Friday, September 18, 2009

Relative Conscience

Last night we watched the premiere of "Community" in it, the main character says, "I discovered at a very early age that if I talk long enough I can make anything right or wrong. So, either I'm god or truth is relative. In either case, booyah."

Another character replies, "Interesting, its just the average person has a much harder time saying 'booyah' to moral relativism."

(You can watch it here at about the 8:40 mark.)

While the scene was simply meant to be clever banter to push the plot forward and give us a small glimpse into the personalities of the characters, it really touches on much more.
We live in a world where millions of people decide right or wrong only by what they can defend or reason or rationalize. If they can explain why what they did was right for them, it was right. If their actions weren't as bad as an alternative, it was right. If they can do it without their conscience getting in the way, it was right. If they can do it and then smooth things over with their conscience, it was right. All of these things focus only on the individual, not those around them or anyone else. What's right for me is right. Is this right?

The other character's response is simply wrong. We live in a world where the average person never considers the implications of moral relativism enough to consider even whether or not it deserves a "booyah". People don't consider what kind of moral system supports their actions or what type of system they should conform their actions to. Instead, they simply act on what feels right for them (see above).

The truth is, our conscience is a flimsy guide, one that can be bent and twisted by our wants and desires. Over time, we can train our conscience to ignore grave evils. We don't even have to do so the training. Our consciences are constantly being trained by the things we see around us, the people we interact with and the experiences we go through. It is our consciences that are relative, not morality.

"My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent." - 1 Cor 4:4


  1. If one is not to use his reason as a guide, then what should be used to guide moral action?

  2. It is not so much a problem with using reason as a guide, but a problem of the parameters used in reasoning. When we reason if something is right or wrong, who do we consider? All parties involved or just ourselves? What time period do we consider? The present moment or the next week, month or year?

    Too often, reason looks only at the "what's best for me right now" parameters, which results in moral selfishness, not moral relativity.

    As for an alternative to reason, I would fall squarely into the ultimate moral law from a divine rule giver camp. I happily confess, however, that while I may share that camp's ideas on where divine moral laws come from, I certainly don't stand by everything they choose to do with them.