I basically subscribed just so I could comment my support. (I’ve been following along free for some time.)

I have been through two major crises of faith in my life and they were both brutal. As an adolescent, I moved from cradle Catholic to a very liberal denomination of Christianity that wouldn’t qualify as Christian by most definitions, then two years ago I moved from my liberal denomination back to Catholicism. The second move involved the loss of many, many friends and my entire faith community, which I was deeply embedded in.

Anyway I have a lot of specific thoughts on doctrine blah blah blah blah blah (my favorite writer on most of the sorts of issues you raise is Larry Chapp over on his blog Gaudium et Spes 22), but honestly I just wanted to comment to say that Fulton Sheen can go pound sand.

Despite—hey, maybe partially because of—the fact that I disagree with you on just about everything, I think you are one of the most morally courageous writers I have ever encountered. It takes *a lot* to risk—and lose—as much as you have done for the sake of goodness and truth. Faith can *absolutely* shatter without our consent. Many of the best people I know either struggle with faith or lack faith entirely. Few (although some, to be sure) of the best people I know are devoutly practicing Catholics.

I think the love we have for the people right in front of us is the fullest and most important expression of the love of God for us, and ours for God. I think your revelation about your love for your family is part of that. This is very far from being a moral monster; quite the opposite. Despite my experience with crises of faith I don’t think I’m a particularly qualified advice giver but I guess I do feel qualified to say that clinging to that love of your family, and learning to love them better and better, is probably the best thing for you to be doing. I’ll shut up now. Your posts are just so raw that it was impossible not to want to try to say something comforting.

tl;dr you’re not a monster and I don’t believe in a God who would say you are.

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Jan 18, 2022Liked by Steve Skojec

More great stuff Steve, I have two thoughts, 1.) The Fear of everyone going to hell, and the dragging out of crazy quotes from saints (which are undoubtedly wrong) is a real thing in trad community’s, and I think the reason is, those folks are rightfully worried that the Church threw the baby out with the bath water, but no one in the trad communities will acknowledge is there was massive amounts of bath water that needed to be thrown out. They feel every concession is an afront to the true faith, which is plainly wrong. 2.) I think you did get some answered prayers, and from what I’ve watched from afar, a lot of the reason may have been that your old job wasn’t good for you, which is a huge problem for a lot of men

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Jan 18, 2022Liked by Steve Skojec

I was in the process of writing a very long comment that I just accidentally deleted. :) So I'm simply going to say thank you, Steve, for everything that you are doing here. You have been a great help to my by voicing your doubts and concerns. I can identify with many of them and now I do not feel alone. I also wanted to thank everyone who comments here, as I have gotten lots of good advice from everyone.

I'll pray for everyone, although I also often wonder if God hears my prayers. I ask you all to pray for me as well.

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Jan 17, 2022Liked by Steve Skojec

Over 70 years ago, when the whole world was so much different from what it is today, the nun who was preparing us for first communion told me that if I had been the only person ever born, Jesus would have been willing to die, just as he did, just for me alone.

I was what? six years old? I loved this nun, whom I remember vividly. I was wide open. This statement sank deep into my understanding. I believed her, not as an intellectual proposition, but with my whole being. I still do.

I learned much later, with not a lot of interest, that this proposition is indeed theologically sound according to the ones who think such thoughts, and according to the mystics who have personal experience of it. But I knew it already.

Notice that this insight runs at a very different angle from the discussion in this post, and certainly different from where Fulton Sheen is coming from. It does not mention my “belief” or lack thereof. It does not discuss my behavior, but assumes that I need, and will surely receive, redemption in love. That this love not negotiable and no one is seeking to negotiate it. That God is the prime mover here, as He surely is in fact. It’s not at all about me except as a recipient of love. It does not seek to discuss the fate of the rest of human beings, but implies, by its reliance on love, that all will be well.

Because this happened in 1951 in a parish staffed by Irish religious, of course I heard the whole rest of the Catholic malarkey everyone refers to. I was an outstanding student, and came in at the head of every ranking of students of religion. But I realize now that I never believed much of it. A bite of a hot dog on a Friday dooms you to every lasting torment? Please, who believes such stuff? Even as a little kid I knew it for the nonsense it was and is.

