So Many Kinds of Voices – Moral Relativism (2)

Continuation of an article on Moral Relativism and its effects on the thinking of men.

An incident recounted by Mary Haugaard, in her essay, The Lottery Revisited, affords us insight to properly appreciate the long-range consequences of moral relativism. She had used a short story, The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson, as part of her creative writing class in college. Fifty years ago, when The Lottery was first published, it led to a storm of protest and outrage. It recounts, in a surprising ending, a town which unites in performing human sacrifice. During the many years of teaching the class, Mary Haugaard noted a change in the response to the end of the story. Allow her words to recount for you what she discovered:

“Are you asking me if I believe in human sacrifice?” Beth responded thoughtfully. “Well yes,” I managed to say. “Do you think the author approved or disapproved of this ritual?” I was stunned: This was the woman who wrote so passionately about saving the whales, of concern for the rain forests, or her rescue and tender care of a stray dog. “I really dont know. If it was a religion of long standing … ” For a moment I couldnt even respond.

I turned to Patricia, a 50-something, redheaded nurse. She had always seemed an intelligent person of moderate views. “Well, I teach a course for our hospital personnel in multicultural understanding, and if its part of a persons culture, we are taught not to judge, and if it has worked for them … “

Please forgive the long account. But it serves to highlight the tragic end of moral relativism: nothing is wrong if the people believe it to be right. The corollary is that we are afraid to call something evil.

The Sinister Creed Which Supports It

The underpinnings of Moral relativism are at last three.

1. The Philosophy behind it: There is an attempt to equate the ever-relentless search for knowledge in the scientific and technologic realms with the search for truth in the moral and ethical realm. Since we are constantly discovering “truth” in science and then learning it is not totally true or not all the truth, we can never be sure we have “truth.”

2. The Praise of an open mind: what follows then is, necessarily, the need to keep an open mind. The stress is on the need to be tolerant. Tolerance is valued above truth. People now equate convictions and certainty with narrow mindedness and bigotry. Allan Bloom, in his book, The Closing of the American Mind, makes a strong case that the mind of most American students has become so open, that like a huge sewer it receives any and all garbage which floats downstream. It is, however, now closed to truth.

3. The Permeating of Education and the Media: Most courses in ethics major in the gray areas of decision-making. In this subtle manner, they begin to create doubt and uncertainty in the minds of young people. But they also play a successful shell game with these minds. Morals are now related to “issues” such as abortion, euthanasia, the welfare of animals, forestry and the environment, nuclear energy, and social issues. Notice what has happened. Ethics has become something “out there” linked with major issues of the day. You are moral if you are politically correct in your views. It does not matter about my own pollution just so long as I am against polluting the world. Ethics, morals, have been transferred from the individual, to subjects and issues in society.

The Signs of Contradiction

There are weaknesses in both the behavior and the beliefs of those who trumpet the cause of relativism.

True tolerance by those who believe in relativism is not the normal behavior. They are, in fact, very intolerant of anyone who does not espouse their view on issues. If you have convictions, if you make claims to truth and absolutes, their intolerance is obvious. This is not a live-and-let-live approach to various opinions.

There is a built-in moral instinct elicited even in those who believe sincerely in relativism: Witness the almost nation-wide abhorrence of the national tragedy at the Twin Trade Towers in NYC. Watch the moral relativist when some one cuts him off in traffic or when he is passed over for a promotion because his supervisor has his own standard for a “good employee.”

The human conscience also witnesses against relativism. Yes, some have consciences so seared that nothing bothers them. However, the majority of people make excuses, rationalize, or blame others when confronted with their own evil.

But in reality, no one lives consistently as though he believes in moral relativism. None wishes to be the victim of someone elses subjectivism.

It is, however, the weakness in the arguments for relativism which eventually sounds the death knell to this thinking. Two subjective statements could both be “true” and yet contradict each other. Thus nothing is false.

If morality is subjective and determined by me, then man is no longer the discoverer of right and wrong, but the determiner of right and wrong. Each man becomes his own god.

To say that there are no absolutes is to claim that there is at least one absolute – i.e. That there are none! This is self-refutation. If we allow one absolute, one unchallenged truth, then who is to decide that there are not more?

If relativism is right, then learning is at an end. To learn, you must admit you need to know something. It corrects wrong ideas and beliefs (of which you have none).

One attempt to get around the issue of only one absolute was the ill-fated attempt by Joseph Fletcher and others to introduce Love as the only absolute. This gave birth to “situation ethics.” But on what ground was love chosen as the one absolute? There must be some other standard by which to judge that love is the ultimate ethic. If there is, then it is a greater absolute than love. And so the argument goes on and on.

The Scriptural Confirmation of Absolutes

Absolutes cannot exist without God. We make no apology that we believe in revelational ethics. God has revealed to us what is right and wrong. This does not deny that there are gray areas and areas in which there can be a moral dilemma or difficulty. Never allow the minuscule number of moral dilemmas to obscure the reality of clear directives and ethics from the Word of God. The problem is not with the revelation of God but with our ability to understand and apply what God has revealed.

1. The case from Genesis 1: God looked upon creation and said that it was “good.” Long before there were men to judge, committees to ponder, and ethicists to posit on it, God said that there were certain things that were good and certain things that were not good. Thus ultimate right and wrong dwell with God and not with men. Good is, in a sense, an extension of Gods nature. It is what is consistent with His will and His Word.

2. The Claims of Christ: No greater argument can be made for absolutes and for truth than the fact that the Lord Jesus claimed to be “The Truth.” Truth must be unchanging if it is embodied in a changeless person. It is also knowable (John 7:17; 8:30-32) and not something nebulous which we can never hope to grasp. That does not mean that we will ever know all the truth. But we can know with certainty truth as revealed in Him (Eph 4:20-21).

To deny the existence of absolutes, of truth, is to deny the claims of Christ, and ultimately the person of Christ.