2 years ago: You just call out my name

October 12, 2011, here on slacktivist: You just call out my name

Go ahead and do a Google search on that phrase, or on, say, “moral relativism + apologetics,” and you’ll find no shortage of vigorous denunciations. “Moral relativism,” these screeds and sermons say, is the root of all that’s wrong with the world. It leads to gay marriage, universal health care, progressive taxation, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s why Americans have abandoned God and the gold standard. It’s why kids these days won’t keep off my lawn.

“Moral relativism,” this argument says, erodes belief in moral absolutes, and absolute morality is absolutely necessary.

The problem there, of course, is that such moral absolutes are like James Taylor’s absolute friendship. It works fine if you’ve only got the one friend, but if you’ve got more than that, and if two or more of them require your attention at the same time …

What happens when two or more moral absolutes clash? What do you do?

Well, again, that depends on the situation. But what if you’ve been strictly taught that you must never say “that depends on the situation”? That escalates the dilemma — pushing it from a thorny question to a full-blown crisis of faith. And for those who have been taught to denounce “moral relativism,” such crises are inevitable, insoluble and insurmountable.

I think it’s wrong to put people into that situation — to set them up for such unnecessary and cruel crises. That’s tying up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and laying them on the shoulders of others, while being unwilling to lift a finger to help them. And that’s just wrong.

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  • Hexep

    I thought Socrates settled this with Euthryphro a long, long time ago.

  • Panda Rosa

    The Irresistible Force and the Immovable Object dilemma, And when it applies to humans, God (and Goddess) help us all.

  • Lorehead

    I’m not sure you’re being fair to James Taylor. He promised that “I’ll come running,” and “I’ll be there,” but not how soon or how long.

  • Marshall

    I can’t find any vigorous denunciations associated with “You’ve got a friend”. But hey now, is James singing from Jesus’ POV? An anthem of Universalism? That would attract some denunciationism for sure, but as far as I can tell nobody ever thought of that before.

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    It is, of course, silly to pretend that moral relativism is the hugest problem we are facing for the worst atrocities have been committed by people persuaded they knew that what they were doing is right.

    That said moral relativism is untenable on many levels.
    To always act according to the Golden rule should be considered a moral absolute by everyone.

  • A

    To always act according to the Golden rule should be considered a moral absolute by everyone.

    Oh, no, that’s silly.

    I mean, assuming by the Golden Rule you mean, ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. Because that cannot be a moral absolute because it is inherently relative: ‘as you would have them do unto you’ is relative because people want to be treated in different ways (person A for example might think that life should be a winner-take-all game and therefore want to be crushed underfoot if they lose; person B might think life is a co-operative game and therefore want to be helped out if they lose).

    So claiming that the ‘golden rule’ should be a moral absolute is effectively to be saying that moral relativism should be a moral absolute, which is a contradiction, and therefore the premise must be false.

  • arcseconds

    Perhaps you mean Plato settled it?

    And how do you think it was settled? I must admit, it’s not clear to me how the Euthyphro bears on this particular matter.

  • Hexep

    You know, truth be told, I just felt like sounding smart and name-dropping Euthryphro. I actually have no idea.

  • arcseconds

    Well, just so you can name drop more appropriately in future, the main topic of the Euthyphro is whether good things are good because they’re loved by the gods, or whether they’re loved by the gods because they’re good.

    So you should bring it up whenever someone is grounding morality in God — whatever God wants, is good.

    Presumably that is what the ‘anti moral relativism’ brigade that Fred talks about is doing, so Euthyphro isn’t completely irrelevant in this case, but Fred’s not taking them to task for that in his article, he’s taking them to task for being so utterly rigid.

    (It may also be possible to extract something about moral relativism out of the Euthyphro, but I’m not quite sure how that would go… )

    It seems to me that the issue isn’t really moral relativism either. Fred isn’t a moral relativist as I would understand the term: he’s pretty clearly a moral realist. It’s just that, like any considered moral realist, he thinks what’s right in a given situation depends quite a bit on the situation.

  • Lorehead

    You should also be careful to clarify if you do; the argument that there are many gods who want opposite things is less convincing to a monotheist, but the main argument stands up today.