Monday, March 3, 2008

Moral Relativism

Pastor Rob asks some questions of his Athiest visitors. The questions are:

- Does it exist (moral absolutes)?
- Is it the same for everyone? Amsolute?
- Is it different for everyone? Relative?
- If moral absolutes do exist, what are they?
- If they do not exist, what are the standards we live by?
- If they do not exist, but there are undeniable standards by which we all live, why listen to them?


My answers:

Are there moral absolutes?
I'm not entirely sure what a moral absolute would actually be. In the sense I think you mean it, I would say there is not such a thing. What was moral to the best of people centuries ago might today be considered immoral by almost everyone today. Slavery for example. Taken for granted as a simple fact of life in the bible is considered abhorent to most people in modern society. In order for something to be a moral absolute, it would have to be considered immoral by everyone in the past, present and future guaranteed. I know of nothing which fits that description. The church of old burned people alive. I can't really think of a more obviously immoral action and this was undertaken apparently with God's blessing. So said the pastors, priests, popes etc. of the day. I doubt even the most fundamentalist, hardline fanatic would suggest that was a good idea now. (least I hope not). Do you believe that God decides what is moral?

Are absolutes the same for everyone?
They would have to be if they existed, otherwise they would not be absolutes.

Is it different for everyone
If this is just refering to morality in general then yes I would say so. Most people in a modern western society probably agree to a fair extent about what is moral and what is not. Murder for example is generally held to be immoral. However, any two people will most likely find some topic that they disagree on. Abortion for example is a great divider.

If they do not exist, what are the standards we live by
I think that morality is instinctual to some extent in people, though to greater or lesser extent depending on the person. Aside from that it is largely a result of social conditioning. Torture and intimidation are actually practiced by God in the bible. Most poeple today think those things are immoral. The laws in a country are a reasonable gauge of how most poeple view what is acceptable and what is not.

If they do not exist, but there are undeniable standards by which we all live, why listen to them? I have always found this a perplexing question. You are treating them (standards) as if they were rules. They are not rules in the hard and fast sense. Most people think it is immoral to cheat on your wife, but you can't be arrested for it. Most people simply don't want to hurt other people. They don't wish to fulfill their own wants by hurtful means. When you see a child in pain, do you need to consult a bible to feel bad about it? When you see a homeless person begging, to you give because you want to help them or because there was a rule somewhere that said you had to? Do you feel genuine empathy towards other people or not. If you do, you need no commandments, if you do not, you are a pitiless person who doesn't understand what morality even is. Commandments would come into use when people generally think a thing is ok but someone or some group wants to force them to behave as though it was not ok.

In most cases we obey rules for two reasons.
1)We agree with the rules and we want to obey them.
2)We fear punishment for disobeying the rules.
As atheists, we do not fear any punishments by God for acting in an immoral way. In general, we don't do bad things because we respect other people and don't want to do bad things. For the Atheist who does want to do bad things, we have laws and prisons. Same goes for Theists.

I expect to be called out on some of these answers...

16 comments:

Lucian said...

Do you believe that God decides what is moral?

Yes. But You should also ponder on the words that say that man is made in God's image; that the Kingdom is inside us, and that the pure in heart are blessed, for they shall see God. (And it's not an extrinsic, random decision either: it's very much part of God: Galatians 5:18-25; 1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16).

The Celtic Chimp said...

Hi Lucian,

Lets assume that God does decide what is moral. What would you do if God decided that something you find morally repulsive is now a moral thing to do?

Would you obey or would you follow your own moral compass?

Lucian said...

The Godhead is immutable and unchangeable (James 1:17). And were He to change, my "moral compass" will likewise change, since it's very much part of Him (conscience is God's voice in us).

The Celtic Chimp said...

Lucian,

On an aside, what exactly does "Godhead" mean?

Many christians are divided over the gay issue and indeed over the abortion issue. If we are simply reflections of God's morality as you suggest, shouldn't at least all christians agree about all moral issues?

If God is immutable and unchangeable (seems a little restrictive for an omnipotent being) then I take it that you consider slavery ok and find nothing reprehensable about a parent killing disobiedient children? Gays and adulterers should be stoned to death?

Lucian said...

Godhead means God. Since this is not the first time I got this question from English speakers, I'm also gonna ask You what made You ask it in the first place. :-?

Regarding people in general, only God is in any position to being fully able to judge us properly, since it is He and He alone that has the power or ability of being sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12).

