In our culture today, we have so many relativistic proclamations which claim to promote inclusivity, but often come with the total exclusion of anyone who would disagree:
“Don’t you dare tell me there is any absolute truth that governs everyone or preach that one religion, faith, etc. is any more true than any other… however, here are the foods you should and shouldn’t eat… here are the companies you should love/hate… this is the way you should and shouldn’t raise your kids… the government is corrupt and full of greed, but we need it to enforce (the illusions at least of) equality… we should protect and defend the weak, defenseless, and those without a voice, but abortion is a woman’s body and right to simply choose regardless of anyone else’s belief or influence… we should legalize this and outlaw that… if it’s not hurting anyone else then it shouldn’t be declared wrong, unless you’re contradicting that declaration… leave all religion and faith out of the public square, only “secular” logic and rational proposals should be allowed (even if it has been proven a philosophical impossibility and is a laughable facade of a stance to try to take)… our beliefs are personal and private, so keep them to yourself, unless we agree or you don’t say that I’m wrong…….”
Descartes noted in A Discourse On Method that “there is no idea so strange that some philosopher has not seriously taught it.” Similarly, there is no practice so strange that some society has not legitimized it; for instance, genocide, cannibalism, etc. Nor is there anything so innocent that some group has not forbidden it; for instance, entering a temple with a hat on, or without one. So anyone who thinks values are not relative to cultures is simply ignorant of the facts, so goes the argument…
This idea of “moral relativism” we see so much in our culture today, is basically the view that ethical standards, morality, and positions of right or wrong are culturally based and therefore subject to a person’s individual choice. We can all decide (at least for the most part) what is right for ourselves. You decide what’s right for you, and I’ll decide what’s right for me. Moral relativism says, “It’s true for me, if I believe it.”
One of many examples we see in the news these days comes from the former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Faye Wattleton, describing her view on morality in a piece called Self-Definition: Reality, “… teaching morality doesn’t mean imposing my moral values on others. It means sharing wisdom, giving reasons for believing as I do – and then trusting others to think and judge for themselves.” She claims to be morally neutral, yet her message is clearly intended to influence the thinking of others… an intention that is not, in fact, neutral. Wattleton goes on to argue that each of us should respect another’s point of view, and all views are essentially equal valid; but then she implies that any point of view other than this one is immoral, un-American, and tyrannous. If you disagree with Wattleton’s position that all points of view are equally valid, then your point of view is not valid. This argument commits logical suicide; it simply self-destructs.
“Moral relativism” can also be understood and classified as a worldview. In such a view, we are to determine for ourselves which position to hold where morality is concerned, we must first determine what we believe about the origin of life. Do you believe life evolved, unguided out of some form of nothingness, or do you believe life was created by some greater being, deity, uncaused cause, prime mover, alien or alien race, some god, a few gods, a multitude of gods, etc.?
Evolution and moral relativism go hand-in-hand for the most part; evolution teaches that life is accidental, without eternal meaning or purpose. Therefore, anything you do is essentially okay, because it ultimately doesn’t matter after our recorded history ends. If you believe we are created, however, moral relativism cannot ultimately work. Creation implies some Creator. All things created are subject to a set of laws, whether natural or divine. Moral relativism says anything goes (within reason, kind of)… but does it?
The philosophical idea and worldview of moral relativism usually includes these three claims: That morality is first of all changeable; secondly, subjective; and third, individual. That it is relative first to changing times; you can’t turn back the clock. Secondly, to what we subjectively think or feel; there is nothing good or bad, but only thinking makes it so. And thirdly, to individuals; different strokes for different folks. In sharp contrast, moral absolutism claims that there are moral principles which are unchangeable, objective, and universal. Moral relativism on the surface and at first glance can sound so reasonable, so tolerant, and so neutral. But there’s a fundamental flaw in its self-defeating and self-refuting reasoning and logical conclusion.
