7 Deadly Flaws of Relativism

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“Seven Fatal Flaws of Moral Relativism”

BY GREG KOUKL

Moral relativism is a type of subjectivism which holds that moral truths are preferences much like our tastes in ice-cream. Moral relativism teaches that when it comes to morals, that which is ethically right or wrong, people can and should do what ever feels right for them. Ethical truths depend on the individuals, groups and cultures who hold them. Because they believe that ethical truth is subjective, the words ought and should are meaningless because everybody’s morality is equal; no one has a claim to an objective morality that is incumbent on others. Relativism does not require a particular standard of behavior for every person in similar moral situations. When faced with exactly the same ethical situation, one person may choose one response while another may choose the opposite. No universal rules of conduct apply to everyone.

Flaw 1

Moral relativists can’t accuse others of wrongdoing. Relativism makes it impossible to criticize the behavior of others, because relativism ultimately denies such a thing a ‘wrongdoing’. If one believes that morality is a matter of personal definition, then you surrender the possibility of making objective moral judgments about the actions of others, no matter how offensive they are to your intuitive sense of right or wrong. This means that a relativist cannot rationally object to murder, rape, child abuse, racism, sexism or environmental destruction if those actions are consistent with the perpetrator’s personal moral understanding of what is right and good. When right and wrong are a matter of personal choice, we surrender the privilege of making moral judgments about the actions of others. However if we are certain that some things must be wrong and that some judgments against another’s conduct are justified – then relativism is false.

Flaw 2

Relativists can’t complain about the problem of evil. The reality of evil in the world is one of the first objections raised against the existence of God. This entire objection hinges on the observation that true evil exists. Objective evil cannot exist if moral values are relative to the observer. Relativism is inconsistent with the concept that true moral evil exists because it denies that anything can be objectively wrong. If there is no moral standard, then there can be no departure from the standard. Thus relativists must surrender the concept of true evil and, ironically, must also surrender the problem of evil as an argument against the existence of God.

Flaw 3

Relativists can’t place blame or accept praise. Relativism renders the concepts of praise and blame meaningless, because no external standard of measurement defines what should be applauded or condemned. Without absolutes, nothing is ultimately bad, deplorable, tragic or worthy of blame. Neither is anything ultimately good, honorable, noble or worthy of praise. Relativists are almost always inconsistent here, because they seek to avoid blame, but readily accept praise. Since morality is a fiction, so too relativists must remove the words praise and blame from their vocabularies. If the notions of praise and blame are valid, then relativism is false.

Flaw 4

Relativists can’t make charges of unfairness or injustice. Under relativism, the notions of fairness and justice are incoherent as both concepts dictate that people should receive equal treatment based on some agreed external standard. However relativism does away with any notion of external binding standards. Justice entails punishing those who are guilty of a misdemeanor. But under relativism, guilt and blame do not exist – if nothing is ultimately immoral, there is no blame and therefore no guilt worthy of punishment. If relativism is true, then there is no such thing as justice or fairness because both concepts depend on an objective standard of what is right. If the notions of justice and fairness make sense, then relativism is defeated.

Flaw 5

Relativists can’t improve their morality. Relativists can change their personal ethics, but they can never become better people. Under relativism, one’s ethics can never become more ‘moral’. Ethics and morals can change, but they can never improve, as there is no objective standard to improve against. If, however, moral improvement seems to be a concept that makes sense, then relativism is false.

Flaw 6

Relativists can’t hold meaningful moral discussions. What’s there to talk about? If morals are entirely relative and all views are equal, then no way of thinking is better than another. No moral position can be judged as adequate or deficient, unreasonable, acceptable, or even barbaric. If ethical disputes make sense only when morals are objective, then relativism can only be consistently lived out in silence. For this reason, it is rare to meet a rational and consistent relativist, as most are quick to impose their own moral rules like “It’s wrong to push your own morality on others”. This puts relativists in an untenable position – if they speak up about moral issues, they surrender their relativism; if they do not speak up, they surrender their humanity. If the notion of moral discourse makes sense intuitively, then moral relativism is false.

Flaw 7

Relativists can’t promote the obligation of tolerance. The relativist’s moral obligation to be tolerant is self-refuting. Ironically the principle of tolerance is considered one of the key virtues of relativism. Morals are individual, so they say, and therefore we ought to tolerate the viewpoints of others and not pass judgment on their behavior and attitudes. However, if there are no objective moral rules, there can be no rule that requires tolerance as a moral principle that applies equally to all. In fact, if there are no moral absolutes, why be tolerant at all? Relativists violate their own principle of tolerance when they fail to tolerate the views of those who believe in moral objective standards. They are, therefore, just as intolerant as they frequently charge the moral objectivist of being. The principle of tolerance is foreign to relativism. If, however, tolerance seems to be a virtue, then relativism is false.

