There are various profiles of Pope Benedict XVI in this morning's papers, most of them quite critical. He was no friend of secular liberalism, believing that homosexuality was "an intrinsic moral evil", condemning the use of condoms and, in one controversial speech, linking "Nazi Tyranny" to "extremist atheism". This speech, delivered in Scotland in 2010, was condemned as "surreal" by the British Humanist Association.
I'm an atheist myself – and I don't share the Pope's views about homosexuality or birth control, obviously. But I think that he was on to something in warning about the dangers of moral relativism, a theme he returned to in 2011 when discussing the riots that took place in England that summer. "When policies do not presume or promote objective values, the resulting moral relativism tends instead to produce frustration, despair, selfishness and a disregard for the life and liberty of others," he said
Now, I don't think that moral relativism inevitably leads to the sort of lawless behaviour we witnessed in England's cities in 2011 (or Nazi-ism). But I do think there's a link, something I blogged about at the time. The problem, as GK Chesterton pointed out, is that once people abandon the idea that morality has some objective foundation – such as the belief that a certain set of moral principles are sanctioned by a divine being – they don't believe in nothing. They believe in everything. As one of the characters in The Brothers Karamazov puts it, if there is no God, everything is permitted. (To read more, click here.)