Someone in the combox observed that absolute moral standards demand an autocratic authority structure to enforce them, and this leads to the repression of individual freedoms. “All morality is relative”, so the argument goes, “therefore individuals must be free to make whatever moral choices they think are best.”
The problem with this, of course, is that living together in community ultimately means that there has to be some rules. Like it or not, one simply cannot go around doing whatever one pleases. The question then arises, “Who makes the rules and why certain rules and not others?” The easy answer is the creed of the occultist: “Do as you please but harm no one.” There are three problems with this creed: First of all, who decides what “harm” is, and the second problem is more disconcerting–“Aren’t there some people who deserve to be harmed?” The third problem is, “Without moral absolutes as guidelines how does one establish anything like justice?”
Allow me to elaborate: It sounds all well and good that everyone should be allowed to do as they please as long as they harm no one, but what is “harm?” If a man has sex with a woman and they enjoy the encounter you could say no harm is done, but what happens when he doesn’t call her again or she tosses him on one side later? Has harm been done? When someone does a shady business deal for his own benefit and another person loses out has harm been done or is that “just business”? Those in favor of this creed are often “pro-choice” so can a person do as they please, but then destroy the unborn child? That’s doing someone harm isn’t it? In fact, when pressed, unless you’re living totally for others all the time–whenever you do something self centered aren’t you harming someone somewhere even if only a tiny bit?
The second problem gets even more complicated. Aren’t there some people who deserve to be harmed? The film Django was a bloodbath, but all the people who were killed were bad people. It’s okay to “Do as you will but harm no one.” But what happens when people so harm others? Shouldn’t they be punished? In other words, shouldn’t they be harmed? This is where the third question comes in, and it is one of justice. Without any absolute standards of morality how can there be any form of justice other than revenge?
If everyone is doing as they please, and what pleases me displeases you is it any wonder that you would then seek revenge? What logical argument is there against this? None that I can think of. How can there be such a thing as justice or how can there be such a thing as mercy unless there is a moral absolute by which to set the standard?
This then leads to the most disturbing question of all. If moral relativism is true and everyone should be free do as they please who decides what laws society should live by? The only one who can decide this is the strongest person. The one with the largest and strongest police force or the one with the most money and power decides what is best for society, and this is why relativism always leads to tyranny. Without any greater moral authority and any greater moral absolutes the rulers of the state decide what is best for all, and they will have no hesitation to enforce those arbitrary laws if they see fit. This struggle for power will ultimately mean that the strongest person wins and the person with the most power is inevitably also the most selfish, cruel and tyrannical.
Thus the moral relativist who longed for freedom will eventually be enslaved. Pope Benedict speaks of the “dictatorship of relativism.” What he may not have intended is that not only is relativism a kind of intellectual dictatorship, but eventually it leads to literal dictatorship.
Rather than being an enlightened move forward for a society, moral relativism is a disturbing move backward, for the only two forces which can keep in check a relativistic-minded populace are the fear of revenge or the threat of state enacted punishment.
The only other thing which the relativist has to offer is the naive idea that somehow people will simply behave themselves and be good and nice and kind to others and somehow live by the creed “Do as you will but harm no one.”
The only people they are fooling are themselves.
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