Thursday, April 28, 2005


The World's Most Dangerous Idea (Part 1)

The gauntlet has been thrown down. In response, I intend to defend the merits of moral absolutism and, subsequently, demonstrate how the core principles of liberalism are undermined by its own driving philosophy of moral relativism.

But first: Why is this discussion even relevant? More than any other single factor, I would contend that the relativist/absolutist moral dichotomy is at the root of the red/blue state cultural divide. Whether it is explicitly stated or lingering just beneath the surface, this issue is at the heart of the conflicting worldviews with which our nation and the world are now struggling.

On that note, I’ll begin my own feeble attempt to debunk the principles of a relative moralistic philosophy.

First, though, I’d like to refer Dave at The Grace Pages (along with other relativists) to the related commentary of a most distinguished member of his own Anglican Church, C.S. Lewis. Lewis articulates a solid case against moral relativism in The Abolition of Man. I’ve noted the contributions of both Lewis and G.K. Chesterton to this subject in a previous post. But I digress.

So as to avoid confusion, I want to start by defining both. Moral relativism is the belief that there are no absolutes or objective right and wrong concerning questions of morality. Instead, morality is a function of personal preferences and/or one’s cultural or ethnic orientation.

By contrast, moral absolutism is the belief in objective and universal moral standards (also called natural law), generally assumed to be derived from a higher power. Adherents to such a philosophy believe that the concept of truth exists naturally. It is not a matter of something being true “for someone” to the exclusion of someone else. It is either true or it is not.

I took the time to explain this because it is my primary intention to distinguish between the two and show why I feel logic and inherent reason are on the side of a belief in absolute morality. After reading Dave’s response to my last post, I’m concerned that we were both misrepresenting each other and I want to avoid spirally further into a semantic quagmire. While I believe most liberals adhere to a relativist philosophy (either implicitly or explicitly), I do not mean to apply that stereotype to all on the left.

First though, are liberals justified in their accusations of arrogance, narrow-mindedness against conservatives? Well, in many cases the answer is yes and I would attribute it to a misapplication of the moral absolutist philosophy. Few situations could be more frustrating that trying to have a discussion with someone who espouses a “completely black-and-white” mindset and who assumes to be on the right side of all issues.

Those who selectively quote random Bible versus in response to complicated moral questions and situations and act as if that settles the issue can be very frustrating. I readily admit that some who share my ideology use moral absolutism to justify an over-simplified, arrogant, and sometimes judgmental, worldview. Such behavior, however, does not invalidate the existence of an objective moral code.

By espousing a belief in absolute morality, I am not suggesting that the Bible has an answer to every theoretical situation and philosophical question in existence. Moreover, we need not oversimplify every moral scenario in order to believe in the existence of objective truth and morality. Life is complicated and many situations require a nuanced approach. But the question is do we have a starting point or standard of measure at the core of the debate or is everything subjective?

Also, the existence of exceptions to objective standards does not invalidate the concept of a natural law. For instance, is lying justifiable in situations that could save a life? The answer can be yes without completely undermining the belief in an objective moral code. Only a proponent of Kantian extreme absolutist philosophy would argue that lying is wrong under every possible circumstance.

Refutation of Relativism to follow. For now I give up due to a breakdown of blogger service...

I won't get into the middle of this dispute, but will just say that anyone who fears Christians are taking over just needs to dip into some conservative Christian or liberal Christian blogs. We can't find two Lutherans who agree, or two Methodists, certainly not Anglicans and Presbyterians and Charismatics.

Nor do Christians have lifestyles that differ from the general culture, according to Barna's research. So what's everyone worried about?
I'm troubled by Barna's research, which Ron Sider examines in "Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience".

I would agree that there is clearly a lot of dissention among the Christian community which is, on the whole, a good thing. Specifically, though, I'm worried about relativism becoming the prevalent cultural mindset for some of the reasons elaborated in part 2 of this essay.

Disregard for the value of life and for human rights can, and will, be tolerated once we begin to denounce the existence of objective moral standards and that, to me, provides sufficient cause for concern.
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