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Moral Relativism Post Modernism Tolerance

In Apologetics, Chrisitian, Christ, Christian, Christianity, Satan, Saved, Sin, Sunday School, Trinity on March 5, 2010 at 5:34 am

So what is Moral Relativism and why all the discussion on truth? How can we distinguish between relativism and the absolute truth? Haven’t we been told we can’t know truth and since we can’t know truth why do we even bother trying to identify it? As long as we live a good life, don’t hurt others and take care of the poor isn’t that enough for God? After all we work such long hours, and then the family takes all the rest of our time: who has time for such trivial issues as truth and relativism. These matters are best left to the intellectual crowd, the professors and preachers they deal with this stuff. Does this sound like the answers we hear and use when confronted by the seeming decay of our society? More than once has somebody commented “things are getting worse and I don’t know why”. Hopefully we can shed a little light into that vast dark world of reality.

C. S. Lewis said, “We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

Origin- Morality- Purpose- Destiny

These four pillars form the foundation for a world view. On top of the pillars we deal in three “ologies”: Ontology- What is. Epistemology – How you know it is true. Axiology- How it impels you to live.

Before we can discuss morals and its mortal enemy relativism we need to review several fundamental ideas that establish our ability to think about truth and non truth. Beginning with a definition of a world view: A set of beliefs that underlie and shape all human thought and action, it’s not whether you have a worldview. But whether the world view you are living by is a good one. How do we know and how can we tell? By applying some truth standards we can determine if our thinking, actions and speaking are truthful. We begin with correspondence and coherence as the rational starting point for truth. Correspondence and coherence are incontrovertible methods of establishing truth in a court of law. To support this view of truth we use the four laws of logic.

  1. The Law of Identity: An object is identical to itself.
  2. The Law of Non-contradiction: Two contradictory statements cannot be true in the same sense at the same time.
  3. The Law of Excluded Middle: Just because two things have one thing in common does not mean they have everything in common.
  4. The Law of Rational Inference: Inferences can be made from what is known to what is unknown.

The largest factor in making our day to day decisions is assumptions and presuppositions. Based on this foundation we live out our day to day existence with people who violate these basic premises for truth and logical behavior. We hear it in everyday conversations with statements like “that’s true for you but not for me” “personally I disagree with abortion but I support a woman’s right to choose” “I’m really glad you found something that works for you”. Nonsensical statements that on the surface tend to sound intelligent or morally neutral but at their heart destroy the very fabric of morality. The claim that truth is relative might be understood in two ways. Either truth is relative to time and space (it was true then, but not now), or it is relative to persons (true for me, but not for you). On the other hand, absolute truth implies two things: (1) that whatever is true at one time and in one place is true at all times and I all places, and (2) that whatever is true for one person is true for all persons. Absolute truth doesn’t change. (From When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences Ronald Brooks and Norman L. Geisler)

Moral Relativism – Has many different meanings since the idea itself is relative (who knew).

In 1947, on the occasion of the United Nations debate about universal human rights, the American Anthropological Association issued a statement declaring that moral values are relative to cultures and that there is no way of showing that the values of one culture are better than those of another.

Moral relativism is a widely held position in the modern world, though it is very selectively applied. As with other forms of relativism, it is only mentioned in a purely defensive way. The principles of moral relativism can only be used to excuse or allow certain actions; they can never be used to condemn them. Moral relativism takes several different forms, from utilitarianism, evolutionism and existentialism to emotivism and situationism. All of these, for the most part, share a single unifying theme: that absolute morals do not exist, and what is “right” or “wrong” is entirely a product of human preference.

And in these United States we say we firmly believe that truth and morality are relative while simultaneously decrying the absence of virtue and the rise of incivility. We take pride in our tolerance, yet tolerate no one who doesn’t share our moral open-mindedness. (Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl)

This brings me to the primary doctrine of relativism “tolerance”. First the definition from the New Oxford American Dictionary- showing a willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not agree with. I would add with respect and dignity to that individual as well. How does the definition compare to the reality of its use in the present culture. If we disagree with the current politically correct (cultural Marxism) understanding of an issue we are considered “intolerant” yet if we practiced the true truth of tolerance we would have thoughtful, rational discussion regarding the many views of a particular issue. For example thinking people from many cultures see racism as a devastating social behavior when based on skin color yet will practice that same behavior when on social outings will stand in a line to gain entrance to event that only allows certain “styles and types” of people based on subjective criteria. The most oblivious example the club crowd, it seems everyone wants to be part of the “beautiful people”. How can we decry racism on one hand and yet practice it with glee on the other. I think it was best said: Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue. “Francois de La Rochefoucauld”. The battle for our culture is waged on the forefront of tolerance being redefined so as to be meaningless. This comes from a morally relative understanding of right and wrong as its foundation. In his best-selling book The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom writes: “The relativity of truth for college students in American culture! Is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate, the condition of a free society, or so they see it…. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all. The students, of course, cannot defend their opinion.   It is something with which they have been indoctrinated….”‘

