In my view, one of the most pressing issues in our day is what I would call moral awareness. I don”t mean that people aren’t aware of what they think or believe; what I mean is a lack of awareness of how people make moral decisions. This post raises this issue:
In their new book, Hidden Worldviews: Eight Cultural Stories That Shape Our Lives
, Steve Wilkens and Mark Sanford examine cultural scripts that work against the gospel work in the Church. In many ways this book overlaps with Greg Boyd’s book, which we have already posted about, so I’m shifting our attention away from Boyd’s book to Wilkens and Sanford.
Our theme today: moral relativism.
Big one, and the authors start with a pop: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” Our famous line from the Declaration of Independence, a sacred line to many American political thinkers. But others wonder what they mean by “truth” and how any truth can be “self-evident.” The true postmodernist asks “According to whom?” This enters into the “true for you but not for me” debate and also the bigger one: “What is truth?”
What prompts people to be moral relativists or almost moral relativists? What leads them to adopt such a view? What are their best arguments? What do you think are the best criticisms? What are the real alternatives?
These authors contend that there are actually very few absolute moral relativists and they refer to such folks who are not fully-devoted moral relativists as “moral relativists.”
Truth has a history: it has been seen as knowable and anchor-able in God (or the ultimate Good, etc). Plato’s forms flowed into the Christian God who reveals truth in Scripture. For Luther, the interpretation of truth shifted from the magisterium/Pope/RC Church to the priesthood of believers. Descartes found truth in what was indubitable. Instead of relying on God, Church or Scripture… he relied on the individual’s reason. This led to a shift to the empirical and inductive model of science and the Enlightenment. Postmodernity questions the universal claim of modernity and it calls into question the possibility of objectivity. So here we are….
Truth and morals become relative in some forms of postmodernity. Nietzsche saw it all as a person’s perspective and desire for power.
Then the authors examine the spectrum for both absolute and relative, showing that there are very few at either end of the spectrum. The “moral relativist” is basically an anti-absolutist or an anti-legalist, but not a full moral relativist. Their contention is that Christian legalists contribute to the emergence of “moral relativists.”
They see “moral relativism” as emotional instead of intellectual. It derives from a desire to treat people kindly; or from the selfish justification of our own behavior; or they are just intellectually lazy and don’t want to work through hard, demanding issues.
Some, though, have more intellectual defenses: atheism denudes the world of an absolute God who alone can anchor an absolute true morality. Epistemology can strip our ability to know what is morally true. And the perceptive nature of our truth/moral claims can relativize morals.
1. Moral relativism shows how we are morally selective.
2. It illuminates the inadequacy of legalism.
3. It forces us to be more reflective about moral choices.
1. How does one argue for moral relativism as true?
2. How can one live as a moral relativist with others who are not?
3. How can we be fair and just and be morally relative? Whose Justice?
4. How can we avoid the lowest common denominator? It prohibits but can’t command.
So what we can we do?
1. Admit we are not God.
2. Get the real issues straight.
3. Be more humble about ethical issues.
4. Connect “absolute” to character more than to actions.