Thursday, May 12, 2011

Moral Relativity, College Style

When I ask New York University students, “Do you believe in moral absolutes like ‘genocide and torturing babies are wrong?’” they melt down right before my eyes. Sometimes, they stand there speechless; at other times, they’ll contradict themselves within a single sentence. I find this very amusing, because when I ask an adolescent this very question, they have no problem answering “Yes.”

Why the difference? “Higher” education! Materialism, naturalism and moral relativity have displaced the truths that our hearts speak so persuasively. They learn that morality can only find its basis in material causes – genetics, evolution, culture, and family – and these causes are always in flux. What’s right for me today might not work for me tomorrow. Therefore, morality is strictly a product of our changing choices and material circumstances, and can’t be immutable and universal absolute truths.

Consequently, the youth are divided against themselves. While their God-wired heart tells them that there are certain things that are absolutely wrong, their minds tell them that “morality” depends upon our changing circumstances and arbitrary choices. Therefore, Hitler was no less moral than Jesus.

Moral relativism condemns us to a schizoid existence. Our heart responds in terms of absolutes, while our mind denies them. This not only becomes a source of unending internal conflict, it also immobilizes us. It is said that “evil prevails when good people do nothing.” If we aren’t united within ourselves, we will do nothing, especially if it will cost us.

I asked a moral relativist about this very problem: “How can you intervene against evil, if you don’t even believe that there is such a thing as ‘evil?’”

“I’m a good person,” he blandly asserted.

“Would you then intervene if you saw a woman being raped?” I probed.

“No! I don’t know what her karma is,” he defensively replied. Although he wasn’t explicit about it, he hinted that perhaps she might deserve to be raped. Of course, his stance isn’t exactly moral relativism, but it reflects the moral confusion that has overtaken even the most intelligent. Although there is still political activism among today’s liberal college students, there is not an adequate rationale for it. Without this rationale, it would be very surprising for them to be willing to pay a personal price for it. Meanwhile, it pays dividends if it convinces us that we’re “good” people.

Moral confusion has become enthroned on the college campus. One young wife caught her husband cheating on her. She confronted him about his disloyalty, and he responded, “Well, having this affair works for me. You can’t impose what’s ‘right’ for you on me!”

I try to reason with the college students that the only way that they can find wholeness and unity is to bring their mind into harmony with their heart to acknowledge that there are moral absolutes. However, as I continue unpacking this reasoning, they become uncomfortable. I reason that without a higher truth – one that transcends this material world – moral absolutes can find no basis. They have to be universal, true and immutable, and there is nothing in this changing world of ours that can possibly provide such a foundation for morality.

This worldly vacuum, of course, brings us to the only One who can provide a basis for moral absolutes – the very place where our students resist going. They then insist that they are quite satisfied with their lives the way they are. However, they fail to see that their choices will be their undoing:

• Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD, since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm." (Proverbs 1:29-33)

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