If you think we’re getting ready to talk about religion, you’re not wrong, but there’s a purely pragmatic element here that often gets overlooked because of the way it tends to reveal the unsustainable and nonsensical paradigm represented by those who want to perceive themselves as their own absolute.
If you’re right to be happy includes your having the authority to define the difference between right and wrong, in order for that to work, you have to extend that same privilege to everybody else. This is part of the reason why Moral Relativism is regarded as a self-defeating axiom because if everyone is entitled to their opinion, that means that everyone is right all the time, including the one who is being critical of you.
Do you smell what we’re cooking, here?
If someone says that truth is relative, than that very statement is relative and therefore cancels itself out. That’s why if you insist on believing that everyone is entitled to their opinion – that there no definitive “right” or “wrong” – then it becomes logically impossible to protest the way in which another person condemns your rationale.
This is what happens when you reduce principles to preferences in that you you cannot logically dispute the actions or attitudes of another person as long as the only thing that governs their behavior is their personal opinion which cannot be questioned.
And attempting to circumvent the obvious problems represented by the possibility of something heinous being labeled as acceptable by establishing certain situations as “obvious” moral boundaries doesn’t work either.
For example, insisting that, “As long as you’re not hurting anybody,” provides the necessary community framework that allows for all of its members to peacefully coexist fails the moment a person feels like they can justify whatever pain is being experienced by another provided the outcome is perceived as a positive.
“Pain” becomes a very subjective thing when weighed against what can be gained in the mind of someone who’s main priority is themselves. But even if you bristle at the thought of being referred to as “selfish,” as someone who either maintains themselves as their own bottom line or denies the existence of any kind of moral absolute, you can’t object to however you might be labeled without invoking a standard of behavior that, according to you, cannot exist because, again, if everyone is entitled to their opinion, then there is no universal rule, there is no standard, only the mindset of the individual which is, by default, neither noble nor sinister.
Dr Maarten Boudry is a Dutch-speaking Belgian philosopher and skeptic. He has been a researcher and teaching member of the Department of Philosophy and Moral Sciences at Ghent University since 2006. To date, he has published over 30 articles in various philosophy of science journals. He had this to say about Moral Relativism in his article, “Why Relativism is the Worst Idea Ever…”
As anyone with two neurons to rub together can see, the thesis is self-defeating. If it’s ‘true’ that truth is relative, then the assertion itself is also relative and cancels itself out. Relativism about what is morally right and wrong less obviously defeats itself, since it is not entirely clear if the claim that “moral standards are relative” is itself a moral claim. But in practice, moral relativism is an equally self-defeating position. For instance, moral relativists will typically condemn the belief in universal moral standards as a form of ‘cultural imperialism’, the implicit assumption being that cultural imperialism is bad. But if moral standards are relative, then so is the claim that cultural imperialism is reprehensible. In any rational discussion, relativism is the intellectual equivalent of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’, the deterrent used by nuclear superpowers during the Cold War. Pressing the red button will destroy your enemy, but ensure your own destruction as well.
You can’t be criticized but neither can you be critical of others. In other words, your dominion over all things moral works as long as you’re surrounded by people who agree with you and are willing to concede that you’re the only one allowed to be right all the time. However ludicrous that sounds, it is nevertheless what ultimately results when there is no absolute and every viewpoint therefore has to be accepted as a valid perspective.
Another reason why any attempt to justify one’s behavior by suggesting that there is no “right” or “wrong” is because if you extend that line of reasoning to its inevitable conclusion, then even the most heinous crime and the most horrific miscarriage of justice both have to be condoned as agreeable.
