By: Justin Wishart
I had the pleasure of driving Professor Clay Jones to Airdrie Koinonia Christian School to present a talk to grade 11 and 12 students. Jones is a Professor of Apologetics at one of the top Christian universities, BIOLA. He started with a succinct history lesson, explaining how most students do not accept there are objective moral truths – that morality is relative. This is called moral relativism, which Jones summed up as, “you have your truth, I have my truth, your truth is no better than my truth and my truth is no better than your truth, and there is no moral truth with a capital T”.
Even though this sounds so open-minded and tolerant to our modern ears, Jones insists it isn’t. He presented the students with an acronym that spells “S.E.R.U.M.M.” which shows that moral relativism is absurd and even dangerous.
S= SELF REFUTING: Moral relativists will often say things like, “you can’t push your morality on others!” But, this is obviously absurd, for, the moral relativist is saying “you shouldn’t” do something which is the definition of pushing your morality on others. He is doing the very thing that he says you cannot do. Even more fundamental, moral relativism is a distinct moral system that the moral relativist obviously thinks is right. But, moral relativism by definition says that there is no correct moral system, which means that moral relativism is wrong. In other words, to say that moral relativism is right is to say that moral relativism is wrong. It refutes itself.
E= Evil Enabling: Jones used a technique here where he tries to show things that are so obviously wrong (like kicking a baby down the street) that if the moral relativist agrees this is actually wrong, then his position is false. But if he is to remain consistent with his view, he must agree that kicking a baby down the street isn’t actually wrong. If something as sickening as kicking a baby down the street isn’t wrong, then any “evil” act is permissible. He read quotes by leading ethicists who contend that bestiality and pedophilia are not wrong to demonstrate the path that moral relativism leads. The world where moral relativism reigns becomes a very ugly world.
R= Racist Befriending: Very often moral relativist are strong supporters of multiculturalism. They find things like racism repugnant, but Jones asked, on what basis does the moral relativist base this view on? Is it wrong to be a racist? The moral relativist must concede that it is not wrong because there is no right and wrong answer. Jones brought out examples of the Jewish Holocaust and American slavery, which were extremely racist. The moral relativist might not like the idea of the Holocaust or ethnic slavery, but unfortunately he cannot actually say it’s wrong. This makes moral relativism a racist’s best friend as it can easily be used to defend racism.
U= Utterly Hypocritical: Jones pointed out that if you are not a moral relativist, you are often labeled as “closed-minded” or a “bigot” to try and silence you. I can certainly attest to the truth of his point as I have been called both of those things often. Jones implored the students to think about this: Can a moral relativist condemn someone who is not a moral relativist? Isn’t that hypocritical? Are they not so “closed- minded” about their moral relativism that instead of an open conversation they try to shut down conversation with insults? It would seem obvious that not only is moral relativism self-refuting, but that it also filled with rank hypocrisy.
M= Morally Stagnating: Jones asked the students this question: Is it better to kiss your wife or pour boiling oil on her? The moral relativist cannot actually answer this question if there is no right or wrong. Moreover, if there is no right or wrong, then one cannot know whether they are improving their lives or not. Is an alcoholic who struggles and overcomes his addiction actually improving? Improvement implies that there is a standard, in this case a moral standard, to work towards; that you are getting closer to some goal. However, moral relativism says there are no actual goals to get closer to. You can have a personal goal of drinking yourself to death, and the more you drink, the more you “improve” your life. But, this obviously destroys any concept of actual improvement. Hence, moral relativism gives no way to improve as individuals or as a society and gives us no reason to want to improve society.
M= Mind Closing: With all these ideas in place, Jones finished by pointing out that if there are no actual moral truths to search out for, then this creates people who live only by what feels good, or right, to them. This easily leads to hedonism or some similar worldview where everyone does what is right in their own eyes. “Why go through the hard work of finding moral truth?”, can easily lead to, “Why go through the hard work of finding any truth if it doesn’t exist?” It is a short step from basing morality on one’s subjective feelings to basing your life on one’s personal pleasure. Jones pointed out that we see the truth of this in our society today. As we become more morally relativistic we see that we are becoming more and more unmotivated and interested in truth in general. This cannot help but to make people less intellectually astute and the effects of this on society will be incalculable.
In many ways, moral relativism is like a disease that we must provide a vaccine to protect people from. And we can see how the disease of moral relativism is devastating to our society and that we all need the vaccine to stop its spread.
Jones’ serum needs to be administered to as many people as possible and with some practice you can learn how to effectively administer this vaccine to others. The more we contemplate and study the points in the acronym (and more study is needed for each point than this summary) the more effective we become in our ability share it. The vaccine is particularly important to administer to children and youth. The good news is once these concepts are understood we can begin to turn the tide and to bring more sanity back to our society.