Tuesday, March 15, 2011
The Theory of Moral Relativity
Before we delve into this further, let’s define a few terms here.
Moral Relativism: There are no absolute truths when it comes to moral judgments. Indeed, the truth of moral judgments are absolutely relative to the context of the individual or group. What one person or group might find to be moral and the truth may very well not be for another person or group. Further, there is no valid intrinsic standard of morality by which to compare them. Without such a standard for a frame of reference, it is a wasted exercise to try and determine the morality, the right or wrong of one’s decisions and actions in a morally relative environment. Morality is changeable, subjective, and individualistic to the moral relativist.
Moral Absolutism: There are very clear and well defined moral judgments that are absolutely true, regardless of one’s culture, society, or value system. There are definitive judgments of right and wrong, good and evil that transcend cultures and societies and are absolutely true for all humankind regardless. Natural law and a strong reliance upon it is typically a key component of it.
Nihilism: This is a belief that comes about when one accepts the premise of moral relativism as being true. Since moral beliefs and judgments are all relative to the individual or group and there is no overarching standard of reference, all moral conversations are meaningless. Morality is a relative thing and therefore the definition of it is abandoned. It is a belief in nothingness.
For those that know me or have read my blog for any length of time at all, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I fall into the moral absolutism category, as it is my considered opinion that the belief in moral relativism creates the slippery slope that invariably ends with a belief in nihilism and a certain kind of secular totalitarianism.
Peter Kreeft writing in his A Refutation of Moral Relativism states,
“Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day defined a good society as one that makes it easy for you to be good. Correlatively, a free society is one that makes it easy to be free. To be free, and to live freely, is to live spiritually, because only spirit is free—matter is not. To live spiritually is to live morally. The two essential properties of spirit that distinguish it from matter are intellect and will—the capacity for knowledge and moral choice. The ideals of truth and goodness. The most radical threat to living morally today is the loss of moral principles.
Moral practice has always been difficult for fallen humanity, but at least there was always the lighthouse of moral principles, no matter how stormy the sea of moral practice got. But today, with the majority of our mind-molders, in formal education, or informal education—that is, media—the light is gone. Morality is a fog of feelings. That is why to them, as Chesterton said, ‘Morality is always dreadfully complicated to a man who has lost all his principles.’ Principles mean moral absolutes. Unchanging rocks beneath the changing waves of feelings and practices. Moral relativism is a philosophy that denies moral absolutes. That thought to me is the prime suspect—public enemy number one. The philosophy that has extinguished the light in the minds of our teachers, and then their students, and eventually, if not reversed, will extinguish our whole civilization.”
There are various reasons why some individuals choose to live with a seemingly oxymoronic code of moral relativism, and I would encourage you to read more of Mr. Kreeft’s excellent dissertation on the particulars here. Suffice it to say that for reasons ranging from psychological, cultural, social conditioning, to “tolerance” etc., far too many people try to justify their belief in this Nihilism.
Many folks do this from a sense of “enlightened” superiority in the mistaken assumption that our way is not the only right way to live. The moral relativist wants to be happy and therefore being able to live up to the “tougher standards” of moral absolutism is typically found to be exceptionally difficult. Failure to do so brings about guilt and a lack of self esteem at the failure to live by a transcendent moral code, hence the desire to cultivate only one’s happiness through the justification that all people should be tolerant and thus allowed to live as they choose.
While I would not ever be for forcing people to live by a moral absolutism code, that doesn’t mean that I won’t try to the best of my ability to live so personally and thereby hopefully provide an example for others as a contrast in the life they might have chosen. I realize that I always fall short of the moral code that my Christian faith and Western culture as defined by traditional American values prescribes, but far better for me to have goals that often exceed my grasp, than to have no moral goals at all for which I succeed at masterfully.
Indeed, living a life of moral relativism opens the door to everything being permissible. It is in such an environment where one states, “I am personally against abortion, but others can get one if they choose,” or to the extremes of “I personally don’t agree with homicide bombers, but I can understand their reasons for engaging in such desperate acts”. It is this thought process that creates that slippery slope from black and white, right and wrong, to everything being gray and some otherwise pernicious behavior being acceptable and permissible for some folks. Just because a Nazi thinks that genocide is okay, does not make it so. Just because some cultures insist on the mutilation of girl’s genitalia, doesn’t make it right. Just because a person practices a faith other than fundamentalist Wahabi Islam, does not make it right for that person to be executed in some nations, and yet all of these things have and do occur. To the true moral relativist, we should not judge these people/groups and hold them to our own moral standards of what is “right”.
At Mass this past Sunday, our priest pointed out that Satan doesn’t typically try to seduce the corrupt and those not living by any moral compass, as he typically already has those people in his grasp. It is those that are trying to be righteous that he focuses upon the most. In capturing them, he finds victory. Further, it is not through the temptation for the commission of grave or mortal sins by a person trying to live by a moral absolutist life that Satan typically tries to ensnare them, as most folks that try to live a righteous life are not typically able to be easily swayed to commit murder or steal or commit any other such obviously wrong actions.
Rather it is precisely through moral relativism that Satan will be most successful. Indeed, there often is the appearance of truth in some morally relativistic arguments that could persuade an otherwise morally absolutist person into abandoning his or her code to consider such actions as justifiable. Grandma is terminally ill and has lived a long life; she doesn’t want to be in constant pain, so we should do the merciful thing and help end her life compassionately. Of course this justification starts the slide down that slope to the next step of “Grandma doesn’t want to be a burden on the family and live out the rest of her life alone in the nursing home.” Then it becomes only a few generations away to the value of the elderly being deemed as unimportant or even as nuisances in this morally relativistic society. Such is the cost of abandoning a moral absolutist code and proclaiming that everything is permissible as an individual or group so desires. It creates a world where only might will eventually protect oneself as this secular anarchy will come to rule. Such is not a world in which I ever hope to live.