I’m a part of a minority of people in my generation that would say that morality as a whole is completely and undeniably absolute and objective. This means there is one way of thinking and acting “right” that is true for every single person. This also means I do not believe that you can just believe whatever you want nor that you can “get to heaven” doing what feels right to you.
Phew. That’s a lot. Now some of you have closed my blog, maybe even blocked it at this point. For those of you still reading and interested in how I could think like this, hang with me for a few more minutes.
To begin, I used to think that morality and the idea of “right and wrong” were subjective, relative truths. That anyone could come up with what was “right for them,” but after lots of reading, discussing, and diving into religious studies, I can conclude that this simply cannot and will never be the case.
The two sides of this argument are as follows:
- Relative Morality = the idea that anyone can believe whatever they like and come up with their own rules of “right and wrong.” No one is wrong, everyone determines what is right for their self.
- Absolute Morality = the idea that there is an objective idea of “right and wrong” that does not change from person to person and there are real consequences for not following that morality.
I take the side of the Absolute Moralist for a number of reasons I hope to outline in this post.
First, relative morality cannot work because it works against itself. If we were to claim that relative morality is absolutely the way that morality works, then you are claiming an absolute truth. In essence you are claiming “relativity is absolutely true” and in that case you are claiming an absolute and the whole idea of relativity falls apart. Now, if you are to claim that relativity is the only absolute, you are now making an ad hoc argument, but nonetheless even if relativity were to exist (I still hold that it does not), it cannot exist outside the confines of a universe governed by absolute laws, once again unraveling.
Second, you may be asking how can I say that there is an overarching law if there are vast differences in law and legalism across the world? Now, I argue that there are not as vast of differences across the world as we assume. Take this example: if I asked you to explain what a yard (measurement) is to someone who was not from America and allowed you to use a meter stick or a spoon to explain it to them, which of the objects would you use to explain it? Of course you would choose the meter stick because it is much closer to a approximating a yard than a spoon and it is used for measurement in the first place. The meter stick is not a perfect representation of a yard, but it is much closer to a yard than a spoon.
The same idea goes for morality. Let us consider this: which is better: Nazi morality or American morality? Obviously, American morality. But how do you know this? Simple, we have an inherent idea of “true” morality to measure the two against. Just like the meter stick, American morality is not a perfect representation of morality, but it is much closer to it than the Nazis were. But in order to say something is “better” than another there has to be a “best” scale to measure it against. Therefore, an absolute morality.
Third, letting everyone believe what they want to believe is not thoughtful, selfless, or honorable. In fact, it is quite the opposite. You see, by denying an absolute morality, we are ultimately saying that we should not care what anyone else believes, it is up to that person. Additionally, we are saying that what others believe does not bother us, should not bother us. Last, we think that other’s beliefs ought not affect our beliefs, just as much as ours ought not affect theirs. This ideology is flawed for a number of reasons. First, it comes from a notion that it’s possible for this conversation to arise in the first place if relativism were to exist. The fact that we’re debating relativism points clearly to a fact that relativism is just a flawed ideology, because if relativism existed, we would not be so concerned about others believing relativism exists. In fact, the moral relativist could go through life wholly disengaged from any topic of morality, relativism, or “letting others believe what they believe” chatter perfectly happy. They are content with having their morality and you having yours because they truly believe everyone can believe what they wish. The absolutist, however, will do the opposite, claiming their idea of morality is absolutely the correct one. The real relativist would not engage in heated debates about letting everyone have their opinion, they would simply not listen, nor give inputs to the debate out of fear and/or understanding that they would be affecting another person’s opinion or belief. But this is obviously not the case. People who claim to be relativists are typically fighting for anyone to believe anything they wish, and therefore saying those that believe you cannot simply believe anything you wish are absolutely wrong.
We must not confuse tolerance with relativity. Tolerance is good, relativity is false. Tolerance says to respect differences in belief while wholly understanding we’re all under the same moral obligations; relativity says to let everyone believe as they wish. Tolerance says to engage as many people as possible to understand backgrounds; relativity says to stay entirely disengaged from backgrounds and beliefs altogether.
Now, if we have established that relativity is not the way the world works, it follows that we have an imperfect idea of what the true, absolute morality actually is. Since we are able to debate this topic, regardless of our beliefs, we can say that some absolute theories of morality are objectively better than others and are therefore better representations of the true morality we inherently feel drawn to. Yet we still have an imperfect idea of what the absolute morality is and therefore we cannot follow it perfectly. So what? Well, I argue that there has to be a consequence to not following the true, absolute morality that exists. For any rule that is broken has a consequence. I should think you’ve felt the weight of these consequences at some point, given that all of our attempts at following this true morality have never once been successful.
To Be Continued.
Recommended Readings/some ideas come from:
Mere Christianity by CS Lewis
Relativism by Allen Wood