Whose Rights? The Paradox of Moral Relativism, by Edward P. Sri

Whose rights are protected in a relativistic culture?

It is precisely on this point that relativistic societies face a serious dilemma:  How does a community arbitrate various individuals’ competing interests?  There is much rhetoric in our modern world about protecting human rights and every individual’s freedom, but what if one person or group wants to do something that is directly opposed to someone else’s values or interests?  How does a society decide whose “right” or whose “freedom of choice” will be protected?

Take, for instance, the following moral debates in our own times:

Does a child in the womb have the right to life?  Or does a mother have a right to abort her baby?  Does a business owner have the right to say publicly that he believes marriage is between one man and one woman?  Or does a homosexual person in the community have the right to be protected from such public statements which he or she might consider to be “hate speech”?  Do women have the right to receive contraceptives through their health insurance, even if they work for the Catholic Church?  Or does the Church have the right to adhere to its moral teachings and not provide contraception to its employees?

How does a relativistic society determine whose freedom of choice will be safeguarded and whose will be limited?  In a culture that has no reference to a common good — that has no shared vision about the good life for man — these questions are not resolved in any fair way.  They remain constantly up for debate and completely up for grabs.  Lobbyists maneuver in Washington.  Groups organize to protest.  Strategists try to sway public opinion.  Compromises are made and some will have to give up more than others.  But one thing is clear in the process:  not everyone’s “rights” are protected.  In the end, the very determination of what a human right is and whose rights are safeguarded is completely arbitrary.

Read the complete article in Catholic Education


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