This topic is adapted from the PursueGOD Video YouTube channel.
Few people these days accept the idea of absolute truth, especially when it comes to personal behavior, morals, and ethics. When it comes to these sorts of things, it’s all about what’s true for me or what’s true for you. “It’s all relative.” Right?
A Foreword on Relativism
It is important to draw lines between different forms of relativism. In this topic, Pastor Bryan and Dr. Koehler cover questions addressing moral relativism and cultural relativism – the belief that when it comes to moral questions (in our culture, often limited to sexuality and non-violent personal behavior; violence and violation of personal property are often not viewed as legal or permissible) what is morally right and wrong varies from person to person and cannot be objectively reckoned.
In cultural relativism, broader cultural questions are taken into account. For example, in some Middle-Eastern cultures women are expected wear head coverings in public. In some primitive tribes, cannibalism and headhunting were morally permissible behaviors.
The purpose of philosophical relativism is not always to make value judgements. It is at times simply employed to draw broader considerations concerning context and perception, such as how each of us interact with the world through biases and presuppositions that affect how we interpret information.
- While many people talk about things being “all relative,” few people actually strictly live according to this philosophy. They actually live like they believe in absolute truth: one, because they don’t do away with value judgments altogether, two, because it is a truth claim in and of itself to say that “it’s all relative.” Taken to its logical end, this can become a problematic worldview. At one time, slavery was ethically acceptable in the United States. Was it good at that time simply because people argued for it and believed it was?
- We all exercise some degree of faith, even if our faith isn’t in God or the universe or a higher power generally. We have faith the chairs we’re sitting in won’t randomly give out underneath us. We have faith we’ll make it home this evening safely. We all live by faith, and we place our faith in different things.
- More and more people are rejecting the Bible and God as their standard of truth for life, morals, and faith. Many people in Western cultures today place their faith in their ability to reason – to discern for themselves what is true, what is right, and what is wrong.
- Others only have faith in the material world – what they can see, touch, or taste. But materialism or naturalism in and of themselves do not answer the great moral and ethical inquiries of life because they cannot address existential questions pertaining to the “oughtness” or “meaning” of life. At best they can tell us that we feel certain things like murder and rape to be wrong because we evolved to feel this way, but they can never decisively say that those things are objectively wrong, only that we live in a culture that strongly believes they are wrong and on that basis they are wrong. If we lived in a culture that had not evolved a distaste for murder and rape, those behaviors would not be wrong morally, because we wouldn’t believe them to be, or objectively, because this worldview can never make concrete objective statements about belief and behavior.
- Why is it hard for people to cross over from a “person of reason” to a “person of faith?” Dr. Koehler believes it is because people do not want to give up control. In his work in medicine, Dr. Koehler has seen this. He has also seen people get angry at God for not meeting their expectations – a God they cannot mold to fit their expectations.
Written content for this topic by Daniel Martin.
- Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
- What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
- Are you a person, or do you know a person, who believes “it’s all relative” when it comes to moral questions? What do you or this person mean when they say this?
- “While many people talk about things being ‘all relative,’ few people actually strictly live according to this philosophy.” Explain why you agree or disagree with this statement.
- What is “absolute truth?” Do you believe in absolute truth? Explain.
- Do you think there is a place for relativism in how we live in and interact with the world? Explain.
- Do you operate according to faith? Explain why or why not.
- Why is it hard for people to cross over from a “person of reason” to a “person of faith?”
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.