The absolute disaster of moral relativism

My mother tells me that when I was a young child, I said I didn't want to eat any more sugar because I didn't want to get sick. However, when I learned of all the food I liked that had sugar (not just desserts), my idealistic resolve started to crumble. My sugar-free diet didn't last very long when I realized all that it would require!

Perhaps you've heard someone ask, "Just how far do you want to take that?" Sometimes people make statements that sound nice, but when you take them to the extreme on a practical level, they don't really work. When it comes to logical arguments, one of the most effective checks you can perform against it is to take it to its logical conclusion or its "extreme." Many times this will reveal major problems with the argument, and often the end result or conclusion of an argument will be more "sour" than a sugar-free dessert is to a child. In this post, I would like to do just that for the argument of moral relativism in entertainment--i.e., the belief that for any entertainment, "just because it's wrong for you to watch doesn't make it wrong for me."

Conclusion of Moral Relativism

In logic there is something called the paradox of the heap. The question goes like this: "If you have a heap of sand and take away a single grain, will it still be a heap?" "Yes, of course," comes the reply. "Taking away just one grain won't turn a heap of sand into a non-heap." That sounds reasonable enough. But is it true? What if we asked this question over and over, thousands of times, each time taking away a single grain of sand? Will the answer to the question continue to be "Of course...taking away just one more grain won't turn a heap into a non-heap"? Eventually, you will be left with a few hundred grains, then a hundred, then 10, 9, then 4, 3, 2, then 1 grain, and then no grains at all. Obviously you no longer have a "heap"! The exact grain of sand which caused the "heap" to stop being a heap is unclear; it's a bit like like trying to figure out the straw that broke the camel's back. But it is clear that when we take this riddle to the conclusion or extreme, we find a problem.

Let's take moral relativism to its conclusion. When people say, "What's wrong for you in entertainment may not be wrong for me," if they do not give any qualifications for their statement, they are setting themselves up for moral ruin. How far do they take that? Do they think it might be okay for someone to enjoy listening to a song with words so vile that they are straight from hell itself? Do they think it could be acceptable for someone somewhere to watch a pornographic movie so filthy that it is entirely devilish? You have to draw the line somewhere, or you end up with a bizarre and evil sense of morality. And if you draw the line somewhere, then you, too, have a line. It doesn't make much sense to call someone else a legalist just because their line is more conservative than yours. To correctly call someone a legalist, you must show how their standards do not simply maintain moral purity, which keeps people in spiritual freedom; rather, you must show how their standards are unbiblical and bring people into bondage.

A story of Indians, weather, and firewood illustrates the effects of relativism:

During the first part of autumn, the Indians asked their chief if the winter was going to be cold or mild. Not really knowing the answer, the chief replied that the winter was going to be very cold and that the members of the village were to collect wood to be prepared.
Being a good leader, he then called the National Weather Service, and asked, "Is this winter going to be cold?"
The man on the phone responded, "Yes, this winter will be quite cold indeed."
Hearing that, the chief went back to speed up his people in their efforts of collecting wood so that they would be prepared for the coming season. A week later he again called the National Weather Service and asked, "Is it going to be a cold winter?"
"Yes," the man replied, "it's going to be a very cold winter."
The chief went back to his people and ordered them to keep collecting wood.
Two weeks later he again called the National Weather Service to get evidence for their prediction. "On what do you predict such a cold winter?" he asked.
"Our evidence is indisputable," answered the meteorologist. "The Indians are collecting firewood like crazy!"1

Such is the danger of circular reasoning. Do you believe that standards in general are legalistic? If you do, then do you have any absolute standards at all? If so, then you are inconsistent. You must show why certain standards are legalistic specifically, rather than speaking against all standards in general. Otherwise, someone could call you a legalist for your standards ("You legalist--what's wrong with watching [some extremely evil movie]", etc.); what would you tell them? They could trap you in your own argument.

On the other hand, if you do not hold to any absolute standards at all, then I would ask you to consider your grave spiritual danger. According to your logic, nothing is to prevent you, some day, from watching the vilest of movies or listening to the vilest of music. You say you would never do that or go that far; perhaps not, but many others have said the same thing and failed. In any case, given enough time, you will almost certainly venture out much farther than you ever intended. Practically no one sets out at a young age to be a drunkard, a pornographer, or a watcher of filthy entertainment. It happens slowly, through the danger of relative drift; and the argument of moral relativism provides the perfect means of rationalizing it away as logical when in fact it isn't. If you throw off your ship's mooring, you're sure to drift out to sea.

What about our arguments?

Someone will reply, "What if we take your argument to the extreme? Are you suggesting that we avoid all entertainment which has even the slightest hint of anything sinful?" Unfortunately, nearly all entertainment has been tainted by sin to some extent, even if just in very faint ways. What I believe is this: As Christians, we should avoid anything in entertainment which is evil, causes us to think on evil things, or in any way draws our hearts away from God. I believe we can take this argument to the extreme without a problem. Good shows like a clean Winnie the Pooh would be acceptable by this definition, but evil entertainment like Harry Potter or Game of Thrones would be excluded. So when taken to its conclusion or extreme, godly standards make a lot of sense.

So in summary, our position can be taken to the extreme without any issue. It is consistent and makes sense. However, the position of the moral relativist can be consistent only if the person holding to that position also adopts a most bizarre and perverted sense of morality in entertainment.


In other posts on this site, I will talk about why I hold the standards I do. Many people will disagree with my belief on certain specifics in posts to come. But something which troubles me deeply is hearing people say I am wrong for holding any absolute moral standard at all; they believe all entertainment is a matter of conscience. If we take this argument to the extreme, we will see its ruinous end. I hope people see where it leads before they wake up one day and find that Satan led them far toward this extreme slowly, over the course of many years. Don't be a moral relativist, for if you are, you cannot keep your heart.

  1. Hunter, Charles and Frances, Healing Through Humor: Fabulous Jokes from the Happy Hunters, Creation House Press, Lake Mary, Floriday; 2003, p. 8-9 

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