PC (cultural Marxism) assumes moral relativism in most of its manifestations.’  Indeed, much of PC (cultural Marxism) thinking has been influenced by another form of relativism, epistemological relativism. The word epistemology refers to one’s view or theory of knowledge-one’s explanation of how human beings come to know things. Epistemological relativism sees knowledge as relative, and objective truth as nonexistent. To believe in objective truth, in contrast, is to affirm that some claims about the world are true or false regardless of what others perceive to be true.

To underscore the destruction this kind of thinking is having we only need to look inside our places of worship and see the devastation that is taking place in our congregations. Francis Shaffer and others in the sixties were prophetic in their writings concerning this generation. If we start with his line of despair example and trace its impact we arrive precisely where we are today. We believe the truth to be objective or “out there,” not subjective or “in here.”

Subjective truths are based on internal preferences and change according to our whims. Objective truths, in contrast, are realities in the external world that we discover and cannot be changed by our internal feelings. External facts are what they are, regardless of how we feel about them. “It’s true for me [the subject] if I believe it.” Living lower story lives we attempt to convince ourselves its upper story living to loosely paraphrase Shaffer. Moral relativism teaches that when it comes to morals, that which is ethically right or wrong, people do their own thing. Ethical truths depend on the individuals and groups who hold them. Minimally, moral absolutism holds that a moral rule is true regardless of whether anyone believes it. “It can’t be created by personal conviction; nor does it disappear when an individual or culture rejects it”. This quote from (Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl) states an almost creedal epitaph regarding truth and morality.  We don’t invent morality; we discover it like we discover multiplication tables. Classically, moral systems have had at least three characteristics.’

  • First, morality has been viewed as a supremely authoritative guide to action,
  • Second, morality includes a prescriptive code of conduct
  • Third, morality is universal. Moral rules are not arbitrary and personal   but are public

Relativism, however, rejects all universal moral rules and abandons the idea of oughtness.

Thus the first reason relativism does not qualify as an ethical viewpoint   is that the “morality” of relativism is no different than having no morality at all. In this post modern culture we think with our eyes and reason with our emotions. It seems we determine right and wrong based on our mood at the moment. If we stopped here and left the information as we have stated it our next action ought to be “where is the Kool Aid”.

Did we mention we have a reason for hope? Has it been presented there is reason to believe the Bible based on the evidence we have available to us? How in the world can we posit an objective moral way of thinking, living and acting? How do we as Christians who believe in most absolute of moral values defend our faith, stand on our convictions and engage our culture. Where do we start and what is the contact point. We start where GK Chesterton suggested in this story. The London paper had a story line that decried the all the ills in society at that time and wanted to know who was to blame. He is reported to have written a letter to the editor as follows: Dear Editor, I AM yours truly GK Chesterton. The moral of the story we start with ourselves and work outward. Not in a morbid narcissistic egotistical and self centered view, there is enough of that in the world already. How does your view align with the Scriptures? We can’t communicate a view we don’t hold or support. Have we drifted from the very safe harbor of truth to the tempest of post modernism? Did we somehow create the fantasy of moral neutrality that has never existed?

Let’s start with worldview

Your worldview is not what you see; your worldview is what you see with.

Four common elements in the structure of belief systems:

1. A background theory about the world;

2. A basic diagnosis of the nature of human beings;

3. A diagnosis of what is wrong with us;

4. An answer for putting it right.

Stephen Covey: “We see the world not as it is but as we are.”

James Sire on worldview:

“A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.”

A worldview is a total explanatory system —A worldview is a description of reality

(Col 3:5-10 ESV)  Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

C. S. Lewis: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see.”

This begins the foundation of our world view and how we are to conduct ourselves and test our views against the demands of truth. When we begin to live in obedience to the truth we run into those in our lives placed there by God to engage, challenge, encourage and disciple. People are looking for community and a sense of belonging. The community that the personal God who is there designed for us through His Son Jesus the Christ is the church. We have the truth, the life and the way. Overcoming the obstacles  the enemy sets in front of us involves our willingness to confront  the half truths, misunderstandings and lies with a coherent strategy that reveals the “wrong headed and heartedness” we encounter. From Greg Koukl tactics for addressing moral relativism with someone you are engaging:

