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 the relativistic, notwithstanding, some well-intentioned people began to use it in a higher way. The term “values” became dominant. So, those who believed that some things are just always wrong, no matter what the circumstance, came to use the expression “values”. In order to make their point precisely, in order to show that some things can never 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 in order to relate to him and accompany him, you soon find you are arguing on his terms, with his distorted premises! You can then fall into the same old traps into which he fell, and out of which you intended to carry him. Catholics must not, however, argue on the “world’s terms.”
What does “intrinsically (per se) evil action” mean? It means a generically describable action that, under no circumstances and for no intentions, can ever be good. Such a describable act is always evil. External circumstances can never justify its commission. A good “end” in mind can never render it acceptable. Hence, it is “Intrinsically Evil.” Its essence is to be evil.
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.
If we use the category “non-negotiable values,” it is our last term for “intrinsically evil actions” in a society that is so lost that it cannot speak of “evil acts” with coherence any more. 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, when we are speaking of the external forum) to judge culpability. In that sense, we are right to say, “Who am I to judge over you?” (Lk 12:13).
It is, nonetheless, the shepherd’s office to hold people to account in terms of the objective truth (as well as the internal forum). Such includes competence to exclude public sinners from the Eucharist. To hold people to account, to uphold clearly the moral law, is absolutely requisite for the good shepherd to instruct his flock to go the right way towards salvation. If the lamb is being eaten by wolves, the good shepherd will not be so imprudent as to expose himself to the very pack, so that both can die side by side. A noble scenario only if we have lost sight of the great value and stakes of human life. If the lamb is drowning, the good shepherd will not jump in the same whirlpool so as to drown together with the lamb. That would be the most pitiable post-modern sight of absolutely impotent help. No. The good shepherd is to guide, protect and feed the straying sheep (see Pius X, Pascendi, arts. 1-3). He leaves the 99 not so that they flounder in cluelessness and wander off into harms way. No. He leaves the 99 in the sense that they already know and are clear about what they must know concerning the path of salvation. They are already on the way. So, he can concentrate his efforts on those who flounder and do not know.
Do the math. If the shepherd, in pursuit of one aimless soul, abandons the others to aimlessness, he now will have 100 to go after, leaving behind 9,999 or something on that order. Pretty soon, all will be lost.
We cannot afford to lose the category Non-Negotiable Value.