Dr Boudry uses an illustration referenced by Andy Norman in his book, “Mental Immunity” that describes bad ideas as “mind parasites.” He says…
Just like biological parasites can invade our bodies and make us sick, mind parasites can infect our minds and make us stupid. From that immunological perspective, relativism is a major disruptor of our mental immune system. Objective standards of right and wrong are our main defenses against bad ideas. If we lose those standards, then anything goes. By disabling our natural immunity, relativism makes us vulnerable to a whole host of bad ideas (because who’s to say that an idea is really bad?) and prevents us from picking up good ones (because why learn anything new if it’s all relative anyway?). It is also corrosive to our social norms, because it undermines the very notion that we are accountable for our beliefs and behaviors, and that we need to be able to justify them if it’s challenged.
In that sense, relativism is not just some bad idea, but the mother lode of bad ideas. It’s about time we stamp it out.
(Why Relativism is the Worst Idea Ever)
If there is no standard, then there is no law. Every moral issue is now reduced to a purely mechanical response that can neither be questioned let alone criticized because there is no objective guideline to gauge its merit, only the subjective filter of the individual at that moment.
As Dr Boudry pointed out, we are accountable for our beliefs and we need to be able to justify them. We also need to be able to recognize bad ideas before they’re allowed to metastasize into something that damages both ourselves and our community.
But none of that is possible apart from a standard that transcends personal preferences and can be used to measure the moral substance of any given behavior. Without that barometer, evil can be packaged in any one of a number of plausible sounding containers and made to sound sensible, fair, scientific and even enlightened.
But where does that standard come from?
Who makes the rules?
There Are Only Two Options
While up to this point the tenor of the conversation has been tuned to the pitch of a pragmatic philosophy, it’s here where we’re logically obligated to acknowledge the fact that there’s only so many ways in which you can build the scales you use to test and define the moral content of a particular behavior or thought process.
In fact, there’s only two.
Either God is God, or you are.
However you want to regulate “religion” to something that has no place or application to the way in which you process morals or politics, you cannot discuss anything that can be perceived as either “right” or “wrong” without implying a certain standard.
That standard is based on the way in which you answer four questions:
- How did I get here?
- What happens when I die?
- How am I supposed to behave?
- What’s the point of my existence?
The way in which you answer these four questions constitute the basis for your spiritual framework. From that perspective, atheism is just as much of a “religion” as Christianity or Islam in that from a purely practical standpoint, regardless of how you answer these questions, the way in which you respond to these questions indicates who you regard as your Absolute: Either God or yourself.
Every religion on the planet empowers the individual with the ability to facilitate his own salvation. As a Muslim, you have the option of Jihad, as a Buddhist you have the pursuit of Nirvana or as a Hindu, you have Moksha. And while an atheist may not subscribe to the idea of needing to be redeemed per se, the reason they don’t is because they cast the final vote as to what they will admit to being good and acceptable and therefore do not need to be forgiven let alone evaluated. Every other doctrine, save what’s represented by the gospel, positions the individual as the one who can either achieve their own redemption or define the terms that makes the need to be redeemed a moot point.
You are your own deity.
Christianity, on the other hand, posits the idea that you are a spiritual corpse and the salvation that God offers is made available in the only way that it could be offered given your being utterly incapable, undeserving and destitute:
As a gift (Eph 2:8-9).
It’s by God’s grace alone that a person can attain the standard required in order to rise above his humanity and enjoy a relationship with His Judge, His Lawgiver and His King (Is 33:22).
The Declaration of Independence
This was the prevailing school of thought that characterized our Founding Fathers approach to government and the philosophical essence of a human being. This was our corporate, metaphysical ground-zero and in that regard, our nation was never an advocate of the contemporary usage of the term “separation of church and state.” Rather, it was the foundation of the “church” and the Christian creed that gave form and substance to the state that would go on to be a beacon of freedom and opportunity for the entire planet.
It’s also why a citizen of this country can confidently assert their “rights” as a collection of entitlements that cannot be altered or denied by any human agency because of they way they are rooted in the Wisdom and Character of the Supreme Judge of the world.
