There are various forms of relativism, such as the belief that all truth is relative. Here I want to address more specifically the notion of moral relativism. This is the belief that morality is dependent upon one’s opinion, taste, preference or point of view.
It posits that there are no binding, objective, universal rights and wrongs. Instead, morality is relative to a culture, or an individual, or a period of time, and so on. Folks might think this is a neat, liberating and attractive way to approach morality, but it is nothing of the sort. All that it does is leave us totally unable to stand against real evil.
Indeed, it does not even allow us to identify real evil. When everything is relative, all we are left with is the old cliché: “Who am I to judge?” Black and white in morality is replaced with 99 shades of grey, and the ability to make careful moral assessments goes out the window.
There are plenty of other problems with moral relativism, including the obvious fact that it is self-refuting. If there are no moral absolutes, then we can’t even say it is wrong to have a moral absolute. To make a pronouncement in favour of it – “It is right to affirm moral relativism” – is to deny your own premise.
As Peter Williams put it: “It is self-contradictory to argue for moral subjectivism. If there are no objective moral values then it can’t be objectively true that I morally ought to consider the relativist’s arguments, or that I ought to consider them fairly, or that I ought to value truth over falsehood such that I should accept the subjectivist’s conclusion if I find their arguments persuasive.”
But as mentioned, the worse part of this bogus belief is the fact that we must dispense with justice altogether. All courts of law must go, since they affirm absolute morality in all sorts of places. For example, a red light will always be a red light, and no judge worth his salt will let a red light-runner off the hook because he is a moral relativist.
As Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl say in their book Relativism: “If relativism is true, then there is no such thing as justice or fairness. Both concepts depend on an objective standard of what is right. If the notions of justice and fairness make sense, however, then relativism is defeated.”
When we deny objective universal morality, then all we are left with is personal taste and preference. This works fine for ordering a coffee. If you prefer a cappuccino while I would rather a latte, none of us are right or wrong. It is simply a matter of taste.
But personal preference just does not cut it in the real world of right and wrong. Either Hitler and the Nazis were wrong to exterminate Jews and seek to enslave the world or they were not. It does no good to speak of this in terms of one’s tastes.
And moral relativists always end up sneaking absolutes into their worldview anyway. For example, while these folks will go on and on about how there is no right or wrong, they will nonetheless insist on their pet absolute. How many times have you heard people say that ‘the main thing is that we all be happy’ for example? They think that as long as everyone is happy, then everything will be just peachy.
Or they claim that we must all be “tolerant”. So they have taken tolerance out of the realm of mere preference and elevated it into a universal which all should agree to. And this is not just a hypothetical – I get folks like this all the time trying to make such a case.
Indeed, just recently I got into a little debate with a gal which so very nicely demonstrates moral relativism in action, and why it is such a damnable position to hold onto. She was fully committed to the absolute of happiness, all the while insisting that there are no absolutes.
The debate was over the issue of homosexuality on another person’s site. She was quite indignant that anyone would badmouth homosexuality. I stepped in and tried to bring a little sense into the discussion. Our little chat went like this:
Her: if that is what makes them happy, yes Rosie, of course. but you are saying being gay is a sickness. And i cannot agree…
Me: The Nazis were happy to kill Jews. What does mere happiness have to do with anything? With what is right and wrong? And putting one’s life-giving organ into another’s poop chute sounds a bit sick to me.
Her: you sound scared bill muehlenberg.. and a bit sad maybe. i believe it is everyones duty to be happy, cos if youre happy everyone around you will be… it is the way of the universe… everything has a reaction to an action..
Me: Scared of what? And you did not answer my point. If the Nazis were happy to kill Jews, does that make it right because of mere happiness? Yes or no?
Her: i did answer your question
Me: So you think the Nazis were right to do what they did, because it made them happy?
Me: So you think arsonists are right to burn down houses, because it makes them feel happy?
Me: So you think pedophiles are right to abuse children, because it makes them feel happy?
Me: A simple yes or no will do
Her: i dont believe anybody that hurts anybody in such a cruel way is a truly happy person . i have taught my kids that there is no such thing as a bad person, but a sad person..
Me: Thanks – still refusing to answer the question I see. And as is so very typical of your side, simply attack the person instead with ad hominems. Love how you guys “argue”!
Her: attackk ! and what us a hominem??
Me: And no such thing as a bad person? Oh really. So Hitler was a good guy? No wonder you refuse to answer a direct question. Wow, gotta love your moral values.