Our conscience, the conscience of each and any one of us, shall stand boldly on that fearful day, either as our best friend and defender, or as our most dreaded torturer and accuser, for what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 2:11). --> I will not add more to these words; I refuse to judge anyone save myself.

God isn't "doomed" by some unknown superior force to be the way He is; He just is because He freely chooses to be so, and there's no-one above Him to make Him or force Him do anything he doesn't want. (that's one of the reasons He's known as the "I AM").

Regarding punishment, please bear in mind the fact that no parent (not even human ones) say to their children: "if you'll do that, I'll beat you" for the sake of beating their child. The impendings were there primarily to frighten people from ever doing desastrous things.

With this in mind, take a bit of Your time to read Exodus 32:30-35 and John 8:1-11.

Christianity did not come into this world to create human(istic) utopias. The perception of the Messiah as the founder of some sort of utopian paradise-on-earth, and establisher of a so-called Messianic era is prevalent in Judaism. Communism -for instance- was one of such utopias. Its diametrically oposed twin-brother, Capitalism is another. [One failed miserabily at accomplishing its purpose, and then finally crashed, whereas the other one survives unharmed].

Regardless, the Christian vision is such as is recorded in the Gospels, when the Roman centurion comes *personally* and intercedes to Jesus ... not for his mother-in-law (like Peter); not for his daugter (like the Samaritan woman or the leader of the Synagogue) ... but for his own *servant* ! And Christ says to him: "I haven't seen such a faith even in all of Israel !". And in the Epistles, in such places as Ephesians 6:1-9; Colossians 3:18-4:1; Galatians 3:26-29.

The purpose of the Incarnation is the Transfiguration, not Annihilation. ("I have not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it").

The Celtic Chimp said...

Lucian,

So God is right because he has no authority above him? Seems like a poor reason to follow his lead. I am happy to disagree with God if he promotes something I think is immoral. If God told you that peadophilia was a the highest moral act, would you immediately start abusing children? I would suggest you would not because you have built in to you a moral compass fine-tuned over millions of years of evolving as a social species. You realise also that quoting scripture is a non runner. You don't know that God endorces any of that. Isn't there a really obvious explanation as to why the bible contains such dubious morality. It was written by men in a society where this sort of stuff was acceptable. The bible is simply out of date. God, even if there is one, had nothing what-so-ever to do with it.

Lucian, the little "Drama Queen" :p said...

The simple thing that You abhor paeodphilia comes from God, and not from millions of years of evolution, which might or might not have happened. --> Regardless, I'm not gonna debate You on this.

As I've already said, the Godhead is immutable, without even as much as a shadow of change or alteration

The reason that I quoted the verses in question is because You asked "do *YOU* believe that God decides what is moral?" --> and I've simply answered that (my using of Scriptures is obviously due to me being a member of a very specific religion, who believes in a very specific God; and because You brought them up Yourself).

And, as I've told You, our purpose is not to destroy slavery. Nor to install democracy; etc. The Greco-Roman Patricians turned Christian treated their slaves as brothers after the flesh (in Adam), brothers after the faith (in Abraham) and brothers after the spirit and co-inheritors of the Kingdom (in Christ Jesus). Thus, the old-world institution was transformed and transfigured.

Democracy has its obvious horrific flaws such as any other human instituion, being neither good, nor bad in itself [the same goes for slavery also]. It leads to such desastrous consequences as explotation of man by man, and the lack of care for man and neighbour.

The U.S. -for example- has a very huge rate of unemployment of people who DO want to work but can't find where to, and a very high number of beggars about whom no-one ghives a dam` either: men walk right beside them, looking the other way, not giving a shit, not giving a dime, not giving a dam`, taking their money with themselves to their graves (AND WHAT FOR? :-< ), not hearkening to the words of God's Wisdom which spoke so justly and clearly through the mouth of the learned Sirach: Let not thine hand be stretched out to receive, and shut when thou shouldest repay. (Ecclus. 4:31). They harden their constipated hearts even further, turning away from the Light, plunging their price-less souls back into the darkness from which the divine Word once called them out of into existence, giving them life, light and being. :-( And instead of turning around, they only deceive themselves further and further, lying to their hearts, lying to themselves, saying that those that are unfortunate are so because they deserve it, or because they're lazy and don't wnat to work (all of them !?), or God knows what other devlish lies Satan lures them with. :-(

[OK; enough melodrama for one day! Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. (Matthew 6:34)].

Yet the solution to all this lies NOT in that which we see depicted in "Fight Club" (great movie, BTW !); nor in the one we saw implemented ['lo-tek' style] on September 11 (about a week or so prior to my birthday -- hell of a "birth-day present" THAT turned out to be !). The solution -just like with slavery- lies with Christ

The Godhead said...

