A Case For Moral Absolutism

In our discussion on actions that are moral and immoral, I have decided that I simply need to make a statement about moral absolutism. Why do I believe that such things as moral absolutes exist? I do believe that moral relativism is one of the most dangerous philosophies of our day. As Dostoevsky made clear, if God does not exist, anything is permitted.

I would like to start by saying that there are statements called propositions. They contain a coherent though with a subject and a predicate. “The grass is green” is a proposition. “I am writing my blog” is a proposition. “The planet Earth is the sixth planet from the sun” is a proposition.

Now, I hope most readers know that I intentionally put in a false proposition. After all, we all know that grass is really blue. (It begged to be done!) The point is that if all the terms in a proposition are understood properly, then the proposition can either be true or false. I do not know of a proposition that is neither. Some might seem incredibly wild to us, but they would either be true or false. We might say some are just stupid.

So let us consider some moral propositions.

It is good to love your neighbor as yourself. (Note that propositions can be put with the predicate first. This could read “Loving your neighbor as yourself is good.”)

It is wrong to torture babies purely for the joy it brings  you.

Giving money to the poor is a right thing to do.

Sexual intercourse outside of marriage is wrong.

The holocaust was a wicked event.

All of these are statements about moral beliefs. I would hope that all of us would take a stance on them. I wonder about the person who says “It may be wrong for you to torture a baby for fun, but I just think that everyone should decide for themselves.” If it wasn’t for so many of our pyschologists trying to explain away sin as well, I’d suggest that people with such a view go see them.

Friends. I really think it’s bizarre that we even have to argue for such a thing. Imagine how exactly you would formulate an argument to convince someone that it is wrong to torture babies for fun. Now in some cases, you can make moral arguments with people, but that is because they agree on a larger framework of morality and want to know if what they are doing falls within the moral or immoral aspect.

What part is it that someone does not know is wrong? Is it torture? Is it murder? Is it the fact that it’s a baby? What part? Why is it that this kind of action would be condemned throughout the world? While we speak of diverse differences among moral teachings of the world, the truth is the reverse. There are many principles that every society agrees on.

Take cowardice for an example. C.S. Lewis asked us to try to think of a world where it was good to be a coward. I’ve heard some people use Pacifist groups as a counter-example, but that doesn’t work. Pacifists don’t refuse to fight because they’re cowards. They refuse to fight because they think it is immoral.¬† Does this mean though that they will never act with courage? No. There are many other ways to be courageous and many other ways to be cowardly.

In fact, that we even have such terms to define such actions is sufficient. Why do we speak of good and evil or right and wrong or moral and immoral? Furthermore, we don’t really have a hard time understanding these concepts. If we meet up with a complete stranger, we can understand them.

When we get into arguments about morality, we even assume that moral absolutism is true. If it isn’t, why would you argue with someone about it? C.S. Lewis uses the example of a quarrel between two men over who got the seat first on a bus. You don’t hear anyone say “Why should I hold to your moral framework?” in the quarrel. No. The moral framework is assumed and it’s up to us to decide who fits and doesn’t fit into it.

Now I can think of a possible rejoinder about some people might say our taste in music is subjective and our taste in food and movies and such as well so these are subjective propositions.

My stance on this is that I haven’t been convinced that they are subjective. There are some kinds of music that I do not think qualify as music and I make that as an objective claim. There are some foods we think some people are crazy for not liking and some that if we thought they’d like, we’d be stunned.

Lewis Grizzard told the story about a man who had the job of selling toothbrushes on the street and didn’t have any luck. Then he got an idea and started serving cookies to people. They’d take a bite and say “This tastes like dog doo!” He’d answer, “That’s what it is. Would you like to buy a toothbrush?”

No one has to have that story explained. We all seem to believe immediately even though I doubt few of us have ever eaten it that “Dog doo tastes terrible.” Most of us would even reel at the thought of having to try it. On the other hand, if you told me “Peanut butter tastes terrible,” I would wonder what exactly was wrong with your mind.

Note that this isn’t about healthiness or unhealthiness. We usually find that easier to agree on. In fact, we find that what most of us enjoy is not considered healthy and what most of us don’t enjoy is what is considered healthy. We agree though that there is a healthy and an unhealthy. I’d say that a properly functioning human with properly functioning taste buds would find some things tasty and some not just as he should find some things beautiful and some not.

One main contention though is that people don’t live this lifestyle out. When someone cuts them off in driving they don’t think “Oh. Well his moral framework must justify him cutting me off in traffic.” No. They might likely wave their hand (Or finger) out the window and yell obscenities and profanities.

What are they to say? “He should respect my moral framework?” Why should he. Why should anyone care about anyone’s moral framework. The ultimate result of this would be tyranny. Plato taught a monarchy as the best form of government and tyranny as the worst. In monarchy, a king represents the law. In tyranny, a king is the law. One realizes there’s a standard outside himself. (That’s why our Legislative Branch consists of Legislators and not lawmakers) The other thinks his view is the standard.

Is there any way moral relativism could avoid that? They might not have one man as the ruler, but rest assured if they want some form of government, some men will be the leaders and it is their view that will be the morality and everyone else will be expected to respect it. (Even though the only reason would be “respect or suffer.”)

This also means that relativists cannot complain about the Problem of Evil. If you ever see a relativist complaining about the Problem of Evil, as they will do, call them on it. If they ever complain about intolerance, call them on it. If they complain about the Crusades or the Inquisition or the conquest of the promised land, call them on it. If they make any moral claim they expect to be treated as an absolute, call them on it.

Friends. This is a fight we cannot afford to lose. Let’s be sure we don’t back down.

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