Friday, January 14, 2005

Moral Facts vs. Moral Opinions

In this article, Dennis Prager goes over some well-trod territory. Starting with the idea that there can be no absolute foundation for morality without the existence of God, he works through some interesting observations and declarations about the difference between those who have a belief in an absolute, and those who do not. His arguments may seem simplistic and heavy-handed at first, but I encourage you to follow the thread of his logic through the whole piece. Many of his observations and assertions are undeniable. From Front Page Magazine:

For those who subscribe to Judeo-Christian values, right and wrong, good and evil, are derived from God, not from reason alone, nor from the human heart, the state or through majority rule.

Though most college-educated Westerners never hear the case for the need for God-based morality because of the secular outlook that pervades modern education and the media, the case is both clear and compelling: If there is no transcendent source of morality (morality is the word I use for the standard of good and evil), "good" and "evil" are subjective opinions, not objective realities.

In other words, if there is no God who says, "Do not murder" ("Do not kill" is a mistranslation of the Hebrew which, like English, has two words for homicide), murder is not wrong. Many people may think it is wrong, but that is their opinion, not objective moral fact. There are no moral "facts" if there is no God; there are only moral opinions.

Years ago, I debated this issue at Oxford with Jonathan Glover, currently the professor of ethics at King's College, University of London, and one of the leading atheist moralists of our time. Because he is a man of rare intellectual honesty, he acknowledged that without God, morality is subjective. He is one of the few secularists who do.

This is the reason for the moral relativism -- "What I think is right is right for me, what you think is right is right for you" -- that pervades modern society. The secularization of society is the primary reason vast numbers of people believe, for example, that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter"; why the best educated were not able say that free America was a more moral society than the totalitarian Soviet Union; why, in short, deep moral confusion afflicted the 20th century and continues in this century.

That is why The New York Times, the voice of secular moral relativism, was so repulsed by President Ronald Reagan's declaration that the Soviet Union was an "evil empire." The secular world -- especially its left -- fears and rejects the language of good and evil because it smacks of religious values and violates their moral relativism. It is perhaps the major difference between America and Europe. As a New York Times article on European-American differences noted last year, "Americans are widely regarded as more comfortable with notions of good and evil, right and wrong, than Europeans. . . . " No wonder. America is a Judeo-Christian society; Europe (and the American Democratic Party) is largely secular.

In the late 1970s, in a public interview in Los Angeles, I asked one of the leading secular liberal thinkers of the past generation, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., if he would say that the United States was a morally superior society to that of the Soviet Union. Even when I repeated the question, and clarified that I readily acknowledged the existence of good individuals in the Soviet Union and bad ones in America, he refused to do so.

A major reason for the left's loathing of George W. Bush is his use of moral language -- such as in his widely condemned description of the regimes of North Korea, Iran and Iraq as an "Axis of Evil." These people reject the central Judeo-Christian value of the existence of objective good and evil and our obligation to make such judgments. Secularism has led to moral confusion, which in turn has led to moral paralysis.

If you could not call the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire" or the Iranian, North Korean and Iraqi regimes an "evil axis," you have rendered the word "evil" useless. And indeed it is not used in sophisticated secular company -- except in reference to those who do use it (usually religious Christians and Jews).

Is abortion morally wrong? To the secular world, the answer is "It's between a woman and her physician." There is no clearer expression of moral relativism: Every woman determines whether abortion is moral. On the other hand, to the individual with Judeo-Christian values, it is not between anyone and anyone else. It is between society and God. Even among religious people who differ in their reading of God's will, it is still never merely "between a woman and her physician."

And to those who counter these arguments for God-based morality with the question, "Whose God?" the answer is the God who revealed His moral will in the Old Testament, which Jews and Christians -- and no other people -- regard as divine revelation.

The best-known verse in the Bible is "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). It is a reflection of the secular age in which we live that few people are aware that the verse concludes with the words, "I am God." Though entirely secularized in common parlance, the greatest of the ethical principles comes from God. Otherwise it is just another man-made suggestion, no more compelling than "Cross at the green, not in between."

The most confounding thing about the Left in past years has been it's inability, or unwillingness, to make even the simplest of moral distinctions. Recently, I was discussing the War On Terror with the guy who was best man in my wedding. This man is my lifelong best friend. Anway, I said to him that it was clear that Arab culture in general is highly flawed and needs to be changed. He balked at this idea, and said something to the effect that all cultures are flawed and who are we to judge. So, I asked, "Do you mean to tell me you don't think Western culture is, in general, superior to Arab culture?"


"Well, what about the treatment of women in the Arab world. In many Arab countries women aren't allowed to choose education, drive a car, decide for themselves when to leave the house, whom to marry, etc. Isn't that a form of slavery. Isn't that just wrong? Doesn't it need to be changed."

It's not wrong, it's just different."

Oh yeah, right.

Now, keep in mind, my friend lives in the Bay Area and he is pretty much the epitome of the Feminist Man. This is a guy who, if someone were to say something like, "Hey, look at that girl over there. She's a hot little number, isn't she?" would be offended, not on Christian grounds (though he is a Christian Pastor himself) but because I was objectifying a female.

So, this creeping moral relativism of the secularist society has infected even Christian Pastors at this point. I, obviously, do not have any problem with making moral judgements. The enslavement of women in the Arab world sickens me, and it needs to be done away with. I base that judgement on my Christian belief that God made us with free will so that we can choose Him, or choose evil. Additionally, I believe he made us to be creative beings so that we could creatively worship Him and glorify Him. Enslavement snuffs out creativity thus, taking away almost all meaning and choice from a person's life. A life without meaning or choice is, practically, a living death.

I have no problem calling such a state of affairs "evil". I am baffled that anyone does.