You see that reflected in the verbiage used in the Declaration of Independence:
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
When we made our case to King George, we began by establishing our resolve to be independent had as its basis a Divine Truth and not just a reasonable perspective. It was our appeal to Scripture that gave our platform the substance it required in order to qualify as a legitimate cause rather than just a noble complaint. And while some want to dismiss the influence of Scripture on the Second Continental Congress and claim that any reference to Providence was nothing more than a token courtesy, they ignore the spiritual composition of those delegates who fixed their signature to a document that represented certain death as they were committing high treason by signing it.
Bottom line: When defining the Central Truth, any aspect that qualifies as a moral element has to be based on a Biblical Standard if it is to stand up beneath the weight of objective scrutiny.
Moral Relativism fails to provide a coherent and consistent basis for any kind of a logical definition of morals because of the way it contradicts itself. Given the way all religious, including atheism, promote the individual as both the cause and the remedy for his human shortcomings, the Christian faith is not only a standout, it’s the only creed that qualifies as a rational reply to the questions pertaining to our behavior and destiny in that it doesn’t attempt to assert the weakness of our humanity as the foundation for our existence.
And while Christianity does provide the necessary philosophical stability required for a successful system of government and a fulfilling life, it’s also why a Homosexual or a Pro Choice advocate cannot validate their platform as being a morally acceptable choice by attempting to frame it as a “right.” If the Foundation upon which they base their legal argument condemns the very behavior they’re seeking to justify, while they may have the right to rebel, they cannot use an indictment as an endorsement.
Our government is not based on a Christian “tradition.” The very word, “tradition” implies the non-existence of a Divine Absolute, only the nostalgic preferences of the individual. It’s based on the Truth of God’s Word. And when someone wants to try and undermine the spiritual foundation upon which our country is built by invoking the idea of the “separation of church and state,” they’re overlooking the way the First Amendment was designed to prevent the government from dictating a particular denomination and not the elimination of God from the marketplace in general.
And when you hear, “Well, that’s your opinion,” or “You can’t judge me” or “Not everyone believes the way you do,” they’re asserting the idea that because everyone can be their own moral authority, they are therefore ranked as a respectable character and cannot be criticized.
If those who differ are also entitled to their opinion and they cannot be judged for whatever point of view they maintain because there is no “right” or “wrong” – only the perpetual myth that there are no incorrect answers, only multiple perspectives – then they can’t dispute whatever criticism might be leveled at them without violating their own personal paradigm.
And that doesn’t work.
- You have to ask the right questions in order to make the right decisions…
- …and you have to make the right decisions in order to do the right thing…
- …and the the right thing is going to be defined by the Central Truth – the goal that when realized results in you doing the right thing at the right time in the right way for all the right reasons.
By rightly identifying the Central Truth, you’re able to prevent seemingly crucial elements from compromising that which is most important.
To do that, especially when there’s a moral aspect involved, you need more than a spreadsheet and a subject matter expert. You need a Standard and a Wisdom that goes beyond what the human dynamic is capable of manufacturing. Otherwise, you wind up catering more to goalposts that fail (Prov 14:12; Matt 7:13-14 [Jn 10:7-9]) as opposed to guidelines that succeed (Josh 1:8; Ps 1; Matt 6:33).
And it’s here where you have to ask, “Who makes the Rules?”
And that really is the starting point for this whole process. The way you view yourself and the world around you has as it’s starting point who you regard as the Ultimate Authority in your life, be it the God of the Bible or the one who stares back at you every time you look in the mirror.
If you want to succeed and prosper, if you want to be able to approach life with a clear conscience and an enthusiastic disposition, if you want to enjoy the kind of energy provided by a Divine Perspective, then your Central Truth is not just a concept or a personal mantra, it’s the Person of Jesus Christ (Jn 14:6).
And it’s that Truth that fuels the success of individuals as well as nations. When you ask the right questions, you make the right decisions, you do the right thing and you honor your King.
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. (Ecc 12:13)
That is our goal, that is our starting point and that is the greatest Central Truth.
- “Declaration of Independence: A Transcription”, “National Archives”, https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript, accessed August 30, 2022