As I wrote earlier, I will be spending a little bit of time on this blog, among other projects, to discuss what went on at the common day of learning at Azusa Pacific University yesterday. The topic I presented on was moral relativism and its effect on education (there were three others on my panel speaking on the church’s response to moral relativism). Such a topic is difficult.
First we must understand what we mean by moral. Moral comes from the latin moralis and refers to the “proper role of a person in society.” In De Fato Cicero defined it as “good manners.” If you go back to the Greek, it is translated from the word ethikos meaning “one’s disposition.” It was actually used of stories before it was used in writing to refer to people. Today we understand it primarily as the system of rules that define what makes a person “good” in a society.
Where do Christians get their morality from? Some would say the Bible, but I am not so quick to take this as true. Let us take the most foundational moral system in the Bible (the ten commandments) and see how Christians do. First, you shall have no other gods before me. Some might argue that they have followed this command, but I would ask how much time they spend talking with God and working for God (not just in ministry but in the Spirit wherever they are) and how much time they spend watching TV. If the latter is more, I would question how many gods they have. The second goes along with the first is TV is an idol. Thirdly, we shall not misuse the name of our God. This is not about saying “oh my God” when you stub your toe, but about whether or not you keep the name of God holy. Does one second your mouth sing praises and the next are you angry and screaming at your family? Then you probably have not followed the third commandment either (if you compare yourself with the book of James). Do I even need to ask if you keep the Sabbath holy? I don’t think so. So far, I think many people are 0 for 4.
So where does our morality really come from? I mean we really, for all practical purposes, believe the Torah to be outdated in its punishment and purity system. We have science. So what system do we follow? Some would say we follow Jesus’ commands, but most people don’t do that either. Most people own more than one shirt, most people don’t do twice the amount of work their oppressive boss wants them to do, most Christians have a hard time loving their enemies, and most do not give to the poor on a regular basis. So now where do we get our system of morality from?
Morality is a set of socially agreed “purity systems.” We as Christians agreed here that we are impure if sexual intercourse takes place between a man and a woman. Those outside the circle of Christianity usually define this as sexual intercourse outside of a committed relationship. We agree that it is morally ok for those same couples to kiss, touch, hug, and college students have also created a system of purity for relationships. We have decided how far is too far and all the rest. If someone breaks these purity systems, they are chastised for them. We are taught that drinking is okay after a certain socially constructed age, as long as we drink in moderation (although some conservative denominations think drinking should be banned altogether).
We really define our morality in terms of our modern world, and not in terms of following God’s word. So how do we rectify the two and should they be rectified? This is the first question we must consider in our quest for understanding moral relativism. Your thoughts are welcomed.