There are some non-negotiable values. There are, in short, some things worth dying for. Why do we use that expression? Is it oxymoronic? Are there “negotiable values”?
We must admit that the term “values” can itself be problematic. It puts the stress on the subjective view. Pushed to the limit, it seems to end in relativism. “I value this; you value that; can’t we just agree to disagree?”
If the origin of the term is a certain kind of moral thinking that bordered on relativistic, nonetheless some well-intentioned people began to use it. For the term “values” became dominant; so, those who believed that some things are just always wrong, no matter what the circumstance, had to use the expression “values”. In order to make their point precisely, in order to show that some things cannot be accepted, ever, they added the adjective “non-negotiable.”
In the Catholic world, the expression is intended to bear the burden of the phrase “intrinsically evil action”. In fact, that is the term we should use, so that we do not confuse everyone, including ourselves, with our “adaptation to today’s expressions”. Because sometimes, when you use another person’s terms, you soon find you’re arguing on his terms! Catholics must not, however, argue on the “world’s terms.”
What does “intrinsically (per se) evil action” mean? It means a generically describable action which under no circumstances and for no intentions could ever be good. It is always evil. “Intrinsically evil”. Its essence is to be evil. You can never get circumstances to make it right.
What’s more, everything that is ingredient to that act, everything that is intended or helpful for that act, as a means towards that act, already participates in its evil and hence is also evil.
We therefore defend the category “non-negotiable values” as our last term for “intrinsically evil actions” in a society that is so lost it cannot speak of “evil” anymore. To downplay this category is to risk eclipsing this last vestige of objective truth and to focus only on culpability.
But everyone knows that it is not our office (layman’s or shepherd’s) to judge culpability. It is, nonetheless, the shepherd’s office to hold people to account in terms of the objective truth so as rightly to guide, protect and feed the straying sheep (see Pius X, Pascendi, arts. 1-3), we cannot afford to lose that category.