I often wish I could transmit this statement, this assurance, to other people. I know for sure that it is valid, not only as refers to me but for everyone, but I also know I cannot transmit it, though it is the heart of the gospel.

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The second major topic I wanted to cover here was the main portion of your article. Thank you for sharing much of your story. It is one of the reasons why your writing is moving. I think your struggles with God and the issues you raise are something understandable and common. I do not have a solution to some of the dilemmas you raise. I have my thoughts, reasons and arguments for why I think the way I do. But a lot of this is just broad outlines of arguments not precise conclusions. But one thing that stands out and strikes me as confusing is your anger towards the current post -Vatican II Church (including to some extent the Pope) in light of some of what you say.

I think the pre-conciliar Church is replete with examples of theology texts, saints, quotes, etc. that portray God as this moral monster who has the most fragile ego one could imagine. We are told he "desires all to be saved" but in his justice he reluctantly damns some. But in reality, what comes out is he "desires all to be damned" but in his justice he reluctantly has to give people some sort of "shot" at heaven. Modern trads unfortunately often make God look like this and that is why we have ridiculous devotions like putting 10 scapulars together into one just in case some of them don't "take" when we go to judgment dying in a car accident on the way to confession in the state of sin. In short, I agree with what I take your assessment to be.

However, the post-concilliar Church, for all of its nonsense, has in fact tried to emphasize an alternative. The theology has emphasized mercy over justice, has tried to think of hell in alternative ways (e.g. shifting from a physical torture chamber to a state of self-isolation), etc. Some have speculated that hell is empty. The scope of salvation has been really broadened to include unbaptized babies, innocent pagans, etc. It very well might be too far in the other direction to downplay sin. Or maybe it is just wishful thinking given the baggage of tradition. I am not certain. But this alone is big reason to appreciate the modern Church. It is a true shift and one that lines up perfectly with a lot of what you say here.

So I do not understand some of your resistance to this modern version of the faith. I grant that there are other things that are ugly about the modern Church but the older Church has plenty of awful examples too. This is not to justify the new Liturgy or all of the Pope's actions or of course not things like the abuse scandal. But maybe instead of seeing it all in black and white, the better way is like you say at the end of the post, "when push comes to shove, no age of the Church is as good all the time or as bad all the time as we tend to believe."

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Thanks Steve for your honesty and terrific writing. I'm a theological ally of Larry Chapp over at Gaudium et Spes 22 so haven't always agreed with you. Nonetheless, as my Thomism prof told us in seminary "We need to be able to give an account to our reason for what we believe". I think you're helping me, and all your readers, to do that by raising questions and saying out loud what many of us have wondered or thought. Thanks so much. I have said Mass for you and keep you and your family in my prayers.

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Steve. There was so much in this post. I have read it four times and keep seeing new things I missed in previous reviews. My thoughts on a couple of your points:

You said:

“Which is why, in my view, it matters so much to have experiences like I have had, where I’ve overcome vices and sins without the clear help of sanctifying grace. It leads to a conclusion that, “Oh, wait, I actually can do some things on my own.”

From my experience, grace is not a magic bullet. It is not a one-shot cure all. Often it takes time for us to recognize and respond to its quiet and gentle prompting. Respond we must, for it to work. Grace does not force itself upon us. Grace does not fundamentally change who we are. It frees us to be our true selves. So as to the above, I would suggest that you are correct in concluding that you can do these things on your own, with freedom and support that comes from the underlying grace.

I would add a number 4. to your possible scenarios to explain our situation vis a vis the Church. It would be:

God isn't like this at all, but is in fact incredibly loving and merciful, does everything possible to avoid damning people. At the same time, He gives full power and measure to people’s free will, waiting for them to respond to His love and mercy but never commandeering their independence to refuse the same. As to all of this He is simply not being portrayed correctly by the historical Church.

We are definitely in a time where Jesus’ words in Matthew 23 apply: Then addressing the crowds and his disciples Jesus said, 'The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. You must therefore do and observe what they tell you; but do not be guided by what they do, since they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people's shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? Not they!

