Moral Relativism – An Overview

Hello skeptics of our local cluster,

Today’s post is going to be about moral relativism, and how it is a secular replacement for the morals of the bible. As an atheist, I am often asked this question or similar “As an atheist, where do you get your morals?”, and I often give a condensed description of moral relativism to them. Religious people often object to atheism because a set of morals are not set out by a deity, and it seems to be without any set of morals, but most atheists are moral (less than 1% of prisoners in the US are atheist), so there must be some morals which we all seem to follow, or something like it. But without a concrete basis for our morals (god), there has to be another way to make moral decisions.

The moral system which I choose to live by are those of moral relativism. At its core, moral relativism is basically just the aim to reduce harm, and this seems to be a logical decision to make. There is no gold standard of morality in moral relativism, as there is in most religions, just a sliding scale of ‘immoral things’ on the far left, over to ‘moral things’ over on the far left. By always just choosing the option which causes the lest harm, you are keeping yourself open to doing anything, so long as it is the right thing to do.

I asked my religion teacher during a lesson about evils, if it is morally right to kill 1 person to save 100 hundred people. I gave the story of a man who had a boy, and worked operating a train draw bridge over a canyon. One day, there was a train which approached, but the man noticed that his son was playing in the large gears of the bridge, there were only two choices the man could make, lower the bridge and save the lives of the hundreds on the train, and kill his son, or keep the bridge up, kill hundreds on the train, and save his son. To my surprise, my teacher said that he would not kill 1 to save 100, and he said that god is the ultimate decider on the right thing to do. This is a circular morality with no clear way to make decisions, because one cannot simply ask god every time a decision has to be made, and even if you could, science is of the opinion that you are hearing your own thoughts reflected back on you, dressed up in gods voice.

Another question asked by champions of absolute morality is “Is it absolutely morally wrong to rape a child and enjoy it?”, and to that I answer “no”. If somebody says to you, with a gun in hand, “Rape this child and enjoy it or I will kill both of you and your families”, you sure as hell will rape that child, and maintain a smile throughout. That’s the great thing about moral relativism, its flexible to all decisions, just make sure to reduce harm. In my above hypothetical, a Christian would run into a wall, as both paths result in some sort of immorality, either raping a child or being responsible for the deaths of at least a dozen people. A moral relativist has an easy decision, because death is of the utmost importance.

Moral relativism is a great moral system, as it never runs into any paradoxical hypotheticals, and it is a good (better) alternative to absolute morality which is championed by so many religions of today.