I live in a part of North America where it is common to hear the phrase “that’s true for you, but that’s not true for me.” This view has become popularly known as “relativism.” It is the view that morality, right & wrong, good & bad, are all subjective to how you feel towards them. You may feel something is morally wrong; however, someone else may feel differently than you do about that subject, therefore, it is not seen as morally wrong to them. This view hides itself under the disguise of “tolerance” because both sides are seen as right & no one is ever wrong. According to this view, it would not be a stretch to suggest that morals do not really exist at all & they are just something that we’ve invented or thought up. We decide if something is right or wrong or if it is not.
What Is Objective Morality?
The view that opposes subjective morality is the view of objective morality. It is the view that there is a moral standard that exists outside of human opinion which governs the universe. This view suggests that there is a set moral code of “right” and “wrong” or “good” and “evil” which we all live by on a daily basis because we are bound to do so. The objective morality view does not deny that there are subjective things in the world (ex. which foods taste good, which colours are better look at, etc.) but these things are not deeply rooted moral issues.
I grew up playing road/ice hockey, as many young Canadian guys did, and it was always pivotal that the rules of the game were established. When someone went against the rules of the game, everyone cried out that an injustice had been committed and the player had gone against the rules in one way or another. Note that we were not suggesting that the player had merely done something that we did not like, we all had a set list of rules in our minds that we agreed upon & he had gone against that no matter how we felt about the issue.
In a sense, morality is sort of like that. What we are saying when we talk of an objective moral standard is that there is a standard which exists inside of every human’s nature that we all live by. It exists outside of human opinion. It is there whether we like it or not. Even if someone says that they do not believe in morality or that there is a moral standard which humans ought to live by, it is nearly impossible to consistently live that out in day-to-day life. Suppose someone robs you at gun point and takes your wallet/purse, would it then be correct to say that the robber did not see it as morally wrong to rob you and, therefore, it was not really wrong at all? Is there no such thing as good and bad people? Would Hitler and Mother Teresa really be no different in their moral actions?
It is true that this moral “law” is different than something like the “law” of gravity. We cannot disobey the “law” of gravity, and even if we deny its existence, we still live everyday according to it. People can, and do, choose to go against this moral “law” everyday. They can argue that they’ve never heard of it, but they expect others to live by it as well (ex. not robbing them or murdering someone they love as well).
If someone does not believe in an objective moral standard, why are they so quick to impose it on others and assume others are living by the same morality? In addition to that, why are they so quick to justify/defend themselves when someone raises into question their indecent moral conduct? It would be pointless trying to show that you did not break a moral law that does not exist. There would certainly be no reason to say “that’s not fair!”
Does Morality Come From Our Parents?
I have heard others suggest that morality, right and wrong, good and bad, are ideas that are passed down from parents to their children. We have all come to know what is deemed as “bad” because our parents told us at an early age that certain actions were wrong.
Suppose a set of parents decided to teach their children that it was not morally wrong to beat up other children. On the contrary, they actually encouraged such actions as morally good. When that child goes to school and starts beating up all the other children because he thinks he is doing something right, what would you say to those parents? Other parents are not suggesting that it is a mere inconvenience that their children come home from school with cuts and bruises. They are stating that a moral wrong has been committed against their child & demand justice.
When one truly sits down to study the moral teachings of ancient civilizations such as the ancient Greeks, Babylonians, Romans, Egyptians, etc. they will see that all these civilizations were very similar in moral teaching. They do differ on issues such as having one spouse or multiple spouses, etc. However, none of them would disagree that it is better to be unselfish or that they ought to treat others the way the want to be treated (the golden rule). Think of a world where it was morally good to cheat, lie, steal, kill, and be greedy for selfish gain. Such a world would not last very long.
Where Do Morals Come From?
It is clear that morals do exist & they are not simply passed down from generation to generation because it would be preposterous to pass on indecent morality to the next generation. So where do morals come from? Where is the standard of right & wrong? If it is not simply something that humans have made up whenever they feel like it, what is the standard?
C.S. Lewis famously wrote these words from his own story of becoming a Christian
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? . . . Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too – for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist – in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless – I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality – namely my idea of justice – was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.
When we talk of “right” and “wrong” or “good” and “bad,” we are talking about “God” and “not God.” God is ultimately good in a perfect sense; therefore, that which acts in an unGodly way is seen as “wrong.” God has set the moral standard in our hearts & minds of what perfect justice is. We know that this standard exists within us because we have insiders information on human nature. The moral “law” needs a moral “Law Giver.”
Morals come from God.
– Tyson Bradley