual media firestorm erupted over recent comments of Dan Cathy, the president and COO of Chick-fil-A, a popular fast food restaurant chain. Cathy, a devout Baptist, was giving an interview with the Baptist Press, and describing how the company strives to follow biblically-based principles in its business. When asked about his company’s support of the traditional family, Cathy said, “Well, guilty as charged.” He added, “We are very supportive of the family–the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that … we know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”
The story was picked up by both social media and the national mainstream media. In short order, Cathy was being blasted simply for stating his belief and support of marriage as a one man, one woman union, which most Americans still recognize as essential to not only the natural order, but as confirmed by God in divine revelation.
Cathy’s statement of faith regarding the Bible and the family would have been utterly unremarkable even a few years ago; but it provoked death threats, calls for Chick-fil-A boycotts, and attacks on the company from elected officials. A sampling of other random remarks include that of media personality Russell Brand, who called the restaurant “a racist chicken dispensary.” The Jim Henson Company decided to sever ties with the company and actress Roseanne Barr reportedly wished cancer on Chick-fil-A patrons. Most tragically, in the midst of these attacks, Don Perry, vice president of public relations for Chick-fil-A for nearly 30 years, died of a heart attack.
This incident is very instructive for a number of reasons. First, it is a clear example of what Pope Benedict has warned of many times in recent years when he speaks of a looming “dictatorship of relativism.” This describes the aggressive secularism which does not recognize any definitive norms with regard to certain matters of morality, especially those pertaining to sexual morality. As a result of this relativism, religious voices in the public sphere are no longer tolerated, much less valued.
On his trip to Great Britain in 2010, the Holy Father noted, “There are some who now seek to exclude religious belief from public discourse, to privatize it or even to paint it as a threat to equality or liberty. … Yet religion is in fact a guarantee of authentic liberty and respect, leading us to look upon every person as a brother or sister.”
Following Cathy’s comments, the mayors of Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco all said that they would keep Chick-fil-A restaurants out of their respective cities. All because the CEO indicated to a Christian publication that he believed in marriage and the family. If one ever wanted a clear example of what the pope was warning against, this would be it: the “dictatorship of relativism” in action.
A sign of things to come
Second, this incident should indicate to all people who hold that there are definite moral norms and truths what to expect, unless something changes. Catholics, who hold to biblical principles and the teaching of Christ and his Church, should be aware of the need to prepare for opposition and even persecution because of our religious beliefs. Courage will be necessary for all Catholics.
The news is not all bad. Catholics will be in a unique position to take an important role in these discussions and debates. Because we have a tradition of engaging the world and its challenges with both divine revelation and reason, recognizing that both are ordered to truth and serve the same truth, we will be able to serve the common good, as well as individuals who seek the truth, in a special way.
Nevertheless, we must begin with our own “household.” We especially must equip our young people with the sound formation they will need in order to be engaged in these issues with confidence. If not, they will be beaten into submission by the dictatorship.
The Chick-fil-A incident is very much related to what our Catholic institutions are facing with the Administration’s Health and Human Services mandate. Once again, religious voices and convictions of conscience are being pushed aside for the aggressive secular agenda which, in the name of unlimited sexual freedom, intends to force abortion, sterilization, and contraception upon the nation.
The events of the past year foreshadow what we can expect in the future. It is up to us to be engaged now, for our own good and for the good of our nation. As Cathy said, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles. After this experience, I wonder if that statement should have been phrased in the past tense.