In years gone by, many of us grew accustomed to the warnings from Christian leaders that “The relativists are coming!”

Yet in recent days, voices on both sides of the conservative-liberal spectrum have announced that such a shift has not in fact occurred.

From the left-leaning archives of The Atlantic, we read of

  • “The Death of Moral Relativism” by Jonathan Merritt (here).

And from the uber-conservative bastion of The Blaze, there is

  • “The Quiet Collapse of Moral Relativism” by Joel Kurtinitis (here).

MORAL RELATIVISM

Of course, it should be obvious that such relativism remains an option on the philosophical buffet line.

It goes great with Nietzsche and a side of Foucault.

Nihilism tastes like chicken.

For instance, some evolutionary biologists would tell us that virtually all acts considered “immoral” amongst humans are part of the natural repertoire of animal behavior—things like deception, bullying, theft, rape, murder, infanticide, and warfare. And if such acts are not objectively immoral for the chimp or the hyena, then they are not objectively immoral for the human animal either.

Or so the argument goes.[1]

Christians disagree with this conclusion, but it does not change the fact that moral relativism is still a “thing” within the land of arcane argument.

A SHIFT IN POP CULTURE

But the articles above are concerned with culture at large.

As David Brooks recently argued in the New York Times:

while American colleges campuses were “awash in moral relativism” as late as the 1980s, a “shame culture” has now taken its place. The subjective morality of yesterday has been replaced by an ethical code that, if violated, results in unmerciful moral crusades on social media. A culture of shame cannot be a culture of total relativism (cited in Merritt, The Atlantic).

As should be obvious, this new code is hardly the same as the old one.

This is not a mere return to Mayberry.

As Brooks says, “Talk of good and bad has to defer to talk about respect and recognition.” And as Merritt notes, new absolutes are more likely to be “values of tolerance and inclusion.”

Yet that is still a far cry from moral relativism.

Lada Gaga is not Kurt Cobain.

From the conservative corner of The Blaze, Joel Kurtinitis says basically the same:

The demise of relativism and the rise of the SJW (“social justice warrior”) movement exposes the culture war for what it has been all along—a battle of faiths.

MY TAKE

Personally, I have my doubts as to whether hardcore relativism was ever as widespread in American culture as the articles imply.

The everyman has never been the Übermensch.

Likewise, it should be said that the mere affirmation of an objective code is not necessarily a good thing.

Zealots are not preferable to agnostics (see here).

The question, then, is not absolutes versus relativism, but rather: “Whose morality?”

Despite such caveats, it is nice to hear anyone calling “alternative facts” precisely what they are: falsehoods.

Moral truths exist, and certain things are objectively wrong.

Nonetheless, the real test of a robust worldview will be its ability to provide some answer also to the follow-up question:

“Why?”

 

 


 

[1] See, for instance, the discussion in Daryl Domning, Original Selfishness: Original Sin and Evil in the Light of Evolution (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006).