Michael Brown & Eric Garner: An Argument Against Moral Relativism

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“Every man to himself.”

“Who are you to judge?”

“What is right for you is right for you, what is right for me is right for me.”

These are the type phrases you hear all of the time in America. All three have one thing in common. What? They each express the view known as Moral Relativism. Put simply, Moral Relativism is the view that there are no moral absolutes. There are no moral facts in the universe to be discovered. Thus, morality is nothing more than that which is preferred by an individual (i.e. ethical subjectivism) or that which is agreed upon by a particular society (cultural relativism). Morality is created, not discovered. This is a clear postmodern interpretation of morality. And this view is quite often trumpeted the loudest by agnostics and more specifically, atheists. In the absence of God (Nietzsche is famous for declaring, “God is dead”), there seems, though there have been attempts (Mill’s Greatest Happiness Principle and Kant’s Categorical Imperative), to not be any fixed reference point by which to ground moral objectivist claims.

All that being said, I believe that the current events in America reveal our morally hypocritical nature. Many of us want to be relativists when it comes to our personal life. An atheist can be because there is no God. A Christian can be by calling into the question the authority of the Bible. But when it comes down to it, when the rubber meets the road and something horrible happens, we all of the sudden operate on the principle that there are moral absolutes. A moral absolute is that which is morally right or morally wrong no matter who you are, what time period you live in, or what society you live in. So let me get to the point.

In the case of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, and in the case of Eric Garner in New York City, NY, one of the things that has come out of all of this is the cry for justice (I am refraining from stating my opinion on the details of the case ONLY for the reason that this is not the purpose of this specific blog) and for people to recognize “Black lives matter.” And interestingly, no one, I repeat, no one that is calling for a justice on behalf of black Americans is saying, “Every man to himself,” or, “Who are you to judge,” or, “What is right for you is right for you.” No! Instead, we are screaming as loud as we can as Americans, “Racism is wrong, no matter who you are or what society you live in.” And, if you do not agree, we do not then respond, “Well, ok then, racism is right for you and wrong for us.” No! We judge, and rightly so. We are prepared to say, “If you are a racist, you are morally wrong for holding this view.” Racism is, from a moral perspective, not wrong because an individual or society thinks so. Rather, racism is wrong because we consider it a fact in the moral fabric of the universe that all people are equal.

Alduous Huxley, a famous author and atheist in the 20th century, wrote at the end of his life that his philosophy of meaninglessness (no spiritual or moral absolutes) was not the result of philosophical speculation. Rather, he chose this philosophy in order to feel justified in doing what he wanted both politically and sexually. Very honest.  I wish we were all that honest.

The last thing I want to say is that moral absolutes, especially absolutes like “Racism is wrong,” point clearly toward both a moral and personal God, both of which is best encapsulated in the Christian message. Why? Fyodor Dostoyevski wrote, “Without God, all things are permissible.” Without God, many argue, as I do, that there is no reference point, no ultimate court of appeal (of course, this brings in anothe set of questions, but that for another time). And not only is God needed if one desires to be intellectually responsible in claiming the existence of moral absolutes, but some of our absolutes tend to point toward the idea that God must be personal as well. “All people are equal” (and the corollary, “Racism is wrong.”) suggests that whomever is grounding these objective moral values is personal, caring, and value-affirming toward humans. The God of Christianity seems to fit the bill more than any other.

So, either claim “Racism is wrong” and admit you are a moral absolutist (which suggests the existence of a moral and personal God) or stop saying, “Racism is wrong.” I believe God exists, the Christian God, and therefore, am philosophically justified in making the moral claim, “Racism is wrong.”

One disclamer: Concerning these recent events, there are more important things to be said. This is a digression of sorts. Nonetheless, I believe it significant.

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