Our society marches forth under a plethora of cultural influences from elsewhere. Some of the influences come from our powerful neighbour South Africa, while others in the past, flowed from the north, from Zimbabwe. With the advent of the internet and television, our influences now come from all directions. They come from the west and the east; they come from the south and the north. They come unfiltered and unregulated. Many of the influences are good for us; many are bad. They enrich our worldview and aid us in the resolution of challenges that face our society everyday. Others challenge our preconceived worldview and lead us along a previously unimaginable path. They force us to reconsider, to relook at and re-question our previously-held views. One of the influences which has begun to gain some currency in our cities and towns is subjective morality, also known as moral relativity. It is a matter of philosophical discussion and one cannot do it much justice in the space of a matter of a column. However simply put, one’s point of view or beliefs have no absolute truth or validity. They are only subjective or relative, reflecting an individual’s perception and life’s consideration. For instance, having sex before marriage is considered morally wrong to someone who holds a certain moral view. Such a view may be influenced by a specific culture or a religion. Subjective relativity argues that this view on sex before is not absolute truth – it is just somebody’s opinion. One may find some society somewhere where sex before marriage is perfectly acceptable.
Subjective morality therefore argues that something that is wrong to you may be right to somebody else. Most importantly you should not attempt to force your subjective morality on other people. Let your beliefs be yours, be subjective, be private. Don’t try and force them on others. This philosophical worldview appears attractive until you realize that subjective morality is contradictory and unworkable. The police, the courts and the military work largely with absolutes. Those absolutes may be clearly spelt out in a constitution or specific statutes. Such documents define moral parameters under the influence of a certain worldview. Therefore we know that killing and eating a neighbor is wrong because it violates certain absolutes such as the sacredness of human life and the sanctity of the human body. We cannot leave such matters to moral relativity. It would be most perverse to have someone say: “Keep your morality to yourself, killing and eating a neighbor may be wrong to you but it is morally acceptable to me, so I am entitled to kill and eat my neighbor.” There is clear danger in moral subjectivity. If morality were purely subjective, then absolutely nothing would stop anybody from being a morally subjective moralist and shoot a neighbor in the forehead and cook him in garlic source. Indeed the 20th century was the bloodiest as many bought into moral relativity. We killed more people in the 20th century than the 19 put together. We lock the doors in the night, set the house alarms on because we are afraid of a moral relativist who though knowing what hurt his criminality may bring to his victims, still proceeds with evil acts he perceives them as profitable to himself.
As Ravi Zacharias puts it, every worldview must address four essential life issues: origin, meaning, morality and destiny. And those who subscribe to philosophical absolutes hinge those absolutes on a specific worldview. Absolutes don’t hang in mid air. They have to be grounded on a certain worldview. Every absolute is based on a worldview. Some, like the philosopher, Kant, see human reason as the source for moral parameters while Christians would take Christ and his teachings as a source of moral code and moral parameters.
As a society we need to accept some absolutes. We need something that will help us guide our children along the right path. We cannot raise our children, run a government, lead successful families on “it depends” regardless of how sophisticated such a statement may appear. Clean politics are done with accepting certain absolutes as foundation. The electorates deserve truth and sincerity and cannot be engaged on continuous relativity. When dealing with matters of poverty and poverty reduction, we must accept certain absolutes about poverty and how destructive it is to families and the society. However, if we reduce such matters to relativity, it affords us room to avoid dealing justly with humanity. In grappling with the questions of prostitution, pedophilia and sex slavery we must deal with the sanctity of human life and that of the human body. Can such matters be left to subjective morality? Our courts and the police system cannot be run on the basis of subjective morality. It would lead to chaos, confusion and a total collapse of the society as we know it. It is unthinkable for one to face a judge and confidently declare: “Well judge, my actions may appear bad to you, but they appear perfectly fine with me!” With subjective morality we will fail to deal with social ills sufficiently. We are left powerless. In a society where everything is relative, where morality is dismissed as an individual matter, the society will consistently remain helpless and unable to address the moral depravity that confronts it. We will consistently end at the unhelpful end of the rope: it is an individual choice. Certainly killing and eating a neighbor cannot be dismissed as a matter of personal choice.