How are Christians to interact in a secular society? Daily we confront issues where “Christianity” seems to be on the fringe. Gay rights are now being equated civil rights; those proclaiming Homosexuality is a sin are called homophobic. Has Christianity become outdated in its views? At one time, homosexuality was immoral. Now it is a badge of tolerance to accept this as an alternative lifestyle. Those say it is a sin are intolerant. What is a Christian to do?
The question at hand is a concept known a moral relativity.
What is Moral Relativity: the view that when it comes to questions of morality, there are no absolutes and no objective right or wrong; moral rules are merely personal preferences and/or the result of one’s cultural, sexual or ethnic orientation.
Moral: 1 a : of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior : ethical ²moral judgments³ b : expressing or teaching a conception of right behavior ²a moral poem³ c : conforming to a standard of right behavior
The Problem: Christianity proclaims there are absolute moral norms that apply to all persons in all places at all times. Relativism denies there are moral norms. If relativity is true then Christianity is false. If there is no basis for right and wrong, then Christianity is a meaningless set of values.If relativity is false, then there must be an objective source of what is right or wrong. In addition, Materialism must also be false, therefore the existence of the spiritual realm cannot be dismissed.
What Moral Relativity isn’t: A distinction must first be made to demonstrate what Moral relativity is not. People often mistake a Preference claim for a Moral claim.
- Preference Claim: I like Starbucks coffee.
- Moral Claim: Stealing is wrong
A Moral claim is what society ought to do. A preference claim is what somebody likes to do. Someone might believe it is morally wrong to steal, but choose to (Prefer) to steal. The distinction between a moral claim and a preference claim is often confused. A moral claim is applies to all people, while a preference claim applies to personal choices. The abortion debate illustrates the problem.
Those who are Pro-Abortion view “The right of choice” as a moral claim.
Those who are Pro-Life view “The right to life” as a moral claim.
Pro-Life are told, ”Don’t have to have an abortion if you don’t like it”…Preference claim.
Those who are Pro-Life say, “Don’t get pregnant”….Preference claim. The argument is between what moral claim has priority.
Arguments for Moral Relativism: There are two main arguments used by those who view moral relativism as a worldview.
- Disagreement: The moral relativist feels since cultures and individuals disagree on moral issues therefore there can be no moral norms that are right and wrong.
- Tolerance: The Moral relativist embraces the view that one should not judge other cultures or individuals, for to do so would be intolerant.
1. Disagreement does not prove relativism:
We do not see all things the same way. There are small and great disagreements. Different groups come to different conclusions based on the same facts. This does not mean both groups are right. If disagreement justified relativism then there could never be any objective right or wrong. Genocide, murder and robbery are conflicts of “Valid” but opposing views. The nation which slaughters and kills minorities is no more guilty then a lion killing a lamb. The rapist is nothing less then the strong taking advantage of the weaker. We would have to conclude the serial murderer just had a difference of opinion with the people he killed. He wanted them to die and they didn’t want to die. Who is right and wrong? There death is nothing more then a dog killing some game chickens.
2. Disagreement disproves relativism:
Disagreement demonstrates that relativism is false. Since relativism is based on the idea that there are no absolutes of right and wrong. Disagreement needs at least two opposing opinions. Both feeling they are in the right, otherwise there would be no disagreement. Disagreement itself invalidates Relativism because disagreement requires someone to “be right”. Relativism would dictate that no party is right because all in essence is only relative. Therefore, there could never be disagreement since all is relative.
3. Consequences of Moral Relativism:
Moral Relativism rejects all moral judgments. Statements such as,
- killing people for fun is wrong;
- Stealing from people is a sin;
- Feeding the homeless is good;
are reduced to nothing more then preference claims. All these statements are based on objective moral norms. The words; wrong, sin and good imply there exists an objective moral standard. Relativism denies any such standard.
Sometimes the Relativist might argue that the standard is a “Cultural or Social” standard, this then becomes the basis of moral rightness and wrongness. This merely replaces one cultural standard with another cultural standard. In Mexico before the arrival of Cortez, child-sacrifice and cannibalism was a standard Aztec practice. Cortez witnessed these events firsthand, and with the force of the sword suppressed these Aztec practices. According to moral relativism, who was Immoral, the Aztecs or the Spaniards? Moral relativism would equate child-sacrifice and cannibalistic Aztec cultural as a non-consequential event.
This would also apply to individual morality. A modern day cannibal such as Jeffrey Dahmer is no less guilty or innocent then his Aztec predecessors. Every person actions would justify their morality all moral judgments are negated. In the moral relativist universe the killing of the Jews is nothing more or less then a Lion killing a lamb.
- Tolerance supports objective morality.
If everybody ought to be tolerant, then tolerance becomes an objective “Moral Norm”. Therefore, Moral Relativism is false. Tolerance also presupposes that there is something good about being tolerant.
- Relativism is a closed-minded and intolerant position
Relativism dogmatically asserts there is no moral truth. Tolerance is position that we should be open-minded to the positions of others. Since there is no moral truth, why should anybody be open-minded? The whole reason of being open-minded is the possibility that somebody has something true to say. Relativism assumes that there is no truth therefore there is no reason to be open-minded. Therefore, relativism becomes a closed-minded system intolerant of those who claim to have “Truth”
- Relativism is judgmental, exclusivist and partisan.
This might sound strange since Relativism claims that it is non-judgmental, all accepting and unbiased about moral beliefs.
- The relativist claims that if you believe in objective moral truth you are wrong, therefore it is judgmental.
- Relativism excludes those who claim to have objective moral truth, therefore exclusive.
- Because relativism is exclusive, all non-relativists are automatically not members of the “Correct thinking” party, and therefore partisan.
- Tolerance is either barbaric or self-refuting.