The Bankruptcy of Relativism

Moral relativism is bankrupt. It is not a true moral system. It is self-refuting. It is hypocritical. It is logically inconsistent and irrational. It is seriously undermined by simple practical examples. It makes morality unintelligible. It is not even tolerant! The principle of tolerance makes sense only in a world in which moral absolutes exist, and only if one of those absolute standards for conduct is “All people should respect the rights of others to differ in conduct or opinion”. The ethic of tolerance can be rational only if moral truth is objective and absolute, not subjective and relative. Tolerance is a principle at home in moral absolutism and is irrational from any perspective of ethical relativism.

People are drowning in a sea of moral relativism. Relativism destroys the conscience. It produces people without scruples, because it provides no moral impulse to improve. This is why we don’t teach relativism to our children – in fact, we labour to teach them just the opposite. Ultimately, relativism is self-centered, egoistic and hypocritical. “Doing our own thing” is fine for us, but we don’t want others to be relativists. We expect them to treat us according to an accepted moral standard.

“I have freed Germany from the stupid and degrading fallacies of conscience and morality… We will train young people before whom the world will tremble.” Adolf Hitler

Moral relativism, in a practical sense, is completely unliveable. What kind of world would it be if relativism was true? It would be a world in which nothing was wrong – nothing is considered evil or good, nothing worthy or praise or blame. It would be a world in which justice and fairness are meaningless concepts, in which there would be no accountability, no possibility of moral improvement, no moral discourse. And it would be a world in which there is no tolerance. Moral relativism produces this kind of world.

The late Dr Francis Schaeffer’s remark could well apply to moral relativists, who “…have both feet firmly planted in mid-air.”

*Article above adapted from the excellent and highly recommended book by  Francis Beckwith and Greg Koukl, Relativism – Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air, Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Books, 2002.

Wisdom for Interacting With Relativists

 Fast Facts on Tactfully Sharing Christian Convictions on Controversial Cultural Issues from Christian Ministries International.

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When asked for your opinion on a controversial cultural issue, first ask your questioner, “Do you consider yourself to be an open-minded person who is tolerant of people who hold different beliefs from yours?”

The above question will disarm your discussion partner of ad hominem attacks (calling you names like “bigot”) and force them to engage in a rational discussion of the issue and your beliefs.

  • Explain that all of your personal beliefs as a Christian ultimately rest on three fundamental questions: Is there a God? Has He spoken? And if so, will we obey?

  • Point out that if God exists, and if He’s spoken on a given issue, the only appropriate response from us is obedience.

  • Share what God has revealed as truth on the issue you’re discussing. If your discussion partner protests, remind them that our personal opinions are irrelevant if God exists and if He’s spoken.

  • Offer to examine these fundamental questions with your discussion partner. Continue to point them to the evidence of a Creator who has revealed truth to His creation.

Source: http://gpo.r.mailjet.com/redirect/1pn8t1h8m890hpc6sgndcd/www.christianministriesintl.org/fast-facts/052114/

Book Review – Think Christianly: Looking At The Intersection of Faith and Culture by Jonathan Morrow

Every Christian Should Read This Book!

 I hardly ever read a book from cover to cover in one sitting. I was glued to this book from beginning to end because it is so relevant, so logical, so engaging, so insightful, and most of all – full of practical helps and solutions in penetrating culture with the gospel!

Every once in awhile a book comes along that as a pastor I hold it up in front of my congregation and say, “You need to get and read this book and then give it away – or buy two copies so you can use one as a resource and get another to give away.”

Jonathan Morrow’s book is such a book. I think we are living in as James White says, “Serious Times,” and as such it’s important for Christians to think seriously about how our faith and our influence in culture intersect. In this book Morrow takes on a monumental task – in four idea packed sections he addresses how our faith and culture intersect; secondly, how we can prepare ourselves to engage culture; thirdly, particular areas where we must engage; and lastly, ways our churches can engage in culture, and insight into why we think and act the way we do.

The book addresses issues like science, bioethics, relativism, sexual issues, and the stewardship of creation. There are very interesting interviews with experts in nineteen different areas where Christians are already engaging culture, and how we can learn from their examples (e.g., Craig Hazen, William Lane Craig, Scott Klusendorf, Dennis Rainey, Jay Wesley Richards, Scott Rae, and C. John Collins).

Each chapter has helpful statistics, questions, and insights to help you engage the issues. Also, in each chapter there are recommended books, websites, and DVD’s on the topics and as mentioned above – helpful interviews with experts in the different areas covered.

I highly recommend this book for all Christians who desire to penetrate culture intelligently, effectively, and in a gospel-centered manner. It is absolute MUST reading for college students, pastors, youth pastors, and anyone in church leadership. However, I think every Christian who reads this book will benefit from the plethora of helps offered by Morrow and the resources at your fingertips in this very helpful book. I would also recommend that this book be used in small groups, or in discipleship groups for maximum impact – so that some of the ideas will be put into practice and thus our culture really will be impacted with the gospel.