Moral Absolutism Versus Moral RelativismFebruary 22, 2013
We live in a world of moral tensions. These moral tensions stem from competing worldviews. There is no place where moral tensions are higher and more pronounced than the "halls of academia" (our universities). The clash is between moral absolutism and moral relativism. There are some in the academic circles, who are staunch proponents and exponents of moral relativism. Therefore, it is important to clarify the issue and give guidance to students, especially Christian students who embrace the Judeo-Christian Ethics in an effort to help them wade their way through the cultural and moral maze. The reason is that some of the university campuses have become antagonistic to the biblical or the Christian worldview. In view of this it is imperative that both returning and freshman Christian students join vibrant Christian organizations in university campuses such as Campus Crusade for Christ and Baptist Student Ministries where their faith can be nurtured and strengthened. Even some of the Hollywood movies and the news media are advocates of the moral relativistic worldview. Therefore, every Christian who subscribes to the Christian worldview should be cognizant and informed of these moral tensions that are rife in the postmodern world and how he/she can address them.
Moral Absolutism is concerned with right and wrong conduct. The absolute is what determines whether the action or conduct is right or wrong. Therefore, from the standpoint of moral absolute, some things are always right and some things are always wrong no matter how one tries to rationalize them. Moral absolutism emerges from a theistic worldview.
Moral Relativism is defined as the belief that conflicting moral beliefs are true. This carries the idea that what you regard as a right conduct may be a right conduct for you, but not for me. To put it another way, "Relativism [insists that] what is true for the individual replaces the search for absolute truth" (Mark P. Cosgrove, Foundations of Christian Thought, 96). "These conflicting moral beliefs may exist in the case of two or more individuals or in different cultures (cultural relativism) or in different historical epochs (historical relativism)" (Ronald Nash, Life's Ultimate Questions, 343).
Moral Relativism is an attempt to undermine the claim that there is an objective moral law or moral absolute that is the same for all human beings. J. P. Moreland has challenged moral relativism in his epic book, Scaling the Secular City, 243). In this book he argues that if relativism is true, then all choices are equally good. If all choices are equally good, then even intolerance toward other beliefs can be morally correct. Why then should anyone practice tolerance (Moreland)? Moral relativism is always about an individual's choice whether right or wrong. The individual determines what is wrong and what is right.
Moral Relativism states that ethics are relative but moral absolutism teaches that ethics are not relative. The moral law is grounded in the very being of God. Moral relativism is based on an individual's decision but moral absolutes have their source outside of the individual. Moral relativism justifies every action of an individual or a group of people. However, had some people not stood up against the moral evil in slavery and abolished the practice, what would have been the story of the United States today? Therefore, an individual, people, group, or a nation that espouses and promotes moral relativism is heading for a dangerous end. The economic tsunami that we are experiencing in the United States today can be linked to the danger of moral relativism. When a scholar is groomed in one of the Ivy- league and prestigious Universities of our land and his heart has not been transformed by the supernatural power of the Gospel of Christ, we have in our hands an intellectual whose mind is full of knowledge, but whose heart is left untouched and unregenerate. There is no telling what greed and evil such a person can cleverly orchestrate at the expense of the majority of people. History is replete with the demise of empires, nations, and individuals whose practice of moral relativism led to their disintegration and demise. A typical example is the Roman Empire. If there are no moral absolutes, why have some CEOs of Companies and Corporations in the United States been incarcerated for misappropriation of corporate funds? Why then do we spend millions of dollars tracking drug cartels and drug traffickers and pushers? If moral absolutes have no place in post-modernism why do we spend billions of dollars fighting global terrorists who want to make this world an unsafe place to live? The United States should learn from history and not repeat it. We repeat unsavory history at our own peril.
- Kennedy Ahenkora Adarkwa, PhD.
Adjunct Professor of Evangelism