Having come back to the Catholic Church through Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Renewal, the myriad “rules and regulations” are in the far background of a spiritual life that revolves around scripture, prayer and worship.

Being able to receive the Eucharist and to have a confessor available are the primary contacts with the organized Church. When confronted with the obvious contradictions, operational horror and collapse of much of the official Church, I am often forced to admit that I cannot unravel the underlying issues. I have neither the theology, philosophy, nor time to find the answers. It’s not that my nature does not want to find the answers to these contradictions. I am a historian by education and a lawyer by trade. Part of me would love nothing better than to spend all my time and energy chasing after the answers.

I often reach the point over some rule, or question, or troubling practice, where I just have to mentally realize: I don’t know the answer. I may never know the answer. I may not be able to live up to this particular requirement. I may never get my head around a particular article of belief. At these points I must give it up to God in the sense of: “Lord I believe, help my unbelief."

I want answers but I realize that some of them will not come in this life. I try not to publicly contradict the Church or cause public scandal over these points. I will admit to someone who asks, that I am failing to live up to, or to understand some of the practices and doctrines.

Sometimes I think that this is what Jesus meant when he said that we must be like little children if we are to enter the kingdom. Children must trust their parents (here I mean God and not the organized Church) in many things which the child is not yet capable of understanding.

For my own part, I have to say that your writings and podcasts have been a part of my spiritual growth in the past several years. You among the various “trad” folks appearing on the internet were at least open to listening to other points of view. Your writings have helped to focus my thoughts on tradition and what parts of it are important, resulting in my changing some of my views and incorporating some traditional practices in my approach to the faith.

Do not despair. Keep up the writing. Know that you are valued.


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I think you would greatly benefit from looking at your entire spiritual and ecclesial journey through another lens. From my perspective, your approach is too analytical and too focused on the this-worldly and rule-bound aspect of the Church. Given the betrayals you have experienced, no wonder you feel angry and wounded. But the tools you are using to approach the problem will only dig you deeper into the direction of nihilism, and ultimately into complete despair.

I have had similar tendencies to use these same tools to cope with my outrage at various kinds of corruption in the Church. I only found peace after immersing myself in authentic traditional Carmelite spirituality, which included the acknowledgment that after 50 years of being a Catholic I really didn’t know how to pray at all, and that I really didn’t know Jesus at all, even though I knew a lot about Jesus. During my instruction as a rookie lay Carmelite, I learned about the injustices that Church authorities heaped upon Saint Theresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross, and the manner in which they attempted to resist the evils being pressed upon them by prideful, passionate, and misguided clerics. Like many other saints, they sought refuge in the bleeding wounds of our crucified Savior, uniting their suffering to that of the Eternally Loving Crucified One. Their saintly example seems completely bizarre and ludicrous to the typical analytical mind which measures their activity by the tools of the world instead of the tools of the mystical path.

If you have already tried the Carmelite path and found it empty and useless, then I don’t know what more to say, except to affirm that God’s grace is sufficient and He loves you more than you could ever love yourself, even as you are crying out in pain as He lovingly breaks your pride with purifying trials. This is not a call for masochism but rather a call to surrender yourself to a deeper form of prayer. There is no other way.

I have found great solace in listening to podcasts by Dan and Stephanie Burke at spiritualdirection.com and reading materials on their website. Their approach of integrating Carmelite and Ignatian spirituality to foster deeper prayer and stronger virtue has been very helpful to me as they unlocked the treasures of this wonderful tradition in our Catholic heritage. If nothing else has worked for you, I would encourage you to give them a try.

I will offer up prayers that you persevere in your path of union with God through the Son in union with the Holy Spirit, in whatever form that might take. May God bless you.


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Steve, I have been interested in your writing for some time and I greatly enjoy it. The fast few posts have led me to want to comment because I think the ideas you write about are fascinating. I have two major thoughts about this post that I wanted to address...first regarding the beginning quote and then about your broader points.

I don't think you are being fair to Fulton Sheen or the sentiment he expresses here. Now I do not know his work that deeply, and I try to stay away from Catholic tribal wars but I do think your response to his quote isn't really addressing what that kind of statement is getting at.

