In my last post I wrote about what’s known as a “Cultural Myth”. These are ideas that cultures hold without really thinking about them. The myth I’m going to discuss in this post is called moral relativism. This is the prevailing world view in America today. Almost everyone holds this view. Moral Relativism states that all morals are products of one’s environment, upbringing, culture or evolution. There are no moral absolutes (no real right and wrong). Everything is permissible, as long as you don’t hurt anyone. According to this view, it’s also wrong to tell others that they have done something morally objectionable.
The sharp readers among you may have already spotted a problem with this view. There are already two moral absolutes in play. One is the fact that you can’t hurt other people. If morals are simply a matter of opinion, why shouldn’t I hurt someone if it works for me? The second is that it is wrong to tell others they are wrong. This is most often characterized as “judging”. But notice, saying you shouldn’t judge is also a judgment. It’s imposing a moral standard on people. You can’t escape making judgments, even when trying to seem neutral.
How Does Moral Relativism Hurt Evangelism?
So why is this a problem when evangelizing? Think of the classic mode of evangelism that many of us were taught. First, you show people their need for the Gospel by pointing out our sinful nature, and then you show them the solution to the problem in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But what do you do if the person doesn’t acknowledge the need for a Savoir at all? This is the problem relativism creates. If people are convinced they are not doing anything wrong, or that moral rules can be changed to fit circumstances, then they don’t need rescuing from their moral state. This is bad news for the evangelist!
How Should We Respond?
The good news is almost no one believes this. I know I just said a few paragraphs ago that almost everyone holds this view. But almost no one actually lives their lives as if it were true. People talk this way, but they can’t live this way. People will make all sorts of claims about not forcing morality on others, not legislating morality, not judging and promoting a “live and let live” culture. But what happens when someone cuts in front of that same person in line at the grocery store? Do they think to themselves “well, I don’t think its right to judge others actions, so I’ll just let them cut in front of me”? No, they tell them to get to the back of the line! All of a sudden, they act like there are moral absolutes that everyone ought to obey.
Professor J.P Moreland tells of one of his students that wrote a paper defending moral relativism. In the paper, the student stated that the professor shouldn’t push his moral view points on others, because there was no right or wrong. The professor graded the paper “F, I don’t like blue ink”. The student was infuriated! He burst into professor Moreland’s office, waving the paper and saying, “F, I don’t like blue ink? That’s not fair!” The professor calmly stated “I’m sorry; I read a lot of papers. Isn’t yours the one that stated people shouldn’t push their morals on others?” The student angrily agreed that that was indeed his premise. Dr. Moreland calmly replied “Fine. F, I don’t like blue ink. Since I know you won’t push your morals onto me, my morality is that I don’t like blue ink.”
Not all of us will have a clever opportunity to prove a point like Dr. Moreland. But you can use some other examples. Find some injustice the other person is a champion of, and gently push them in this area. For instance, if they are an animal rights champion, you can say “But that’s just your opinion, right?” You don’t actually think you should impose your morality on others by passing laws protecting animals, right?” Use this tactic gently though. The purpose is to point out that the person holds to moral absolutes, not to have a “gotcha” mentality. Once you have made your point that there is a moral law we all should follow, you can maneuver into a conversation about whether or not the person has ever broken a moral law. You are then on your way to presenting the Gospel, good news for moral law breakers!