Me: You might need to look it up.
Her: whatever!! wont b seeing ya thank the gods!
Me: Which gods?
That was the end of that. Many things came through in this mini-debate. One thing is the number of logical fallacies she managed to pull off in such a short space. Attacking the person was certainly employed. As was the fallacy of seeking to psychoanalyse me instead of dealing with the arguments.
Someone told me she was heavily into the New Age Movement mumbo jumbo. Well that much is clear. The NAM is riddled with moral and epistemological relativism. It wants to tell us we are all gods anyway, so I guess we can all just make up our own morality as we go along.
And notice how she kept avoiding my questions and refusing to answer them. Well, how could she answer them? It would have been just too embarrassing to come out and flatly state that we cannot say Hitler was right or wrong, so she just sidestepped the question.
Had she agreed that Hitler was morally evil, then she would have refuted her own position. But had she come out and said he was not evil, then she would have demonstrated the moral paucity and perversion of her position. So either way she loses. Thus her refusal to answer a direct question.
That is why relativism reeks. Any ethical system which makes it painful for a person to actually come out and say that Hitler was a moral monster is a faulty and dangerous system. Yet we have millions of people sucked into all this, even plenty of gullible and naïve Christians.
In fact, this unworkable and unethical system of moral relativism lies at the heart of so many of our woes today. The whole “tolerance” industry and the “you should not judge” baloney comes directly out of this bad philosophy. If there are no moral absolutes, then yes, we must all just sit down and shut up.
Who are we to judge, if our moral assessments are nothing more than personal preferences? Then of course all we are left with is amoral tolerance in which we have to put up with anything and everything – even Hitler and the Nazis. This is the bitter fruit of moral relativism.
Michael Novak was quite right to sum it up in these terms: “Vulgar relativism is an invisible gas, odorless, deadly, that is now polluting every free society on earth. It is a gas that attacks the central nervous system of moral striving. The most perilous threat to the free society today is, therefore, neither political nor economic. It is the poisonous, corrupting culture of relativism.”
9 Replies to “Relativism Reeks”
Thanks for your recent articles Bill. Pretty much everything that has transpired re: homosexual marriage is founded on the wrong belief inspired by moral relativism.
There are many in for a rude shock when they stand before God and find their arguments and arrogance destroyed. I can only imagine the sick feeling they will experience when they realise the eternal magnitude of their arrogance.
Very insightful article, Bill. Thank you.
On ABC’s Q and A program last night we were once again “treated” to a woeful lineup of such ignorant “toads” as the lady in the “debate” above.
One lady panelist was devoid of criteria for her desperate clinging to her political position.
One (supposed) “cosmologist” was equally devoid of logic and even of commonsense. He kept insisting that people could make better decisions re morality once freed up from the supposed shackles of religion. His responses indicated that he believed morality to be relative as religious beliefs differed so widely.
He should have read your article where you point out:
“If relativism is true, then there is NO such thing as justice or fairness – because both concepts DEPEND on an objective standard of what is right…”
…”When we deny objective universal morality, then all we are left with is personal taste and preference” which cannot apply to moral values – as this leaves NO “yard-stick” against which to make comparisons and judgements.
Therefore it is massive self-delusion to think that “we can all just make up our own morality as we go along.”
“Had (the lady in the above debate) agreed that Hitler was morally evil, then she would have REFUTED her own position. But had she come out and said he was not evil, then she would have demonstrated the moral paucity and perversion of her position. So either way she LOSES…”
“Any ethical system which makes it painful for a person to actually come out and say that Hitler was a moral monster is a faulty and dangerous system. Yet we have millions of people sucked into all this, even plenty of gullible and naïve Christians” terrified to appear at odds with the tide of popular opinion. And yet this is where we are called to heroism in the face of evil.
“In fact, this unworkable and unethical system of moral relativism LIES AT THE HEART of SO MANY OF OUR WOES today.”
Michael Novak was quite right to sum it up in these terms:
“Vulgar relativism is an invisible gas, odorless, deadly, that is NOW POLLUTING EVERY FREE SOCIETY on earth. It is a gas that attacks the central nervous system of moral striving. The most perilous threat to the free society today is, therefore, neither political nor economic. It is the POISONOUS, CORRUPTING CULTURE OF RELATIVISM.”
We must repeat these truths to all our friends so that they are not mis-led by the powerful propaganda machines that are operating overtime to deceive us. Remember Satan “The Deceiver” is here. Today… and he is dangerous to our very freedom.