(1) First, on a technical level, as you acknowledge, belief in God is not a matter of faith and therefore is not a supernatural gift according to Catholic theology. It is fair to disagree that "natural reason" can prove some God exists, however I don't think it is fair to say that natural reason can lead somebody to have a reasonable, or even rationally justified belief in God. And this, coupled with the claim that God does in fact exist, would show that it isn't "faith" but rather just reason working properly.

(2) Regardless of if something is a gift or not, that doesn't mean one is entirely blameless for not having it. It also doesn't mean that one is always blameless for not having it. Some people without jobs are responsible for this fact, they have thrown out opportunities, talents, gifts etc. Others without jobs are simply unlucky and were never gifted with such opportunities, talents or whatever. The same may be true for belief in God. I am not trying to be dogmatic, but rather point out that from the claim that "belief in God is a gift" it does not necessarily follow that "one who does not believe in God cannot be blamed for it."

(3) Most importantly I think you miss the point of this kind of religious sentiment because you point out, rightly, that there are moral atheists or reasons to be good apart from religion. But that is only relevant, I think, if you interpret Sheen's point in the uncharitable manner "every atheist is motivated by selfishness etc." then what you say makes sense. But if you understand that perhaps this statement is just a rhetorically fancy way of saying that "it is easier to see why someone would want to be an atheist, because of the lack of certain moral norms, than it is to see why someone would be genuinely convinced of it" or some such. Understood in that way, I think the point is just that to Sheen's mind, it is pretty clear that God does exist. And even if you disagree with him, he is not alone in thinking this as most people even now seem to believe in some sort of God. So I just take it that he is arguing that it is not so much the intellectual rigor of atheism but it is the moral laxity that is more attractive to many of its adherents.

You can say it doesn't apply to all atheists. Of course. Maybe not even the vast vast majority. But it is undeniable that there is a sizeable and vocal minority of atheists who are clearly atheists without good logical reason but out of some sort of bad will. Call it pride, hedonism, bigotry or whatever, it is clear that some people are like that. The vocal New Atheists certainly fit this description. Now I will not judge the secrets of their heart or how responsible they are morally for their decision to embrace a religion. But I can say many of these people manifest their motives when they fail to even address arguments for religion despite being otherwise intelligent and having these things pointed out to them countless times.

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Just a few thoughts:

1. Sheen's claim really does seem to apply to some atheists, as some converts from atheism have admitted and as the personal lives of various historic champions of it would indicate. But not all atheists fit the description. So, as a generalisation, it fails to persuade. Nevertheless, may I suggest that an atheist living in middle-class comfort within a culture still somewhat leavened by two millennia of Christian teaching is not necessarily a good example of what atheism's natural moral consequences are.

2. I'm not sure what Dostoyevsky intended originally, but I don't think I've ever really interpreted the quotation as simply meaning "no divine judge means people will behave immorally or amorally". I've taken it more to mean that without a transcendent and objective moral order, to speak of impermissibility of anything is simply emotional noise. And a transcendent objective moral order is incoherent without a transcendent grounding in Ultimate Reality.

3. "It’s possible for believers to be complete and utter shits, because their false sense of moral superiority derived from a totally unfalsifiable belief that they are righteous for checking all the right boxes justifies this in their petty minds." Well, yes, Jesus made that pretty clear throughout the Gospels! Nothing new there, I'm afraid.

4. "All of this stuff we’ve had packed into our heads about our own worthlessness, guilt, inability to do anything good without God, and the notion that we deserve hell for merely existing as fallen human beings": Original Guilt in the Augustinian sense is not dogma, and Scripture and Tradition both in fact deliberately present a paradoxical view of Man. We are icons of God little lower than the angels and designed for glory. We are terribly distorted and prone to wickedness and push ourselves into darkness. Both seem overblown in isolation, but are they really? As for what we can do without God, the question we should ask is, how often are we simply without God? Augustinianism denies genuinely good acts to ungraced humans, but what if prevenient grace is as universal as "the light that enlightens every man" (John 1.9)? Is the nature/grace division a real dichotomy or a continuum with two "poles". Such questions have easy answers in common Western theological teaching, but these answers are not dogma.

