The Myth of Moral Relativism!

Moral relativism is seemingly becoming the social norm in today’s world. Moral relativists can be heard saying, “As long as you’re happy then it’s okay by me.” Some times they will add the caveat, “As long as you aren’t hurting anyone.” This is done in the attempts to be all inclusive, neutral, to appease everyone while offending no one. But is the moral relativists position valid? I say no. Greg Koukl points out, there is no such thing as “morally neutral ground.”[1]

In the attempts to understand moral relativism it’s sometimes easier to compare and contrast it with the existence of objective moral values. The objective moralist claims that morality relies on universal principles (natural law, conscience). More specifically, as Christians we believe that God is the ultimate source of our common morality. The Christian perspective also entails a moral system, which is unchanging because the moral law giver (God) is unchanging. To the contrary moral relativism claims that morality is not based on any absolute standard. They claim that a persons situation, culture, someone’s feelings, etc. decide what is ethically true or not.

By looking at the arguments brought by the moral relativists we can see how false the position really is.[2] First, while many of the arguments used in the attempt to support relativism might sound good at first, they all ultimately share logical contradictions because they propose the “right” moral scheme. They all profess the one way we all ought to follow and in doing so they subscribe to an objective moral system.

Second, in most cases even the self-confessed relativist rejects the very moral stance they profess. Would the relativist say that a man who rapes and kills his five-year-old daughter should be free from guilt so long as he hasn’t violated his own moral standards? Of course not! You see, the relativist argues that because different cultures have different values, morals are relative to an individual culture.[3] However, it’s clear that the moral relativist is confusing the actions of a person with an absolute standard of whether that action is right or wrong. If the culture of the day decides what’s right and what’s wrong, how could the Nazis have been judged for their actions? Weren’t they only following the cultural normative within that society? But, if murder is wrong universally, and only if murder is wrong universally, were the Nazis wrong.[4] Because they had their own set of moral standards does not change the fact that they committed murder and were wrong.

Moving on, just because people from different backgrounds have different practices of morality doesn’t mean they don’t share a common morality. In fact they do. For instance, pro-lifers and pro-abortionists agree that murder is wrong, their disagreement is on whether abortion is murder or not. Even in this fiery debate, absolute universal morality shines through and is shown to be true.[5]

Relativism is a great book. Koukl and Beckwith do a fantastic job.

There are many whom also say that changes in situations cause morality to change. Meaning, in certain instances actions, which would otherwise be considered immoral, could be justified and as a result judged as morally right. But is this true? When judging an act we look at the situation, the act, and the intention. A good example can be pulled from our legal system.[6] Let’s look at a case of attempted murder. Here, someone is convicted even if they fail to actually kill anyone. In this case the person had intent to commit an act (actus reus in combination with mens rea). We can clearly see that the situation plays a part in the deciding of whether an act is moral or not by setting the context in which a certain moral act is chosen but the situation itself does not make the act moral or immoral.

One of the more common arguments brought by the relativist is one of tolerance.[7] They claim that by correcting someone on moral grounds or telling them their morality is wrong is somehow intolerant. The relativist claims that all views should be tolerated. But again, is this accurate and true? The first thing that comes to mind is that evil should never be tolerated! For example, should the views of a child molester that it’s acceptable to touch and have sex with children be tolerated? I think we would all answer in the negative, even the relativist. It should also be pointed out that the view of total tolerance is self-defeating from the very start. You see, the fact that we should be tolerant has roots in the objective moral that we should treat others equally and fairly.

Ultimately in the absence of objective moral truth there can be no goodness. We are all born with a conscience and we all know what is right and wrong, which can be exemplified by the fact that we all know when someone has wronged us! If I steal your stereo you most certainly know it was wrong, even if I think theft is moral. This is how we all live our lives, expecting other’s to do the same. Many times Koukl has said that it takes really bad philosophy to convince the moral relativist he is right, and we are wrong. In the end “[m]orality grounded in God explains our hunger for justice—our desire for a day of final reckoning when all wrongs are made right, when innocent suffering is finally redeemed, and when the guilty are punished and the righteous rewarded.”[8]


[1]Greg Koukl, “Responding to Relativism” Defending the Faith Lecture Series, (Biola University, La Mirada, CA, 2010)

[2] Greg Koukl, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1998)

[3] Ibid 49-53

[4] Ibid 50-51

[5] Ibid 116

[6] Ibid 107-117

[7] Ibid 154-155

[8] Ibid 170

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