Morality is at the forefront of Christian and non-Christian life. For the Christian, morality is established by God and is the same for every person in all places at all times. Though the same is claimed by some of the other world religions, there exist millions, if not billions, of people who believe that morality is relative to each person and each culture. These people, by default, are irreligious, or at least ascribe to a religious camp that asserts as such, which is contradictory; I will explain the contradiction later in this article. What I aim to do here is explain the problem with believing that morality is relative and how belief in an absolute morality is the only logical and coherent school of thought.
What Is Morality?
Put simply, morality is a set of principles that determines right from wrong. Each person, even if unaware, adheres and believes in some set of principles that determines what is right, wrong, good, bad, righteous, evil, etc. Every action falls onto one side of the scale, but the scales differ from person to person outside of the Christian faith. Christians believe that God established what is right and wrong and his moral code is an absolute standard, meaning that it exists and people are either in line with that standard or they are not. Actions which align with that standard are understood to be right/good while those which are not aligned are wrong/bad. To a legitimate Christian, morals, though sometimes poorly reflected by some of us, have not changed in the history of the created world and that what was right and wrong from the beginning are right and wrong today.
To the non-Christian, morality is different. In some religions, morality is absolute and determined by that religion’s god, such as in Islam, but that standard of morality is still different than the Christian standard of morality. In atheistic camps, morality, by default, though not always believed to be by some, must be relative to each person or culture in which that person lives. In a worldview that denies the existence of a god or gods, there exists nothing above humanity that would or could determine and establish a moral code; therefore, all acts are morally relative to each person, place, situation, or culture. However, some atheists still contend that morality is absolute while simultaneously denying the existence of an absolute power above humanity that could establish such absolutes. This logically and demonstrably a self-defeating argument, for there are problems that lie in this worldview of which I would like to address.
The Problem of Relative Morality
There are many different flavors of the problem of relative morality, but I wish to explain here the basic foundational issue and give a few examples. First, the foundational issue with relative morality is that the claim to relative morality is actually the expression of an absolute morality. If someone says, “Morality is relative to each person and culture,” they are actually saying that their understanding of morality – that it is relative – is absolutely true, and they have, then, asserted the very thing they wish to deny; they have created a self-defeating argument. That would be like me saying that there is no such thing as an absolute truth; I have, in one breath, denied the existence of an absolute truth while standing upon the foundational belief that my understanding of truth – that it is relative – is absolute.
Now let us examine a culturally relevant example of the issue of relative morality. As the title of this article claims, if morality is relative, the Nazis in 20th century Germany were awesome. Why? Because if morality is relative to each person and culture, then the Nazis established their own morality and therefore their actions in the Holocaust were not evil, but good, because the Nazis understood what they were doing to be good. Most people, thankfully, agree that what the Nazis did to millions of people, not just the Jewish people, was evil, vile, disgusting, and immoral, even though they exist in a culture and time apart from the Nazis. But if you hold to the belief that morality is relative to each person or culture, you, then, cannot, by your own standard, say that what the Nazis did was anything other than what they believe it was; to do otherwise is to contradict yourself.
The Nazis surely thought themselves to be awesome. They were ridding the world of what they believed to be evil, dangerous, and vile, and that, on the surface, is a good thing. However, when one looks at the atrocities of the Holocaust even from an atheistic worldview, one tends to believe that what transpired was not awesome and that the Nazis themselves were definitely not awesome. If one believes that morality is relative, one must also believe that President Roosevelt had no right to invade Germany or even retaliate after the attack on Pearl Harbor because the actions performed by the Axis powers were all morally good in the culture of said powers. But believing that what FDR did in retaliation and for the sake of humanity was a bad thing is both logically and demonstrably false, and therein lies the problem with relative morality.
The bottom line is this: if one believes that morality is relative to each person or culture, one must then also believe that nobody has any right to stand up for social justice, equal rights, or anything that is not understood to be right by the current powers that be, lest that person become a hypocrite and deny that which he believes so much to be true. Though the relative moralist says that the world would be a better place if humanity’s rights were preserved and defended, that end just cannot be realized in such a worldview without abandoning the worldview in entirety.
Thankfully, I have peace knowing that there does exist a standard of morality that was not created by man and that we do have the right to look at the sufferings of this world and do something about them.