What is really disturbing in the morally relativistic view is the perpetuated implication such a view is neutral, unbiased, and tolerant, when it is not. Each person is entitled to their point of view, but nobody is neutral. The only place of true neutrality is silence. Instead of trying to perpetuate the idea of some faux moral neutrality, we should speak up, give our opinions, contend for our view, and forfeit any contradictory claim to neutrality.
C.S. Lewis points to the nature of most quarrels and differences of opinion as a clue to what we truly believe. Inherent in those quarrels is a concept of fairness, as in “how would you like it if someone did that to you?” When we make that statement, we are appealing to some kind of standard of behavior that we expect the other person to know about. Where do you think that standard originated?
In his 1796 Farewell Address to the nation, George Washington stated: “… Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. . . . Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle…” And then there is William McGuffey, who once wrote: “Erase all thought and fear of God from a community, and selfishness and sensuality would absorb the whole man.”
“Morality is always dreadfully complicated to a man who has lost all his principles [or moral absolutes].” – C.K. Chesterton
In the midst of all this, Christians often get called hypocrites for their “exclusive” and “intolerant” views… However, a Christian is not someone who is perfect, sinless, or above any correction; nobody in their right mind would ever claim or even think that to be so. A Christian is still human, they are still in desperate need of grace (Ephesians 2:1-10). They are not a finished product of sanctifying grace as long as they’re still breathing (Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 2:11-18). When a Christian says or does something stupid, while they should be held to a higher standard because of the faith and doctrines they espouse, they equally need grace like everyone else. Just because a Christian knows Jesus is God, does not mean they will never fail to live in accordance with that knowledge. The Gospel clearly says the law cannot save anyone, and that is why God saves through grace (Romans 3:21-31, 6:15-23; Hebrews 12:1-15).
In the end though, yes, I’ll admit that the church is indeed a mess. It is a group full of people who are completely jacked up and have some baggage. To even attempt to deny that is to be a liar. Now God has, in His divine plan, put a covering over the church so that we might be protected from the worst of all of this. However, God has never been a big fan of kings. God has never been a big fan of consolidating power into one person or even one nation to rule them all. So while we strive to be a voice of reason and hope in this culture, we must not over assume our role and wander into the delusion that true heart change can simply be facilitated through strict legislation.
The Christian faith cannot be mandated or forced upon people through strict set of rules, laws, and regulations. The book of Habakkuk tells us the story of how God used the Chaldeans to discipline Israel. And if you think about the distribution of power in ancient Israel, the kings were submissive to the prophets and the priests made sacrifices for both of them. In fact, if you remember king Saul, who was it that rebuked Saul and removed his crown? It was Samuel, the prophet. So the king of Israel was told by Samuel, “You have betrayed the Lord. You are no longer king.” Let that sink in. Where in the world does that work? Where does the monarchy established by God then lose his crown by the word of the prophet who then must seek his own right standing before God through the sacrifice of the priest?
You can see this in the triune nature of God, and you see this today in how God ordained the church to function. There is one King and His name is Jesus. He is the Shepherd of the church (Micah 5:4; Mark 6:34; Hebrews 13:20). He is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18). He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). We can see this clearly in Colossians 1:18, “And He is the head of the body, the church.” Jesus is the Shepherd of the Church, and we are graciously called to follow Him.
After all, Jesus told His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments… Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him… If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” – John 14:15, 21, 23b-24 (ESV)
So, we all need to understand and admit there are layers of emotion, motivation, and rationality that everyone has built on top of their principles for their particular worldview. In one sense, this puts us all on a level playing field: there is no neutrality, as everyone has a worldview. In another sense, we must admit to ourselves that not all worldviews are created equal, and each one obviously has different consequences.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not less than an understanding of biblical truths and principles, or simply the correct set of beliefs, but rather it is infinitely more. The truest spirituality, the most humble worldview framework, the real essence of salvation is knowing a Person (John 17:3). As with knowing any person, there is repenting and maturation and work and weeping and rejoicing and celebrating and encountering. The gospel calls us to enjoy a wildly passionate, intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ, and it calls that the core of true salvation and freedom, and the greatest reality.