5. The RC doctrine in the quotation from Florence, even before Vatican II, was qualified theologically by concepts like invincible ignorance and the difference between formal and material heresy. The possibility of unjust excommunication was also accepted, meaning outward disunity masking inward unity was tacitly accepted as also possible. And for centuries there were occasional examples of inter-communion between the RCC and the "schismatic" EOC, which makes no sense on the black and white view of ecclesiology. So, to object to a minimalist, "Jesuitical", highly nuanced approach to interpreting problematic dogma, is to object to something much older than Vatican II. In fact, Vatican II partly resolves the difficulty with "extra ecclesiam nulla salus" by accepting it but recognising the Church is bigger than it looks and has fuzzy edges, so to speak. And that idea really does have, as I noted, ancient and mediaeval antecedents from which it developed.

6. I admit none of the above sufficiently deals with the toxic aspects of the ordinary teaching in a traditionalist milieu, where the issue is not so much particular dogmas as an atmosphere of threat, servile fear, and the obsessive valorisation of suffering. In this case, one has to accept that sometimes majority (Western) opinions and dominant spiritual approaches have flaws or imbalances, even deep ones. Dogmatic infallibility does not prevent that.

7. The way a person prone to scrupulosity reacts to traditional RC spiritual rhetoric will be quite different to the way most do. Those of us prone to anxiety and overweening guilt perhaps underestimate how much harshness of language our more lax or hardened neighbours need for any impact to be made.

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I have many thoughts on this - mostly, “But God isn’t like that!! And He deeply loves you!!” Praying that in this time away from the sacraments as you search for truth, you could commit to reading the Bible for a larger chunk of time…of course I realize that brings its own set of questions/challenges.

My second suggestion would be to read joy-filled Catholic authors who are orthodox in faith but who aren’t considered “trad” (as far as I know!) thinking particularly of anything by Father Jacques Phillipe and Cardinal Robert Sarah, and I Believe in Love by Fr. Jean D’Elbee - and Peter Kreeft’s latest reflections on the mass readings in Food for the Soul (through Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire bookstore).

Third, podcasts of GOOD (but not as well known as some!) novus ordo priests - Monsignor Charles Pope and Father Anthony Ferguson come to mind.

From I Believe in Love:

“Is it not a matter of the most elementary logic that a father and his child should be a joy for one another? ‘Jesus, You are my joy, and I, too, am your joy’…People examine themselves in terms of what is forbidden them and not in terms of what is asked of them. People examine themselves on faults and failings, and not on their intimacy with Jesus…I assure you, we are bathed in love and mercy.” - Fr. Jean D’Elbee

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Hi Steve, I agree with JT Brannigan, there’s a lot to this post. I’ve written and re written and scrapped a reply or two because almost every time I come back to the post for reference I find new things. There’s a lot of depth to your thought and these issues are really tricky.

In terms of where I think we differ, I think the best place to start is where you discuss the council of Florence. You write:

“Not even a martyr for Christ can go to heaven unless he has jumped through the proper bureaucratic hoops.”

Obviously the Church today would not affirm this summary. I’m not even 100% sure the council fathers would be on board with what you wrote. But if I had to bet money I would assume that what you wrote is more accurate than not regarding what they believed. For me this raises what I think is a pivotal question: Did the Church compromise its teachings and flake out of the trilemma you proposed when it later recognized (well before albeit especially at Vatican ll) that culpability for not belonging to the Church could be diminished by ignorance, and that one could be “added to the flock” before their death through baptism of desire?

I’m interested in your answer, but I don’t necessarily want to get hung up on the intricacies of the EENS debate; you could substitute any number of other issues throughout the history of the Church where teaching has developed to the point of resembling a reversal (e.g. homoousios, usury, religious liberty, ecumenism, apologizing for the crusades/Galileo etc). The reason I am curious is that you lamented that we didn’t get a Church that admits that it was wrong and course corrects when for me, the massa damnata is one of the clearest examples of where the Church has course corrected. The fact that you don’t seem to want to give the Church credit for this (along with the overall trajectory of your journey) makes it seem to me that you’re caught in an awkward spot between the traditionalist mentality that the Church isn’t allowed to change, and the liberal mentality that the Church must change.

