By Fr Tomás Walsh
On the 18th April, 2005, at a Mass prior to the Conclave called to elect a successor to Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the then Dean of the College of Cardinals, spoke forcefully of the great perils that confronted the world at that time. He said: “How many doctrinal winds have we known in these last decades, how many ideological currents, how many styles of thought… from Marxism to liberalism, to libertinism, from collectivism to radical individualism, from atheism to religious mysticism, from agnosticism to syncretism…” – waves of thoughts that have tossed Christians from one end to the other. He concluded: “We are now witnessing today the ‘dictatorship of relativism’ which does not recognize anything as absolute, and leaves as the ultimate measure only the measure of each one and his desires.”
Cardinal Ratzinger, the one ultimately chosen at the Conclave to be pope, (Pope Benedict XVI), saw very clearly that this position makes it impossible for any real consensus to emerge on anything – thereby seriously endangering the necessary presuppositions that have underlined human existence for millennia – and without which human society cannot function.
Political Scientist and Philosopher, Fr James V. Schall, concurs and says that relativism is based on the proposition that no natural order exists in things either behind or in front of them. “The world is essentially a product of chance that is determined to be what it is. It means that no truth can be found whereby we can distinguish one position from another in terms of right and wrong, good and bad. Hence, we are not bound by any reality, not even our own. The only “meaning” in the universe is the meaning we each give it.”
A refreshing antidote to today’s relativism and postmodern thinking is found both in the life and works of educator John Senior, (1923-1999). Senior travelled the opposite road to most of his academic contemporaries finding Christian faith, in his late 30s, at the end of a tedious faith journey from new-ageism through Hinduism to Catholicism. Senior has been described as an apostle of shadows, not because shadows are not real but because they point to the fact that things are real. How else could they cast shadows? And from seeing that things are real, he found his way from Eastern religions and Western relativism to God and the Catholic Church. Senior had reached the conclusion that the dogmas of any of the oriental religions were inadequate in providing answers to what is real – and the same is true of current western thought.
It was while studying oriental texts that Senior stumbled across some central Western texts, most notably St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle. Reading them he found the fundamental difference between the West and modernism/eastern religion/New Ageiness and Western thought. “The Perennial Philosophy of the West is this: reality is really real. You have to see the truth as the truth and conform to it, not reject the idea of existence or invent your own truth in order to engineer some meaning into life. Life has meaning! There is truth! This is where Aristotle and Aquinas and all Catholic thinking begin – the realism that what is cannot both exist and not exist at the same time.”
“This perennial philosophy” of the West says there is something outside of us, something true, and the great benefit of the rational intellect, which Eastern religions reject, is that you can perceive It! There is truth, go live it! But wait! It gets better. We do not call the grand infinity “It” like brahma, but we call out to Our Father. He is not nothing – He is the God who said to Moses, “I Am who Am.” Existence is His name! A God who enters into a relationship with us.’
For the rest of his life -up to the time of his death John Senior enthralled countless numbers with his lectures and talks bringing huge numbers to the God who makes everything real. In these dark times his writings are truly illuminating.