Who are we to judge – well I can think of five who did and they judged that it was “fair” and equitable for homosexuals to marry. Which brings in that crazy question of “equality”. Why do we have the concept of “equality” in our society- because God created all equal, period. Equality does not exist in Darwin’s world of nature “red in tooth and claw”. It does not exist in Dawkin’s world of blind pitiless indifference. The concept of equality has been “transcendalised”, to replace the one true God, with a notion which can’t exist without Him.
If they propose NOT to hurt people, why do the seek to recruit in such a militant way, why do they seek to muzzle discussion, why do they object to not being allowed to donate blood, why try and take rights away from churches and business` that do not agree with their choice? Good call Bill.
Absolutely correct Philip. What society had the foggiest notion of equality before Christian Democracies. What other religion said that there is neither male nor female neither bond nor free in heaven and for God’s will to be done on Earth as in Heaven. God tried to introduce in in Israel but they would not listen.They are telling us that they know more about equality by saying that two things that are functionally opposite and morally opposite are equal, that the US Constitution which is based on Christian beliefs actually condemns Christians as bigots, that behavior and thinking as in homosexuality, cannot be discriminated against because it’s like like skin color or sex when it is precisely because skin color and sex do not determine thinking that we cannot use these things to discriminate but how do you educate people who simply will not listen.
I feel sad now so I’ll have to go now and kill six million people.
Take a look in any school and you will find a whole generation who haven trained to “argue” like that woman – an entire up and coming generation that can’t actually use basic logic but default to what makes them feel good and defending anything that makes other people feel good.
These types will redefine polar opposites without blinking an eye. Bitter for sweet and good for evil.
I didn’t mean to make light of what the Jews went through in Nazi Germany but how could you possibly equate the unimaginable horror that Jews suffered or the needless death and suffering on both the Allied and the German sides with being “sad” but this is the sort of demonic, propagandist, nonsense people we have to constantly put up with being promoted by the ABC. They don’t care who they put on just as long as they are opposed to morality.
I don’t think you can blame the schools. They give almost no training in morality as is required by the government defined syllabus which, if you look at the “morality” many in Parliament want to push, is probably a good thing. Basic morality used to be taught by parents but the only quality time parents have with kids these days is taking them to sport and the rest of the time the kids and the parents are watching TV. What parent takes time to share their wisdom with their kids. Most of them haven’t received any to pass on and this is one reason why this second TV generation is so completely naive and arrogant. It took us a generation to lose it.
Being advertised on TV is the Australian production go the Cole Porter musical “Anything Goes” Written in 1934,its lyrics carried some ominous precepts which are coming to fruition as we speak- but you know ol’ chap, its was all about a bit of good fun.
“Times have changed,
And we’ve often rewound the clock,
Since the Puritans got a shock,
When they landed on Plymouth Rock.
Any shock they should try to stem,
‘Stead of landing on Plymouth Rock,
Plymouth Rock would land on them.
In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, God knows,
Good authors too who once knew better words,
Now only use four letter words
Writing prose, Anything Goes.
The world has gone mad today
And good’s bad today,
And black’s white today,
And day’s night today,
When most guys today
That women prize today
Are just silly gigolos
And though I’m not a great romancer
I know that I’m bound to answer
When you propose,
When grandmama whose age is eighty
In night clubs is getting matey with gigolo’s,
When mothers pack and leave poor father
Because they decide they’d rather be tennis pros,
If driving fast cars you like,
If low bars you like,
If old hymns you like,
If bare limbs you like,
If Mae West you like
Or me undressed you like,
Why, nobody will oppose!
When every night,
The set that’s smart
Is intruding in nudist parties in studios,
And though I’m not a great romancer
I know that I’m bound to answer
When you propose,
If saying your prayers you like,
If green pears you like
If old chairs you like,
If back stairs you like,
If love affairs you like
With young bears you like,
Why nobody will oppose!’
“The world has gone mad today
And good’s bad today,
And black’s white today,
And day’s night today,”
Moral relativism, whatever floats your boat, anything and they mean ANYTHING goes. All starts off so innocent doesn’t it?
The problem with the relativist brigade is that it is “relativism for me but not for thee!” THEY want to be relativist and be freed of all responsibilities and left in peace to do whatever floats their boat. However, they expect YOU to be absolutist: treating their sacred cows with the respect of fixed laws, etc. Try explaining to a fan of “homosexual marriage” (whatever that is) that there view is just their own wrong opinion and see how relativist they are.