Monday, June 24, 2013

Absolutely Relative

I saw this quote, from an article by Rick Moran at PJMedia...
"Morality based on “outcomes”? Isn’t that a classic definition of moral relativism? Obviously, Raw Story believes that this is some kind of triumph for the left, that it’s good to judge moral actions based on how things turn out. Abortion may be an evil but if it results in a woman living a better life, then it is a positive good"
It seems to me that this skirts the issue. Liberals and conservatives, as well as moral absolutists and relativists, all have some stake in outcomes. We need some standard by which to measure the success or failure of the outcome. It is the standard itself that stands as either absolute or relative.

Is it okay to tell a lie? That sounds like an easy one; in fact, it is not. Scenario: you know for a fact, having just discovered it yourself, that the family across the street is hiding Jews in the attic from the Gestapo. Later in the week, you are approached by a Nazi official. He asks you, do you know anyone who is harboring Jews?

Obviously, the correct moral answer is, no sir. Congratulations, you have justified telling a moral lie.

So how can a moral absolutist, like myself, believe that telling a lie can be a good thing?

As Gen. Curtis Lemay used to say, there's a reason for the rules: the reasons are important; the rules are not. The rule against telling lies is less important than the reason behind them.

And that reason is: building and maintaining loving relationships -- the essence of moral law. It does no good to talk about morality without talking about relationships. That's the reason moral law exists. The rules themselves, or at least many of them, can change. However, the standard by which we judge the rules is absolute, as are some of the rules: e.g., love the Lord with all your heart; love your neighbor as yourself. Even when the rules do change, there's still nothing arbitrary going on . Only in service to the absolute love that ought to accompany all of our acts can the rules be viewed as relative. That is our standard: absolute love.

The standard can only be absolute if it is eternal. The existence of the Holy Trinity is the only theology that really supports this -- One God, but in Three Persons, the same yesterday, today and forever. They have had to get along with each other forever; from personal experience, they know everything about maintaining loving relationships.

If our Lord were a monadic God -- one God, one Person -- then, presumably, eons would have passed before He created another soul. During that intervening time, there would have been no relationships, but only a universe of one. Relationships would not be permanent. Moral law would have to wait to be born.

Conservatives believe in an absolute standard because they believe (or tend to, anyway) in the absolute and permanent love of our Creator. Liberals, who tend not to believe very strongly in the Christian narrative, believe in a situational standard. And why not? The liberals' world is a situational world. Evolution put man here one day long ago and some day long from now a supernova will take him away, if our own evil doesn't do us in first. This means moral law is not absolute; it arrived some time after man became self-aware and will vanish when he does. And since everything else is situational, so too is morality.


Anonymous said...

"...there's a reason for the rules: the reasons are important; the rules are not."

Is it fair to say the above idea is simply equivalent to saying the ends justify the means?

Thus, in your example, to save the hapless Jew from the Nazis, a noble cause, then bold-faced lying is justified; indeed called for.

Which is to say, blurting the truth in such a consequential circumstance might perhaps be the sinful thing to do.

Lee said...

To know whether the ends justify the means, I would have to ask, what ends, and what means?

The standard is matching the love of the Lord. Building and maintaining relationships.

The things that build relationships are not relative. Nobody ever left her husband because he was faithful. Nobody ever sued a businessman because he was honest.

In the Old Testament, the Lord saw fit to order King Saul to slaughter the Amalekites, every man, woman, child, and even the oxen and sheep.

Is genocide wrong? What if it's the Lord's will? Could it be that the Amalekites were possessed of a culture so foul, so poisonous, so evil, that love for God's people demanded that they remove every trace of them? Surely we can see a reflection of that in the Nazis.

Lee said...

Believe me, I have thought (to the best my ability) long and hard about all this. I'm no philosopher, nor a theologian, but this is the best I can do.

There is an absolute standard. There has to be. Otherwise, there are no standards at all, but only what we like and what we don't like.

But because there is a Lord in Heaven, It's what He likes that counts.

In Gen. Lemay's analysis of the situation, the Lord's will is the reason for the rules. The first four of the Ten Commandments pertain to God's relationship with His people: no other gods before Him, no graven images, no taking His name in vain, honor the Sabbath. The remaining six pertain to His people's relationships with each other: honor your parents, don't murder, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't bear false witness, and don't covet what belongs to your neighbor.

Jesus summarized them thusly: love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. He even told us to love our enemies.

Good relationships, recognizing His place as our Lord and Master, and our place as His children. That's the reason behind the rules.

How do you love your neighbor? If he's the aforementioned Jew, you don't love him as yourself by ratting him out to the Nazis.

Nazis are hard to love. How do you love them? By putting yourself in their place. But for the grace and intervention of the Lord, we could be as evil as they are. If you were committing these heinous acts, wouldn't you want someone to stop you? You're not loving your enemy if you allow his evil to go unchecked. Sometimes love is hard and tough. Sometimes the only way to restrain your enemy is to kill him, so that he will stop working his evil.