Relativism the Enemy of Modesty

I have finished writing now about modesty of words, actions, and dress. You may have noticed an emphasis on life in the family and the Church, but a lack of focus on life in the larger community.

There is a reason for this: I have emphasized that practice of modesty requires that a person recognize his objective identity within a given social order; I pointed out that this identity is most of all rooted in our parents and in our baptism. Yet our identity is multifaceted and deeply connected also with things like ethnicity, culture, locality, people, and nation. Nevertheless, these complex facets of identity have been radically confused and eroded by relativism.

Our culture of relativism has prioritized the validation of a person’s subjective identity (his pure self-perception) over objective reality. This effectively cuts a person’s identity off from given relationships and establishes identity on a purely, internal basis. This in turn undermines the very possibility and meaning of modesty, and with modesty, respect for self and others goes out the window.

We can look at it this way. By way of modesty we fit ourselves into an already existing social order. If, however, the social order itself is cut off from truth it can be seen as nothing more than the arbitrary imposition of a ‘value system’ that some people use to control others. Modesty then either becomes an abject slavery to someone else’s value system, or a means by which the stronger manipulate the weaker.

That is pretty much where we find ourselves today. The supporters of the current ‘value system’, the ‘new normal’, call for ‘civility’. Civility is the false modesty of submission to the ‘new normal’, which is the value system of a relativistic society, cut off from objective truth. The rebels against ‘civility’ speak rather of ‘political correctness’.

The artificial, relativistic, man-made social order, cut off from truth, has become cut off from the foundational natural order of marriage and family, and also from the supernatural order of the Church. Because of this priorities and paradigms come from the increasingly artificial political and economic orders. It is all about policies and procedures and mechanical interactions of interchangeable parts. This is supposed to allow individuals maximum freedom to do and ‘be’ whatever they want, but it destroys the very possibility of a rich network of social relations.

This is further exacerbated by ‘identity politics’ (a contemporary extension of Marxism) that uses different aspects of ‘identity’ as political weapons in a perpetual war against ‘oppression’.

Basically, if someone is a heterosexual white male they by definition belong to the oppressor class; nothing they say is valid and they can be dismissed out of hand, unless they throw their unqualified support behind the right causes. That also means that claiming an identity besides that of the straight white male can be used as used as weapon or tool for personal or group advancement. In the world of identity politics modesty can only mean submission to the social order of the oppressor. Identity (except the identity of the straight white male) must rather be aggressively asserted.

All of this derives ultimately from a Marxist philosophy that divides humanity into irreconcilable groups of oppressors and oppressed. This also denies any possibility of a social order based on a common vision of the objective human good that transcends divisions of class, culture, or ethnicity.

Obviously human life is marred by racial hatreds and there are all sorts of historical and contemporary ways in which women have been horribly exploited and abused. Nevertheless, the Marxist inspired identity politics far from bringing solutions exacerbates the problems.

Western civilization, under the aegis of the Catholic Church brought together into unity, we could say, the religious truth of Jerusalem, the philosophical truth of Athens, and the practical wisdom of Rome. The civilization attained its fullness in Europe, but transcended the continent and was universal in nature.

The harmonization of religious truth transcending reason and philosophical truth attainable by reason gave this civilization an objective orientation that transcended any particular people or culture; the practical wisdom of Rome allowed this to be applied in a way that respected the distinct characteristics and customs of different cultures and peoples. This civilization had a tremendous assimilative power; that is it was capable of taking the best from other cultures, learning from them, and integrating those elements into the unity of its own culture. This ordered, assimilative unity perhaps found one of its most concrete embodiments in the now burnt out Cathedral of Notre-Dame of Paris.

Unfortunately, now even to speak of Western civilization or European civilization sounds like a racist, white supremacist statement. White supremacism, though, is a falsification, degradation and perversion of Western civilization, the way sodomy is a perversion of true marital love.

The same is true of Marxism, which opposes Western civilization, supposedly in defense of victim groups, which in truth are exploited by the Marxists themselves.

In the end, both Marxism and white supremacism belong to the realm of relativism.

In the meantime, the one great dynamic power in the world that opposes Western civilization from the outside, but is now increasingly occupying a dying Europe, is a resurgent Islam, falsely referred to as a ‘religion of peace’.

What does all this have to do with modesty? The practices of true modesty, in the family and in the Church, are the humble building blocks of true civilization.



Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.

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