When Moral Relativism Killed the Cat, it Awakened in Us the Morality We’ve been Trying to Forget
The world we live in is pretty messed up. When I skim the headlines for the day’s news, I’m often saddened, but rarely shocked—another bombing, another shooting, another sexual allegation.
But I recently came across a story so bizarre that I did a double-take.
Police in England are on the hunt for a man allegedly responsible for the death and mutilation of hundreds of cats over the past two years. The story of the so-called Croydon Cat Killer resurfaced earlier this month after five new feline deaths were reported.
The outcry against the Croydon Cat Killer has been loud and clear and the condemnation unanimous. Following the latest reports, many took to social media to express their disgust:
This cruelty has to stop and now. I am sure if it was a ” Royal” swan the army would be dispatched. How can anyone look in the eyes of their pets and not feel ashamed of these brutal killings. I wish the residents and authorities to become more aggressive
— Frank Sarno (@SarnofrankV) December 2, 2017
What a freak they should be fed to a lion
— Rich Davies (@Rich__Davies) December 2, 2017
Capital punishment’s not enough for this despicable p.o.s. sociopath; (and I say this a person who opposes capital punishment.)
— Lee Murray (@cousincat) December 2, 2017
Hey, can Britain reinstate the death penalty for this guy?
I’ll set up a crowd-funding page and you’ll have record-setting tourism revenue for the week of his hanging.
— Lilly Paloma (@LillyPaloma1980) December 2, 2017
The U.K. cat killings offer us a good opportunity to step back and reflect on the implications of life under what Pope Benedict XVI termed the “dictatorship of relativism.”
Almost anyone would casually agree that what the Croydon Cat Killer does is revolting, violent, punishable. But probably very few, certainly in the modern West, could tell you how what he did was actually evil—that is, immoral.
In recent years, the term “senseless violence” has been the choice expression of the media, celebrities, and activists looking to voice their outrage in the wake of violent crimes. The term communicates disapprobation without passing any ethical judgement.
But why is it evil to shoot a bunch of people, or to mutilate people’s cats? If pressed with these questions, most moderns couldn’t answer without contradicting their own relativistic views. We’ve spent the past several decades attacking our ability to discern between right and wrong, and now we no longer have the vocabulary to express our moral judgments.
The spiral into moral incoherence begins when people are tired of being judged for their own bad behavior and decide to attack the moral truths in light of which such behavior is sinful.
Take abortion, for example. If our society acknowledged that killing unborn children is morally repugnant, millions of women would face the “inconvenience” of having to accept the fruit of their sexual activity.
But if we swap the term “unborn child” for the sanitized, scientific term “fetus,” and perpetuate the lie that fetuses somehow aren’t human (as Harper’s Bazaar writer Jennifer Wright attempted to this week), then we can literally get away with murder.
The flip side to this, however, is that by attacking what is truly Good (e.g. life), we lose our ability to condemn what is evil (e.g. taking a life). Morally speaking, if everything is permitted, then nothing can be banned.
According to modern moral reasoning, the Croydon Cat Killer did nothing objectively wrong—inconvenient for some pet owners, sure, but nothing definitely immoral. One can only be horrified by the evils of our time if one accepts that there is a moral law, and thus a moral lawgiver.
The case of the Croydon Cat Killer is a fascinating example of natural law at work. Because our society has allowed evils like abortion to become commonplace, it’s rare that we encounter something that genuinely shocks us. But the individuals who reacted to these crimes with such disgust could only do so by violating the law of moral relativism in favor of the more intuitive moral law engraved on the human heart.
Christian doctrine affirms a moral order that condemns evil—whether it’s cat-killing or baby-killing—and praises good, whether ministering to the poor or rejoicing in marriage.
As Ivan famously stated in Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, “If God doesn’t exist then everything is permitted.”
God does exist and everything is not permitted. Most people intuitively know this, but we’ve grown so accustomed to the evil in our midst that it takes a psychopathic kitty-cat murderer to shake us out of our complicity and awaken our moral sensibilities.