Three Tactics for Addressing Relativism

A. Show How Relativism Commits Suicide

1. Example: Someone say, you shouldn’t force your morality upon me.

2. Reply: “Why not?” They will in turn push their morality upon you.

B. Press the Person’s Hot Button (“Taking the Roof Off’)

1. Push the relativist’s particular moral concern by relativizing it.

2. This forces the relativist to see that s/he really holds to an objective standard.

C. Force the Tolerance Issue

1. If tolerance is a virtue, then it makes sense only in a world in which objective morals exist.

Extension: Using This Approach to Shift the Conversation to God

A. Relativism fails, and objective morals exist.

B. Then, what is a moral law? It is not, e.g., something testable by science.

C. Further, why do moral laws exist?

D. Why ought we to obey them?

E. Best answer: There is an objective moral lawgiver. This lends itself to the use of important Bible verses.

Seven fatal flaws of Subjectivism, this is the most deeply entrenched kind of relativism.

a. We should use an appeal to moral intuitions to show these flaws.

(1) These moral truths are known directly and immediately.

(2) Once you understand the concepts, you simply see that the position is wrong.

(3) Examples: murder is wrong; torturing babies for fun is wrong, etc.

(4) These are clear-cut examples of moral truths, and the burden of proof should be on the person who denies them.

b. Flaw # 1: If morality is relative, then relativists can never say something is wrong (i.e., in itself). That is to say, they cannot claim something is intrinsically or objectively wrong for all people.

c. Flaw # 2: Relativists cannot complain about the problem of evil.

(1) When raised as a problem for belief in Christianity, people intend this to mean that evil really exists in the world.

(2) But, to be consistent, evil must be relative to individuals.

(3) Yet, examples like Columbine High School in Littleton, Co., are clear cases of real evil.

d. Flaw # 3: Relativists cannot place blame or accept praise.

(1) We praise people like Mother Theresa for doing truly good things, not simply if she did what we happen to like.

(2) But on relativism, there is no objective goodness or badness.

(3) Praising or blaming another is to make a moral judgment.

(4) But, on this view, there is nothing for which to praise or blame another.

e. Flaw # 4: Relativists cannot claim anything as unfair or unjust.

(1) These concepts are normative, too, and presuppose a universal standard.

(2) But they make no sense if morality is relative to individuals.

f. Flaw # 5: Relativists cannot improve their own morality.

(1) Example of bowling: you can improve your bowling score when you have a standard against which you can measure your performance. 300 is a perfect game the standard.

(2) But here, there is no such standard, if relativism is true.

(3) Individuals can change their morality, but that does not solve this problem.

g. Flaw # 6: Relativists cannot have meaningful moral discussions. (1) If there is no such thing as a common good, then such discussions (e.g., in politics) are meaningless.

h. Flaw # 7: Relativists cannot promote the obligation to be tolerant. (1) Tolerance makes sense only if it is an objective moral truth.

(Rom 1:18-20 ESV)  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Finally sharing the Gospel that leads to repentance and salvation: In closing I want introduce the Jesus of the Bible. He claimed to be God in the flesh living on this earth as one of His creatures. God gave us His law to live by and we disobeyed it. Let’s examine just a few quickly:

Do not lie- have you ever told a lie even a white lie or a small deception? The law says we have broken it and we are liars. The judgment for lying:  (Rev 21:8 HCSB)  But the cowards, unbelievers, vile, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars–their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Do not covet- have you ever wanted something so bad you have and would put yourself at finical risk to have it at any means? The law says we have broken it and we are coveters. (Jas 4:2-4 HCSB)  You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask wrongly, so that you may spend it on your desires for pleasure. Adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.

Do not steal- have you ever taken anything that wasn’t yours no matter how small? The law says we have broken it and we are thieves. (1Co 6:9-10 HCSB)  Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: no sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, revilers, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom.

We’ve only covered 3 of the 10 commandments and the pattern is already in place break the commands of God no matter how small and the judgment of God is in place to penalize you. Hell is a real place that real sinners go to when they die.

Mat 10:28 AMP) And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; but rather be afraid of Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Gehenna).

(Mat 13:41-43 HCSB)  The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather from His kingdom everything that causes sin and those guilty of lawlessness. They will throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Anyone who has ears should listen!

(Mar 8:36-38 HCSB)  For what does it benefit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his life?

What can a man give in exchange for his life? For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

(Act 3:19 HCSB)  Therefore repent and turn back, that your sins may be wiped out so that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,

Truth provides a foundation to deal with tragedy!

I would rather be identified as a Christian than called one. In the life of the early church “Christian” was supposed to be a pejorative term used to describe the behavior of early believers. Now it’s a title that is used to justify a way of behaving or misbehaving some sort of social mantle that identifies us as morally superior. I hope to live the former and escape the latter.

Dan Neal

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