Relativists want tolerance because with the diversity of moral and cultural traditions. However, Tolerance means also to accept those who disagree with you. For example, that would mean that if a Neo-Nazi philosophy became a prevalent viewpoint, this should be tolerated. In addition, if the same group wanted to kill everybody who disagreed with them, tolerance should remain. Once the “Tolerant” reject the position of Neo-Nazi party they become intolerant and self-refuting. Tolerance means you accept everybody, including those who are barbaric or you become intolerant and self-refuting.
Self Refuting Statement:
When a statement fails to satisfy itself (to conform to its own criteria of validity or acceptability), it is self-refuting…Consider some examples. “I cannot say a word in English” is self-refuting when uttered in English. “I don not exist” is self-refuting, for one must exist to utter it
…. JP Morleand, Scaling the Secular City
The Christian Response:
In order to help the relativist understand the “Christian position” we must first make the position relative to the listener. First, we should recognize that without the existence of God, “The Cause of the Universe”, there are no moral absolutes. The universe is one accident that came out of nowhere into existence sometime in the past. This is the heart of materialism, all is matter and that’s all.
There is no morality; no higher order of humans, animals or insects all are meaningless Is there anything wrong with the Lion killing the lamb or, the Great White shark eating a seal?
Even the most avowed PETA member (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) would say no it’s a part of the natural order. Think for a moment if there was no God, using the same logic what is the difference between say a strong people, a Lion People killing and destroying a Lamb people. If there is no God, couldn’t we logically conclude its just the natural order demonstrated in nature?
However, if God does exist, then moral absolutes exist. For example;
You are invited to a house for a party, when you enter the house you become the guest of the owner. As a guest, you have privileges; you are allowed to eat freely of the food available, sit in the chairs provided, talk with other guests; use the restroom, play the piano and have a good time. However, since you are an invited guest and not the owner you have restrictions. You cannot paint the walls, break the windows, be disrespectful and harmful to other guest or the owner or destroy property. As long as you abide by the terms of being a guest, you are free to stay at the party. Living in the world, we are guests of God.
We are in the world, the one who owns the world has the right to determine what the rules are in the property that is His. The owner of the house can tear down walls, break his windows, smash the furniture, but the guest does not have the same privilege. God has the right to determine what is acceptable and not acceptable. God has revealed what is acceptable through individuals, recorded in His word the Bible.
The question of what is Truth? Who is God? Why the Bible? Are separate issues. But we must agree that “If there is a God and He did make the World, then He has the right to establish what is right and wrong”, and if there is no God, then we are free to do what we want. We are nothing more then accidents and we are on an equal footing with animals and insects. One day we will cease to exist, like a leaf that falls from the tree and decays in the earth.
Scripture: The Ten Commandments are an example of God telling his guests what is acceptable.
1And God spoke all these words, saying:
2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”Exodus 20:1-17
Dialogue between a Christian and a Moral Relativist
Scene: Joe and Mike are two high school friends. Who meet 10 years after High School; in those 10 years, Joe comes to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and changes his life to conform to a Christian worldview. Mike remembers the old Joe who loved to go out and party, dance and have a good time with the girls. After not seeing each other for a number of years, they run into each other at a mutual friend’s house. While sitting down on the couch they hear the news the Massachusetts Supreme Court has just removed the ban on same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. Joe Christian, upon hearing the news acts disgusted and makes a comment that begins the following exchange.
Mike Skeptic: What is wrong Joe?
Joe Christian: This country is in trouble when judges don’t see the difference between marriage of heterosexuals and homosexuals.
Mike Skeptic: Well Joe we live in a different age, we are seeing civil rights extended to groups who have been prevented from being part of society we are becoming more tolerant of other view points.
Joe: Mike, What the basis of right and wrong?
Mike: As long as you don’t hurt people, everything is ok.
Joe: So is there anywhere you draw a line of what right or wrong?
Mike: Joe, As long as you have two consenting adults, there should be no limits.
Joe: What about Prostitution? Shouldn’t polygamy also be legal since they would also be consenting adults?
Mike: You ask a lot of questions! I don’t see a problem with prostitution. As far as marriage between two people we need to keep some order in our society. And culture really determines what is right and wrong. If the majority of the people in this country don’t see a problem then its ok with me.
Joe: So do you think the culture and society determine what is right and wrong?
Mike: We live in a pluralistic society and morality is relative, that’s just the way it is Joe.
Joe; What if the majority of the people in the United States thought Hitler was right, and they wanted to kill the Jews? Would they be right or wrong?
Mike: Joe, don’t be silly we are not talking about Nazi Germany, we are talking about the United States.
Joe: Mike, the United States was founded on a Judea-Christian worldview, with moral absolutes of “Right and Wrong” if morality is just relative, does it matter what’s right or wrong? Can we condemn Hitler’s Germany and say he was wrong in what he did? Don’t we sound intolerant and judgmental if we reject Hitler’s view because they disagree with ours?
Mike: He was wrong because he hurt people [But with whose help and support?]
Joe: So if you are saying there is wrong then there must also be right, right? Are you now saying morality is not relative? That as long as you do not hurt people everything is ok.
Mike: Yes, that my position as long as you don’t hurt people, everything is “ok”
Joe: What is the basis of your Morality? Who or What says you should not hurt your fellow man?
Mike: Well society says it
Joe: Doesn’t society always change? Won’t they change again?
Mike: Have you become religious on me?
Joe: If God made the world, doesn’t he have the right to set the rules?
Mike: Who says there is a God? In addition, who says what the truth is?
Joe: Well I asking myself that very question 7 years ago and I found God out who God and that the Bible is His Word.
C.S. Lewis writes, there is “something which is directing the universe, and which appears in me as a law urging me to do right and making me feel responsible and uncomfortable when I do wrong.”