On certain Christian websites, moral relativism is derided almost as some sort of modern evil. “How do you know what is right and what is wrong if you don’t have an absolute source of morals? You need God to make your world make sense.”
The problem I have always had, but haven’t fully articulated, is the problem that there is always moral relativism, and specifically so in the Bible. Perhaps, actually, most egregiously so in the Bible.
At first glance, the Bible offers some fairly clear rules, but if you start thinking about it too much, things get… Weird.
I mean, let’s rank some of the moral precepts of the Bible, and I think you’ll find we can do this with some degree of objectivity.
Let’s open with the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” That one’s pretty easy.
Unless you work on the Sabbath–then you can be stoned. Therefore, since you are allowed to kill someone for breaching the sanctity of the Sabbath, our list looks like this, ranked from most severe to least severe:
1 – Breaching the sanctity of the Sabbath.
2 – Killing.
In fact, the punishment for MANY things is killing. Killing is obviously not a moral absolute, otherwise you couldn’t use it as a punishment, because you wouldn’t morally be allowed to. So let’s list a few things in the Bible that are worse than killing: Talking back to your parents, homosexuality, bestiality, theft, lust, adultery, worshiping different gods, living on the land God has set aside for you (even though he set it aside after you settled there, and even though he didn’t tell you).
Even in the modern world, as laid out by the Assassination of George Tiller, there are modern Christians who still subscribe to moral relativism. “His aborting of human fetuses is more evil than my killing him,” is the logic employed.
The counter, of course, is that “Death is OK, if God tells me it is OK,” but the problem is the application of that in the absence of God’s final approval. The best the modern Christian can do is to apply their own slant on it, but here’s the thing:
If God has laid the Commandments upon our soul, and if He is the ultimate authority, why does it feel so wrong to contemplate killing prostitutes? Are you miswired? Have God’s Comments, writ upon thy soul, gone awry?
“Jesus commanded us to love, and freed us from The Law!”
Then God’s commandments aren’t writ upon our soul? Like our souls just had a cosmic dry-erase marker applied? But then, why is the application of Old Testament verse allowed at all? How do we know which parts were stricken from the record?
What did Jesus mean by the following? 17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven..” (Matthew 5:17-20)
Until heaven and earth pass away. That is the King James, by the way–the NIV is a bit looser with its translation, stating instead “Until all is accomplished.” Those two sentences mean very different things to me.
Long story short, though, even if we are free from The Law, which parts? The Commandments were part of the law. Again, are they really writ upon my soul, if they are changed/abolished? If you are still skeptical, then consider the fact that breach of any of the Ten Commandments is punishable by death, and this is the second commandment (Exodus 20:4):
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth…
Again, NKJV. Is that commandment writ upon thy soul?
So there, there is a large degree of relative moral ideas in the Bible. You can say that God is the ultimate moral authority, but God is not here to adjudicate… Which leaves man, fallible man, to judge how laws from 2000-3500 years ago apply to our lives today. How do you do that? By relating a situation in our life to a situation in the Bible. One might even say you rate a situation relatively to a situation in the Bible.
But you definitely have moral absolutism. Just applied in a relativistic way. Cough