In last week’s installment of “Foundations for Atheist Morality”, we discussed the difficulty which accompanies any attempt to positively determine the actual moral views of the majority within a given society. But what if those views could be determined? What then? The difficulties for the moral relativist aren’t over! This week, we conclude our examination of societal relativism as an adequate foundation for moral values with a look at whether the agreement of 50% + 1 (a simple majority) is really sufficient to determine what is right and what is wrong.
The question here is more philosophical than anything else. What happens if 50% + 1 agree that euthanizing the elderly will provide a more productive and cohesive society? Is that one person who tipped the scales really to be given the power to execute a death sentence upon portion of the population? If not, how much of a majority is necessary to do so? If 55% are in agreement, can we feel comfortable in accepting the verdict? What if 60% or 75% concede? Where do we draw the line when it comes to determining how much of the majority is necessary for a given moral view to prevail? And who gets to decide?
You see, the problem with societal relativism is that it is… well, relative. Moral views change over time as national boarders shift, ethnic groups merge or die out, and demographics are altered. Popular opinion is swayed by an excellent orator, the rules which lead to societal cohesion move in and out of vogue, the powerful justify the oppression of those without a voice, and those with a voice determine the standards not only for their own societies, but for others as well. And none of this can be said to be either right or wrong… because it’s all relative. All, that is, except one universal truth: “It’s all relative.”
It is this universal statement of the relativist that proves the death knell of his philosophy. If it really is “all relative”, then this statement, too, must be relative… but relative to what? In the end, there is no moral center for the relativist view except the relativist, himself. In essence, he becomes his own god – determining right and wrong based upon his own likes and dislikes. But his godhood is limited, for as much as he may be able to declare moral absolutes for himself, he is equally incapable of making such declarations for others. A relativist may find himself robbed and beaten, but he is in no position to determine that the action of the violent party was wrong or ought to be met with justice.
In becoming his own god, the relativist becomes impotent to do either good or to declare what is evil. What is right or wrong for him is right or wrong for him only and his views cannot rightly be forced or enforced upon anyone else either as an individual or upon a society as a whole. His moral freedom has become a moral strait jacket. Societal relativism as a basis for atheist morality fails.
Next week, we’ll examine another argument that some atheists use to defend moral behavior: the Law of Nature. Meanwhile, please feel free to share your thoughts on societal relativism in the comment box below!