Moral relativism – the notion that there are no moral truths, and thus “morals” are subjective preferences relative to individuals or societies – is widespread in our day, particularly among the younger segments of society. I would venture to say that moral relativism appeals to so many people because it gives them the intellectual justification they need to engage in their sins of choice. This cheap form of moral justification is not without its costs, however.
While moral relativism is an easy way to justify participation in acts that others consider morally objectionable, it also makes it impossible to condemn the acts of others that one finds morally repugnant. And believe me, every moral relativist has a list of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that they think are morally wrong – not just for them, but for everyone!
For example, one might subscribe to moral relativism because he wants to justify his gay lifestyle, but he is not content to have his own morality. He doesn’t merely wish that everyone shared his preference, but thinks that everyone should share his point of view. Those who have a different morality are not viewed as merely different, but immoral. He boldly proclaims to those who oppose homosex, or those who act intolerantly toward gays are thinking and acting immorally. What he fails to realize is that his moral relativism robs him of the moral currency necessary to issue such condemnations. If there are no moral truths, there is no basis for moral condemnation of any sort for anything. Moral relativism eliminates any basis for thinking anti-homosexual beliefs, attitudes, and actions are wrong. There are no moral qualities to any beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. They just are, and we choose them based on our personal preferences.
If the moral relativist is going to act consistent with his moral relativism, then he must be silent. He has no more right to object to your preferences regarding homosex than he has to object to your preferences regarding ice-cream flavors. Indeed, more than silence is required. He must make every effort to rid himself of the delusory belief that others are acting immoral to begin with! If there are no moral truths, others are just acting – they are not acting immorally. He may not share their preferences, but why should that concern him or them?
Moral relativism comes with a cost. To live out one’s moral relativism consistently requires that they forgo making moral judgments. But people can’t give that up. Why? Because there are moral truths, and all of us have moral knowledge via our moral intuitions. We are moral creatures at our core. While people pay lip service to moral relativism, nobody is a moral relativist in practice. Moral relativists don’t stop believing in moral truths. They simply rearrange their moral categories, moving many items that have traditionally been listed on the “immoral” side of the ledger to the “moral” side, and vice-versa. That’s not moral relativism. That’s good-old-fashioned moral realism twisted by the wickedness of the human heart. The problem we are facing is not the subjectivity of morality, but the morality of subjects themselves.