Moral Relativism – Does It Work On A Personal Level?

Moral Relativism holds the view that there are no absolute standards of right and wrong. Moral choices are made at the time dependent on the culture one is in or the situation one is in.

meadow-680607_640 Photo by geralt. Courtesy of Pixabay.

Moral Relativism began to be taught in some of our schools and universities in the 1980’s. Some have come to believe in Moral Relativism and we see that played out in scenarios where people justify and rationalize their actions based on what they want to do at the time. We also see it displayed where people choose to do wrong because they believe that”the ends justify the means.” After all, it’s all relative!

As a belief system Moral Relativism has its flaws. If one follows it on a personal level, it begins to break down rather quickly. A Moral Relativist may believe that it is okay to lie to a teacher about not turning in his homework if it will help him get a better grade. He may steal money from a friend because he believes he needs it more than his friend. He may sleep with a friend’s wife because it feels “right” at the time and he will excuse his actions based on his belief system. 

The Moral Relativist may justify his actions to himself but will react quite differently when these actions are perpetrated against him. Have you ever seen a Moral Relativist react when someone stole his car, slept with his wife, or lied to him about something? He is usually outraged because someone has done him “wrong.” I have not seen one willing to apply his own philosophy to another and accept that the situation is “relative to the other person’s point of view.”

The flaw with Moral Relativism when it is applied on a personal level is that it breaks down when the moral and ethical situations are reversed. No one wants to be lied to, cheated on, or stole from. We all have an innate sense of right and wrong and even if we will go against our own innate beliefs to achieve our ends we will decry another who does us wrong according to our own innate standards.

Whether one wants to believe it or not, we are all born with a conscience. If you watch toddlers, you will see that they know when they have done wrong. There is a look on their face when they lie to you. When they steal a cookie they instinctively hide in order to eat it. They know if they hurt another they have done wrong. Small children feel guilt when they have violated their own conscience.

Whether one wants to believe it or not, there are universal moral laws and they are placed inside of us by our Creator. People of all cultures know that lying, stealing and murder are wrong. No matter what their religious beliefs or ethnicity, there are universal standards of morality written into each human being. Those standards when broken cause us to feel guilt because our conscience tells us we have done wrong.

(for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or excusing them) Romans 2: 14-15

Waiting to Get Fired!

I was working at a legal office when one day several Native Americans came in. They wanted to get their tribe reinstated as they had signed a treaty with the federal government decades before terminating their rights. They needed legislation drafted and prepared to take back to Congress in Washington D.C. They offered to have one of their members work at the office to help with the documentation for the legislation. 

I was asked to work with Bob. He was 6′ 3″ and weighed about 275 pounds. He was an imposing figure as he rode up on his motorcycle with his long black curly hair. He looked like someone you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley unless he were on your side. He was very intelligent and had a sense of humor to die for. They assigned us an office to work in.  Bob was supposed to obtain the legal documents, i.e. treaties, etc. and I was supposed to help write the tribal history and insert the legal documentation necessary to support the legislation.

Bob and I worked together for several months. We were about finished with our work and the attorneys were almost ready to take everything back to the Congress in order to introduce the legislation to reinstate the tribe. Everything was going well when some people showed up and wanted to talk to one of the attorneys about the case. 

I was alone in the office when one of the attorneys came in. He looked at me and asked me to draft up several affidavits for the people to sign. He told me what the affidavits were supposed to say. I told him that that wasn’t right and that the affidavits would not be true. He looked at me and said, “Just do it!”angry-man-274175_1280

I was stunned to say the least. I knew the affidavits would not be true and that to draft them up and then witness them would be fraudulent. I thought about it for a few minutes and made a decision. I was not going to draft them up. Period. There were several reasons for this decision: 1. It would be ethically wrong. 2. It would be legally wrong. 3. It would destroy the credibility of the case as the affidavits would obviously be fraudulent. At that point, I was just waiting to get fired. This particular attorney had a bad temper and would brook no insubordination.

So, I did the only thing that made sense at the moment; I got a cup of coffee and started reading a book. After all, no use working on anything else as I was on my last few minutes for the firm. I was well into the first chapter of my book when the lead attorney for the case arrived back at the office. He saw me sitting there idly reading my book and came into the office. “What are you doing?” he asked. I said, “I’m waiting to get fired.” I then explained what had happened. He left the office and talked to the attorney who had given me orders to create the fraudulent affidavits. A while later he came back and said, “You can get back to work,” which I assumed was code for “You’re not fired.”

I took a risk that day. I made a decision that was going to cost me my job. I was pregnant and the firm paid for my health insurance. I lived in a small town and there weren’t a lot of good jobs available. It would be hard to find another one if I had been fired from this job. Because of God’s grace, I did not have to pay a high price for my convictions.

There is always a cost if you follow your convictions. Jesus advised us in Luke 14 to count the cost when making a decision. Sometimes the cost isn’t too high, at other times it is. It is important to take the time to count the cost when making an important decision.

Bottom line for me: having a clear conscience, being able to sleep at night and look myself in the mirror in the morning is worth the cost. What about you? Have you had to pay a high price for your convictions? How did it turn out?