When I ask college students if they believe that torturing babies is objectively and absolutely wrong, they become very confused and don’t know how to respond. In their heart, they know that this is absolutely wrong, but their head tells them something else – that our sentiments are all relative to our feelings, biology, culture and the way we are raised. We’ve learned from the university that there is no moral law out there. There is no right and wrong independent of our own subjective thinking. In other words, you decide for yourself! Some would add that society decides for you.
In either case, there is no external, heavenly law-giver to judge. You’re on your own – the captain of your own ship, so you think. This is moral relativism. About this, atheist philosopher John Searle wrote:
- I have to confess…that I think there is a much deeper reason for the persistent appeal of all forms of anti-realism [relativism] and this has become obvious in the 20th century: it satisfies a basic urge to power. It just seems too disgusting, somehow, that we should have to be at the mercy of the “real world.” It seems to awful that our representations [what we say] should have to be answerable to anyone but us.
If there is a real moral law and a real moral law-giver, then we are answerable - accountable before a righteous, omniscient God. However, to reject this God is to reject ourselves and to condemn ourselves to a barren and schizoid existence.
How can it be otherwise! While our gut tells us that this world has been impregnated with purpose, meaning and moral truth, our mind rejects this ever-present observation. While, on the one hand, we are moved to see the triumph of virtue and justice, on the other, our mind reminds us that these virtues and truths do not exist in any objective sense. They exist solely as thoughts of our own making.
Not believing that these verities have any independent reality, we don’t give them the attention that they deserve. Consequently, we defy our wounded conscience and deprive ourselves of any possibility of holistic, harmonious living.
Ironically, we even fail to escape the moral law. Our conscience continues to condemn us, even after we have denied God’s existence. We find ourselves saddled with this burdensome law without God’s offer of grace and forgiveness to enable us to bear it. Therefore we hate any reminder – Christian talk - of this condemning law.
Interestingly, atheists have asked in their less guarded moments:
- Have you returned here with your essays to make us feel guilty?
On the contrary, it is the Gospel that would set them free from their self-imposed torment.