In the twentieth century, the philosophy of moral relativism entered the educational mainstream and became prominent in the cultures of modern Western nations. The moral absolutes that were generally upheld and taught for centuries by the nominally Christian Western world were eroded by this new philosophy. Do you believe in moral relativism…or in moral absolutes?
In the past, the Bible was a significant influence on morality in the Western world. Much of the moral foundation of the British Commonwealth nations, the United States, and the nations of northwestern Europe can be traced to biblical principles upheld by the nations’ founders. Those nations’ laws were influenced greatly by biblical laws and principles. But in the twentieth century, a philosophy emerged that opposed and replaced the teaching and morality taught by the Bible. That philosophy was called moral relativism. As stated in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “In the post-war period, moral philosophers began devoting considerable attention to moral relativism.” It began to be taught in universities, and then in high schools.
Judging by the vast number of books and papers on the subject, the idea of moral relativism in one form or another is a widely held belief. Across this widely held point of view, there is widespread disagreement, although according to this philosophy, those who hold differing views must be tolerated.
This is not surprising in that the central concept of moral relativism is that morality is not absolute—there is no moral authority. Since morality is relative to an individual, group, society or culture, there is no end to the versions and “isms” deriving from moral relativism. Ultimately, each person can have his or her own moral values.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy also states: “Though moral relativism did not become a prominent topic in philosophy or elsewhere until the twentieth century, it has ancient origins.” Ancient Greek philosophers held views that were similar to moral relativism, thinking that there was no absolute moral truth or knowledge.
Even more ancient is the rejection of divine knowledge that occurred in the beginning, in the Garden of Eden. Eve was deceived by the serpent into rejecting the clear instruction of God. Ever since, mankind has been doing what seems right in his own eyes (Deuteronomy 12:8; Judges 17:6, 21:25; Proverbs 21:2). Man took to himself the right to determine what he thinks is good and what is evil.
The problem is that self-determination of what is right or wrong leads to a host of problems and eventually, death. “There is a way that seems right to a man but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). So many of social ills are the result of this self-determination of what is good and what is evil. Judging by the many evils that are in the world, mankind is unskilled and inept at determining what is moral. The wholesale rejection by mankind of the Creator’s determination of what is good and what is evil has led to the results we see throughout mankind’s history.
God gave a moral code, the Ten Commandments, and statutes and laws that define what is right, and what is wrong. He said,“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil… therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live… ” (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19).
Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Isaiah had prophesied of Christ: “He will exalt the law and make it honorable” (Isaiah 42:21). The King James Version translates this verse, “he will magnify the law.” That law, and the entire Bible, reveals the moral absolutes we all need to follow.