What is moral relativism?

Tyler S. Ramey

Many Christians have unknowingly adopted features of the popular ethic of moral relativism.  It’s often expressed in such statements as, “what’s right for me may not be right for you.”  In a nutshell, basic moral relativism is “a view that ethical truths depend on individuals,” but there is a host of problems with such a philosophy.  First of all, it’s a self-defeating system of thought because it adopts a standard of having no standards in measuring what is right and wrong.  A standard of having no standards?  I trust that the reader will recognize the obvious problem of such a perspective.

Moral relativism stresses the importance of subjectivity—every person should follow their conscience and do what they “feel” is right.  But utilizing a standard of no standards in making moral decisions will often provide unstable results, much the way a house constructed without using a tape measure as a standard will result in an unstable structure. 

A carpenter doesn’t “eyeball” his building materials.  Why on earth are so many folks—Christian and non-Christian alike—convinced that their “eyeballing,” or subjectivity, will provide them with a sturdy moral structure?  Prime examples of such nonsense can be seen in secular humanism’s situational ethics (you know, that lifeboat dilemma in which school children are compelled to decide who should be thrown to the sharks).

Following one’s conscience can cause problems; a host of evil has been accomplished by men who have followed their own.  Of course, if you’re a genuine moral relativist, there really is no evil.  The actions of such despots as Hitler and Stalin were O.K. for them.  They just weren’t right for you.  If one persists in using the rationale behind, “what’s right  for me may not be right for you,” to  justify behavior or ideas, one had better go all the way and give others the liberty of using the philosophy as well. 

A conclusive—though un-Christlike—experiment to perform on a moral relativist would be to punch him in the nose the next time he defends something with “what’s right for me may not be right for you.”  He shouldn’t get mad if you were simply following your conscience.  If you defend your action as being “the right thing to do for you," your point will be made.  However, I suggest simply using the reasoning behind this example to assist the moral relativist in recognizing that even relativists admit there are things which are truly right and wrong for everyone.     

What a mess moral relativism creates.  Such an ethic can't be consistently lived; it’s an unworkable and deficient system of thought that’s really fueled by selfishness and the desire to be free of any moral standards.  As stated above, this is a logical impossibility, for to live by no morals is to adopt a moral of no morals

Think about the mayhem and moral decay witnessed within government, business, education, the family, and the Church.  It seems that everyone has been touched by the detrimental impact of moral relativism.  It has been woven into the fabric of society as people insist on doing what they “feel” is the right thing to do.  Doing what one feels is right is not always a problem if the feeling is measured by a standard.  The Bible is my top pick.

“Think about whatever is true, noble, right, and pure”