Terry Jones might not be aware of the law of unintended consequences. If not before last week, he is now.

He’s the pastor of a small nondenominational Christian community in Florida who proposed burning copies of the Quran. Fortunately he changed his mind, perhaps realizing how bad an idea it was all along. One consequence he probably never imagined was the nearly universal condemnation of his proposal from Christians around the globe as well as political and military leaders at every level.

That reaction contains reflections of the thought of Cardinal John Henry Newman, whom Pope Benedict XVI will beatify in England on Sunday. {{more}}

Before his death in 1890, Newman foresaw a phenomenon beginning in Europe and in his homeland of England that has come to be known as relativism. This philosophical movement basically states that there are no objective truths or values, no wrongs or rights, no good or evil. There is only taste and opinion, any variety of which holds equal merit. That is, a thing, person or right has merit only to the person who values it, and not in itself.

Newman might be pleased that in our time when the relativism he saw has reached full flower, the opinions of leaders worldwide concurred on the affirmation of an objective truth: burning the sacred book of any religious faith violates human dignity because it disrespects the fundamental human right to religious freedom. The world is saying, in effect, things like this are objectively wrong.

Newman might also find resonance today of his view that the Church has a vital role to play in society. Leaders from Catholic and non-Catholic Christian communities reaffirmed for the world that the burning of a holy book runs, as Cardinal Rigali told a television reporter last week, “totally contrary to Christian doctrine, to the message of Christ, to the law of love, to respect for human beings and the value of each human person, and the fact that human beings have religious rights.”

The Church teaches and proposes for the benefit of all people the timeless spanine truths that have been revealed by God through the ages. It serves as a guide toward truth and a witness to love in community for all the world.

Last week’s episode revealed signs of hope for solidarity in the human search for truth. It also reminds that, as the saying goes, God writes straight with crooked lines.

(Read more about Cardinal Rigali’s interview and a selection of Cardinal Newman’s thought on our blog Standard Time.)