“Godhead means God. Since this is not the first time I got this question from English speakers, I'm also gonna ask You what made You ask it in the first place. :-?”

Godhead is a bizarre term which for me, has surreal connotations of huge a floating head. I can picture Godhead as a bald, slightly green, translucent, decapitated head shimmering menacingly in the star ship Enterprises main viewer, bellowing commands to the defiant spandex clad Captain Kirk. Or perhaps as the clever illusion in the throne room scene of Frank Baums 'The Wizard of Oz',just before Dorothy pulls back a hidden curtain to reveal the old man pulling the levers and shouting into the microphone.

“Regarding people in general, only God is in any position to being fully able to judge us properly,…”

Unfortunately, since the Godhead tends not to manifest itself in our courthouses and parliamentary buildings, us mere mortals will just have to struggle on deciding laws and judging ourselves based upon experiences and past mistakes.

“Our conscience, the conscience of each and any one of us, shall stand boldly on.I will not add more to these words; I refuse to judge anyone save myself.”

That is a very noble sentiment. I would however refer you to the subsequent comments you made regarding “men walk right beside them [the beggers], looking the other way, not giving a shit, not giving a dime, not giving a dam`, taking their money with themselves to their graves (AND WHAT FOR? :-< )…. ”. This is rather judgmental I feel and therefore inconsistent with your ‘.I refuse to judge anyone save myself’ statement.

Hypocrisy aside, I would make the point that the majority of social charities who specifically care for homeless people recommend against directly giving a homeless person money because of problems such as alcoholism,
drug addiction, mental illness etc. Instead make a cash donation directly to a charity who can process the necessary skills and care to make a difference.

It is not unreasonable to assume at least one of these ‘men who look the other way’ was more knowledgeable than you regarding how to actually help the homeless and so you judged him unfairly. I am sure the Godhead had a peon scribble down a chastising verse or two for people who judge others.

“Regarding punishment, please bear in mind the fact that no parent (not even human ones) say to their children: "if you'll do that, I'll beat you" for the sake of beating their child. The impendings were there primarily to frighten people from ever doing desastrous things.”

Yes, the Godhead does have a very active imagination when it comes to threats to keep his children behaving. Indeed, most thesis relish informing us that we are fallen creatures, being punished for the crimes of Adam. But it seems we have deviated away from the morality of the Godhead as most humans would consider the persecution of a son for the crime of the father rather immoral. Let alone persecution for a crime committed by a great great great great etc grandfather.

“With this in mind, take a bit of Your time to read Exodus 32:30-35 and John 8:1-11.”

The most interesting line in Exodus 32 comes after Moses successfully reasons with the Godhead not to destroy the children of Isreal:-

And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.
Exodus 32:14 [King James version]

“The simple thing that You abhor paeodphilia comes from God, and not from millions of years of evolution, which might or might not have happened. --> Regardless, I'm not gonna debate You on this.”

I agree that pedophilia is a repellent subject to dwell on but I would make the point that in the natural world (ie the animal world), animals do not mate until sexuality maturity is achieved. From this premise I suspect, one could construct an argument that abhorrence towards this act does fit into an evolutionary framework. But to move on and take a slightly less morbid example, consider the case of a brother and sister – in the majority of cases, the brother simply does not feel attraction towards his sister. This is not the result of the Godhead morality as the Godhead generally demands obedience to divine laws which place us into conflict with our lower selves eg “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife”. Despite this dvine law many men covert forbidden women but few covet their own sisters and feel only abhorrence for incest. This is pure evolution theory as the effects of inbreeding very quickly became known to both man and animal and the desire was lost. Yes, I know inbreeding does occur but generally only in the religious deep south of American. Or so popular tv would have us believe.

“And, as I've told You, our purpose is not to destroy slavery. Nor to install democracy; etc. The Greco-Roman Patricians turned Christian treated their slaves as brothers after the flesh (in Adam), brothers after the faith (in Abraham) and brothers after the spirit and co-inheritors of the Kingdom (in Christ Jesus). Thus, the old-world institution was transformed and transfigured.”

Slavery in Europe continued until the 12th centaury AD, well after the fall the Roman empire. I also notice you did not explicitly say what your purpose was?

“Democracy has its obvious horrific flaws such as any other human instituion, being neither good, nor bad in itself [the same goes for slavery also]. It leads to such desastrous consequences as explotation of man by man, and the lack of care for man and neighbour.”

