Saturday Topic: Moral Relativism

On Saturdays, we have a Young Professionals Fellowship, where young adults (and maybe mature students) get together and discuss all sorts of topics to do with Catholicism and related issues. The topic for this Saturday was Moral Relativism; a very pertinent topic since it penetrates the New Zealand culture. Here are the notes a friend and I wrote for this session:

What is Moral Relativism?

It is the belief that there is no universal truth which defines morality. Moral relativism proposes that all morals are purely defined in accordance with individuals personal values, society and culture.

Why are people attracted to Moral Relativism?

We live in a very pluralistic culture where it seems like the most loving thing to do is to accept or at least tolerate other view-points, ideas and moral positions. At times it seems arrogant to claim to know the truth when you are simply one view-point among many. Essentially moral relativism holds tolerance to be the practice of humility, especially when opposing other ideas brings conflict and discontent.

"Why can’t we just all get along?" is the catch-phrase.

The world and morality is such a complex issue at times that people feel that they simply don’t have the capacity to know the moral truth, especially when presented with many differing view-points. Since there are so many to choose from, then they are no more likely to choose one moral position than another and may despair of there being any true moral position.

A third reason is that people often do not like being told what is right and wrong for themselves. Having a moral relativistic position allows them to believe anything without the threat of having to conform to any "imposed" values.

Are you a moral relativist?

Have you ever found yourself saying something like: "well I believe it’s wrong but I can’t impose my beliefs on another person?" Or perhaps "that was wrong back in the dark ages but it’s the 21st century now, people are more enlightened!" If so, you may be a moral relativist! SHOCK HORROR.

What’s wrong with moral relativism?

Peter Kreeft (in his audio lecture Refutation of Moral Relativism) states that it is, "merely the most single issue of our age, for no society in all of history has ever survived without rejecting what I’m about to refute".

Most relativists are unlikely to fully realise the horrific implications of their view point. Let’s think about the consequences; what does it mean to say that morality is relative? It means that there is no right or wrong, really, it’s all about opinions. Morality is relative to societies and cultures and therefore changeable; it is not to an absolute. What consequences does this philosophy produce? Taking this view to its logical extreme (extremes are good at demonstrating full implications), a good example is the recently formed Dutch political party consisting entirely of pedophiles, which exists to promote "a cut in the legal age for sexual relations from 16 to 12 and the legalisation of child pornography and sex with animals". From a relativistic point of view, it only seems immoral at the moment, not because it’s wrong per se but because it’s "the accepted morality of the time". If enough people vote the party in, and their proposals become law, that’s the new social/cultural standard, and those depravities would eventually be as socially acceptable as sex before marriage presently is.

What is the Catholic position?

Against this, the Church’s stance can be summed up by then Cardinal Ratzinger’s (now the present Pope Benedict XVI) statement, "Truth is not determined by a majority vote". The Church claims that there is an objective standard from which we can say "there is right and wrong".

A massive propaganda campaign can manipulate the popular culture toward advocating most depraved ideologies, and we have seen this happen in Nazi Germany, but it cannot turn wrong into right. In fact, evil can only use what is good in itself and pervert it, because everyone has some idea of moral absolutes: no society or culture advocates injustice, lying, betrayal, rape, murder or genocide as good in themselves, or charity, justice and truth as evil in themselves. Evil can only use what is good, and mix it with what is not, to create what seems acceptable; the poison apple.

What evidence are there for existence of an absolute?

Relativistic statement that "there is no truth" contradicts itself, since if there is no truth then that statement itself cannot be true either. So absolutism turns out to be inescapable in any position.

Natural Law, which is the teleological (that is, intended) order inherent in creation. Thus, things like diseases and psychological illnesses can be recognized as disorders, since these impede the design and the intended purpose of the body and mind. Similarly, moral conduct can also be evaluated from this objective basis. Homosexuality, for example, is a disorder since it violates the purposes of sexuality, which are unity and procreation, both of which are disallowed in their biological design.

If moral relativism is true, debating morality would be equally as trivial and ridiculous as arguing over preference of colours: "I like this colour", "oh that’s so wrong!".


4 thoughts on “Saturday Topic: Moral Relativism”

  1. BTW can you see any benefits in have an ‘absolute’ morality than being able to lecture other people on their conduct? Does it stop old Catholic priests from molesting small children?

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