Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Moral Relativism

You all know that I am not a smart man, so help me out here.

Having sex outside of marriage is a sin, yes? But apparently, not that big of a sin.

From what I understand, abortion is murder, which is a huge sin. Big time. Not having an abortion qualifies someone to be vice president and definitely overrides the sin of having premarital sex.

But, volunteering to participate in a war of conquest and killing someone (be they combatant, or, as is more likely, innocent civilian) is not murder nor a sin.

Do I have this right? Because, if so, it seems to me that it is fair to say that the decisions one makes are influenced by a particular set of circumstances and what is "right" or "wrong" can depend on those circumstances or even a particular point of view.



Stevie said...

Dave, it's really quite simple. The formula works thusly: WWJD?

And there you have your answer.

You see, Jesus is about love and forgiveness...so premarital sex is cool, because it's an expression of love, and yet at the same time you fucked up, and therefore deserve forgiveness. Especially if you're 17.

Jesus is about life. Choosing not to have an abortion means you are all about life, and therefore, all about the J-Man.

EXCEPT...when it comes to enemy combatants. Then Jesus is about killing in His name to preserve our freedom, one nation, under GOD. And for those so-called "innocent civilians..." meh, collateral damage. That sometimes happens when you are battling for the J-man. Look at the Crusades!
It happens. *shrugs*

Jesus is cool with it.

courtney said...

Not to take it from the framework you have set up, but...just to complicate things:

What about M. Palin stating that if her daughter were raped or the victim of incest, she should bear that child? Is the love or forgiveness for the rapist? So really you can kill our nation's enemies, but not the seed of a rapist.

Don't get it.

wobblie said...

Simple answer: IOKIYAR.

Jhames said...


I’d like to offer a few points in response to your article, and, in particular, your review of moral relativism. To call the Judeo-Christian code of ethics Christianity’s white elephant does not duly articulate its uselessness. Its veneration throughout the Western World, both remarkable and tragic, persists unchecked and without reason. The code employs zero constituents, not for its impossible standards or the flaws of humankind, but for its irrelevance to routine moral dilemma. Let me explain.

Judeo-Christian ethics lives in a box wherein dilemma unfold simply and out of context. You’re in a box, knife in your hand, facing a nameless other. Do you kill or not kill? You don’t kill-- wonderful. You’re in a box, a nameless other asks your name. Do you lie or not lie? You don’t lie-- two for two; this is great. Now consider a more demanding example.

You’re in a box, knife in the hand of a nameless other. He insists, “Pick a number, one or two.” You pick two. “I’ll slit my throat if you chose two. What did you choose?” You no doubt lie, answering “one” to save his life. Let me make myself clear: you conclude that the relative appropriateness of lying hinges on the details governing the situation. Once again, consider a more demanding example.

You’re in a box, knife in the hand of a nameless other and in yours. He insists, “Kill that child at your side or I’ll kill the child at mine.” You say “no” and his child suffers the slow anguish of maniacal exuberance. And once more. You’re in a box, knife in the hand of a nameless other and in yours. He insists, “Kill that child at your side or I’ll dice the 1 million children at mine, and the one at yours.”

It was horrid, but you killed a child that day and saved a million more. In case you’re scheming, let me establish an additional constraint. As the dead child lay at your side, the nameless man says, “You repent your sin, in your prayers or in your heart, and I will shred these kids apart.” You comply; you live; and later you die. Are you burning for all eternity in the depths of Hell? No. Just as before, you recognize that the relative appropriateness of murder hinges on the details governing the situation. Likewise, you expect that God, with His infinite mercy and benevolence, shares your sentiment.

Granted, the box scenario’s a sham, but it highlights an important and inescapable limitation of Judeo-Christian ethics: such ethics only apply to simple, one-dimensional scenarios, free of controversy and free of moral doubt. When faced with a defining moment-- that is, a scenario whose varied solutions each require a wrong and each prevent a right-- Judeo-Christian ethics provide no guidance. The reason you assume your salvation following the last example is because you assume God acts pragmatically, that for the case presented He empathizes with your decision to murder or at least recognizes your intention to glorify Him. This, of course, is the definition and application of moral relativism.

Next, reconsider the final moral dilemma. All else constant, this time the nameless man threatens fewer than 1 million children. Perhaps he garners 5000 children, or 42 children, or 3 children, or whatever number of children between 1 and 1 million for sacrifice. How many children must the nameless man assemble to justify your murdering just the one? I expect there exists a range of numbers of children in which you become ethically torn. And your range might differ drastically from others’. This, of course, is the definition and application of moral ambiguity. Even if you redirect your moral quandary to God, you must recognize that in order to provide guidance, God must act pragmatically (that is, in a morally relativistic manner).

While the previous examples were concocted for the sake of argument, I argue that practically all dilemma we humans encounter conform to this form-- falling within the gray areas where simple right/wrong Judeo-Christian ethics do not suffice. Moral relativism or ambiguity arises not from evil, corruptness, or a discomfort in claiming that someone else is wrong, but, rather, from the complexity and diversity of our societal interactions. Examine the decisions of your life ranging from the most challenging to the most mundane. You’ll find that some degree of pragmatism (that is, moral relativism) was evoked; it is necessary for survival.