You’ve long known that the liberal mentality is a dead end, and you’ve recently discovered with blinding clarity how irrational and incestuous the traditionalist mentality can become. The more that I reflect on the latter, the more I’m convinced that their approach to the development of doctrine (i.e. default rejection/asterisk drawing) might be their biggest ship sinker. You’ve spent the past eight months or so demolishing dumb trad talking points left and right with wild abandon. You no longer take anything they say at face value, and now you’re even going after Fulton Sheen and GK Chesterton when they deserve it. I encourage you to turn your skepticism guns on the idea that the Church growing less hard line = becoming Catholic-Lite/the Church of Nice. I don’t think there’s a path forward for you if a more inclusive view of development isn’t on the table.

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You might be interested in how some other serious people deal with "the God question" outside of the stranglehold of churches and theology. See "The Chapter to the Agnostic" in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

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I'm glad you are writing again Steve.

While I enjoyed your piece, I'm not entirely certain you've argued against the Dostoevskian proverb, "If God is not, then everything is permissible.”

I get that Christians can be shitheads and atheists can be nice people, but I think you may be missing the forest for the trees a bit, given your unusual personal history. As someone who lived a debauched life prior to my conversion, I can absolutely identify with the nihilism behind a lot of unbelief. I suspect the vast majority of those who've struggled against the flesh would agree with me.

Who knows, maybe the materialists are right and we're all just atoms smashing into each other until the heat death of the universe. Bummer I guess for me. I just don't think we can expect society to be totally fine in a world without God.

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There must be very few, if any, Christians who haven't struggled with their faith, so no, struggling with your faith doesn't make you a moral monster. That said, however, without God, yes, everything is permitted because there are no real grounds for any enduring morality without the transcendent and therefore morality can only be relative according to place and time. Our primary modern morality, by the way, is basically consequentialism, a form of utilitarianism, whereby actions are judged based on their consequences, i.e. whether they serve to increase or decrease the common good as currently understood by our society.

Today in America the good which we value above all is wellness and the means by which we intend to ensure wellness are DEI and climate change activism. The mania for wellness was why we ended up with things like lock downs and vaccine mandates. Promoting wellness through DEI leads to people being sued for not selling abortifacients, or for not baking cakes or producing flower arrangements for gay weddings, and is what provokes BLM riots. In Canada, wellness is ensured by, among other things, fining and jailing some people for saying things that might jeopardize other peoples' wellness, i.e. hurting their feelings.

The point here being that utilitarian morality systems have no apparent means by which one can opt out of them; it's all or nothing. This is an important consideration, because as we move away from a Christian moral system based in large part on the notion of free will, we also move away from the idea of tolerating those who choose wrongly, as well as those who object to the contemporary social mores. Jesus told us not to judge, and to mind our own behavior as opposed to obsessing over the behavior of others. Keep encouraging one another and set such a good example that others will choose freely to join you. Without Christian morality, as censorious as it may have been, or is perceived to have been, that kind of tolerance ceases to exist. As per Popper, remember, you cannot tolerate intolerance; whatever society says is good is good, period.

Another popular way to understand morality today is virtue ethics, whereby we are encouraged to discover and embrace what are called "thick moral concepts" like honor, justice, integrity, etc. This moral system is popular with thoughtful atheists. It is also relative to place and time, however. In ancient Rome, for example, it was honorable and expected that a virtuous woman would commit suicide after being raped. What is considered honorable, or just, can vary considerably, obviously. My point is that without God morality can only ever be relative, and given the right set of societal parameters, everything certainly could be not only permitted, but obligatory as well, with no means to object or opt out.

The same goes also for Kantian moral theory, by the way. That system can only work under a shared notion of what constitutes a "good will", which will also, of course, be relative to a specific place and time. It can also be very subjective, as what's "good" for you is not necessarily what's "good" for me. I'm afraid there just is no way to formulate a morality that is not relative, without God. I sometimes think, as I'm reading the Psalms during the liturgy of the hours, that the ancients understood this very well. There's an awful lot of talk about how much they love the Lord's precepts. I'm much inclined to agree, especially with regards to my Lord Jesus Christ's precepts.

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