Friday, February 4, 2011

Moral Absolutism vs. Moral Relativism

C.S. Lewis, atheist-turned-Christian, came to faith pondering what he called “a universal sense of oughtness.” (Mere Christianity) The idea that in every situation, people tended to think, “There oughtta be a law!” They had an idea about “fairness” and appealed to some standard out there somewhere –though they didn’t necessarily agree about that standard. He noted that some cultures allowed more than one wife, but no culture said men could have any women they wanted —e.g. if they belonged to somebody else. He noted that when there is one seat left on a bus, people would disagree as to who should have it of those getting on –the first person on, the one who had been standing, the pregnant lady, the elderly lady, the crippled man –and so on. But they would all appeal to some notion of fairness about it. He came to believe this moral sense of “oughtness” was evidence of a God programming this sense into our minds. (No, programming wasn't a term when he was writing --I'm neither quoting or paraphrasing here--just repeating the gist of his point.)

Moral relativism is the idea that there is no objective standard for our views as to what is right or wrong, fair or unfair. That everything “just depends...” on the situation (situational ethics.)

The absolutist, of course, says SOME things are beyond debate –that it would always be wrong to murder an innocent. He might say it is ALWAYS wrong to hate, to not forgive, to abort, lie, steal, cheat, rape, have any sex outside of marriage, have sex with your own sex, with children, close relatives, animals –and always wrong to be arrogant and selfish at other’s expense.

Christ resolves the sin issue: “All we like sheep have gone astray; there is none righteous, no not one.”

From the beginning, we are all punished by death for our sin tendencies, preferences, and actions. “the wages of sin is death –but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

We have GRACE (unmerited favor and mercy) from God in the sin-atonement by Christ’s death.

We have direction over both our absolutist views and our relativism –in the command to love –which Christ said is the fulfillment of all the Law. But we are also told to “Go and sin no more,” and be filled with acts of charity. We still are to avoid the sins of commission and omission by following King Jesus.

I confess to being both absolutist and relativistic. Meaning? Take abortion. I think it’s ok for a rape victim to go straight to the hospital and flush out the foreign invasion –before conception is known for sure to have occurred –it could have happened –it could happen a few hours or days after the rape or not at all –at that point, we don’t know. But in no way is the rape God’s will. (I’m not a Calvinist and thus less absolutist than they.) ON the other hand, if there is a conception, and the baby is born, it could be a wonderful person and a blessing to its mother. I do believe God operates in concert with our free will –guiding us, helping us to decide rightly, and ready to forgive when we err and are contrite about it. I don’t believe all things in the future are set in stone –there are Old Testament verses which confirm this dynamic relationship between God and man –where man is not a pawn of fate, but in relationship with free will with God.

Other examples of relativism are lies to protect someone from evil –to hide Jews in your attic as Corrie ten Boom did –and lie about it if asked. Not that she lied ( I don't think she was asked); I would have lied in such a circumstance if it would have prevented the death of my attic-dwellers. I think God would have forgiven that lie without me being terribly remorseful.

"God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and have eternal life."--the Bible


a j foyt said...

The only problem with this blog is the "I believe " rather than plainly saying what God says in His word. The bible is the only thing that matter and the Creator of the world says the way things ought to be. This is the way things are. God will let others do whatever they want and will not force His word and will on others. One day they will see the truth and we pray this will happen.

Barb said...

Hi A J Foyt -- Don't think I ever saw this. I used to get notification in my email box --but I think I lost that when I changed addresses and will have to update somewhere. There is a lot about the Bible that gets interpretation and I surely try to be faithful to the Word in my beliefs.