I have already spoken about your example of the 'lack of care for man and neighbour' democracy can lead to. Although I fail to see how that example is specific to democracy.

Lucian said...

I've found myself among these men many, many times in my life, and still do, no question about that. (I wasn't talking about anyone in particular). I gave the U.S. as an example because it's the pillar of democracy in our day and age. I also wasn't prescribing any specific methods for crushing the shell of self-centeredness, self-absorbtion and egotism that many times haunt, and sometimes even take captive almost each and every single one of us: even a math-problem can be resolved in many ways, but the outcome is (or should be) always the same.

And my criticisms, which can never be TOO harsh, of this particular and regretable state of the spirit, to which man damns himself in a very real way, by his own choice, will, and actions, still stands. We have to live with ourselves ... eternally (that was my reasoning). So there's no point in making this harder for us, throwing even more wood in the fire, as it were (we've already done enough harm ... and if not us, then others, and there's enough evil already). Punishment is internal and achieved, not external and imposed ... how I'ld wish this weren't so! :-<

Regarding the fact that democracy not only can lead, but also does lead to explotation of man by man and lack of care towards one's fellow man, is something that I had the misfortune of witnessing personally in the lives of very close friends: one of them was the victim of such cretinous >abuses< for the last year or so. (I don't want to sound overtly melodramatic here, but even I and our other common friends got very ticked off and extremely enraged knowing the shit through which he had to pull through). Well, anyway ... :-<

I also notice you did not explicitly say what your purpose was?

I did: in the paragraph that You quoted from me right above the one which contains this questions.

The way in which we're build does reflect to some extent the Maker. You were talking about instincts or natural law, I was pointing to conscience --> they're not necessarily separate or disjunct.

The point I was trying to make with the example of Moses' known goodness and loving-kindness, and Christ's advise in the Johanine pericope can also be extracted from the parable of the man that sees the needle in his neighbour's eye, but fails -or misses- to see the mast in his own eye: namely that the Law was given for us, to help us better understand our own spiritual and moral state in the light or our own God-given conscience ... not for the sake of judging, or throwing stones at, others.

The Celtic Chimp said...

Lucian,

I gave the U.S. as an example because it's the pillar of democracy in our day and age.

I'm guessing you are American. Only an American would actually believe that. America in it's present day form is a poor excuse for a democracy. President Bush can do anything he wants, he just has to slap the words patriot or freedom on it and away he goes! America must have some of the most insular and biased media around. Renditions, holding 'terrorists' indefinately without charge and government sanctioned torture. Not quite the pillar of democracy I would say. A loud propaganda machine which is only capable of fooling its own citizens.

I know that was way of topic but I couldn't help myself. Just sooooo sick of Americans banging on about the greatest country in the world....etc. etc.

Lvka said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lucian said...

President Bush ...

... has been President for HOW LONG exactly? (America has -willy, nilly- an age-long history: this NOT withstanding her well-known lack of almost any sort of own historical depth, own tradition, and permanent state of identity-crisis).

No, I'm Romanian.

And yes, You're right about Bush: the fact that after 9/11 the U.S. is in such conspicuously tight connections with its former arch-enemy and pillar of oppression is something worth frying a few grey-cells over. It's also curious how, all of a sudden, a certain number of human rights were over night abolished. Same thing happens everywhere in history when war impends: sacrificing freedom for safety. --> Which is OK: I'm a student in engineering, and I know that good engineering is always about the art of seeking out the best compromise. But, in this case, however, this strikes me as a completely unfounded leit-motive [to borrow something over from literature] for unleashing a very questionable hidden agenda. (And NO, I'm NOT a conspiracy-theorist).

And besides: HOW MANY Americans called Lucian have You ever heard of? :-)

The Celtic Chimp said...

Lucian,

And besides: HOW MANY Americans called Lucian have You ever heard of? :-)

Good point :)

The Celtic Chimp said...

Lucian,

And besides: HOW MANY Americans called Lucian have You ever heard of? :-)

Good point :)

Andreas B said...

Have you possibly been inspired to write about moral relativism after reading Sam Harris' book "The End of Faith"? In it he makes a few good points about that.

The Celtic Chimp said...

andreas,

No actually, this comes from a disscusion that was taking place over on pastor rob singletons site. I've linked it at the top of the moral relativism post.

I have read the end of faith, not a bad book. If you like Harris' point of view, there are a couple of great vids on you tube of harris speaking at some event in aspen. If you are interested let me know and I'll drop in a couple of links.