Thursday, January 03, 2013

What do you think? Is there an Absolute Truth in Morality?

Some christians claim that Truth, as in morality, is an absolute that is revealed by their god.  I am sure that muslims think so, too, as would jewish adherents.  Ditto with Hindu, and perhaps others.

My position is that morality is relative and changing with the society, the geography and the time period.

One can look through history and see multiple examples of this.  Cultures and societies which made and enforced different rules of morality depending on their own unique circumstances of geography and how their own culture's history had developed in the past, both as a result of physical geography's natural density of resources, climate and of how their culture had interfaced with neighboring cultures.

Some cultures glorified battle and conflict.  Some institutionalized it to limit its harm within itself, others  glorified conflict with other cultures, making themselves a pirate or bandit group internationally.  Some allowed homosexuality (Greece, as a male oriented mentor system), others practically ignored it - Europe has excoriated it as harmful in the past, until that changed!

Which brings up the issue of change with time.  Europe used to consider capital punishment to be the norm, and quite useful.  Today, European society has decided that it is no longer right, that it is, in fact, wrong.

The bible itself has shown changes to christian morality.  The very first of the Ten Commandments very insistently demands that one "have no other gods before me".  Textual critics will tell you that this and other passages in that book indicate that the Hebrews used to have multiple gods.  This was a passage that heralded the change into a monotheistic culture, as this passage obviously tells the Hebrews to ignore all those other gods.  It doesn't tell them not to invent fake ones.  The Ten Commandments were seen as so important that this passage was never changed once we began to think of there being only one god.  So, the evidence is still there!

Same with other passages about slavery, for instance.  Once, hebrews could own slaves, and though other hebrews could be owned, they could only be held for seven years.  But outsiders could be held forever!  Just like the Commandment against "killing".  The real translation was a prohibition against murder, which meant only a member of the hebrew tribe.  Outsiders, again, were fair game.

Eventually, even among the jews, this changed and it is now agreed that it is meant as a general prohibition against unjustified killing.  Self defense is allowed, apparently.

So, what do you think?  Is there an absolute morality?

What about religious views?

In Saudi Arabia, you can get in serious trouble trying to convert a muslim to christianity.  But in Europe or the US, that's a perfectly acceptable action, desirable, even, if you are christian.

But which is right?  Is there an adjective, eternal moral that covers that action?  If so, which is it?  Which society is wrong?  They can't be both be right!

Or can they?


Anonymous said...

I think C.S. Lewis had the right of it when he said (paraphrasing) that there are certainly different social mores that change based on the time, the culture, the political environment, etc., but that there is in fact a right, and a wrong, and that the sources of those right and wrong are probably external. External because there is a form of uniformity, or right that is always right, and wrong that is always wrong, in all cultures and all times. No where in history do we find a culture that celebrates the betraying of the people who have been most kind to you, or cowardice in the face of a challenge. Thinkers from Joseph Campbell to Carl Jung have spent much of their careers on the similarities of myth stories, even among cultures completely alien to one another. It's not crazy to think that around the periphery of human action (murder as you mention) there are changes over time, but that at the core there is some truth, that can be revealed by reason (as Plato or Socrates would have you believe), or by divinity, or through meditation and connection with a universal subconscious. ~Jonathan Hayes

Robert Ahrens said...

Ah, but the question is, are these things uniformly considered bad due to an external source, or because of a common evolutionary background which has led people to consider these things anti-social because they are bad for group cooperation? CS Lewis was not agnostic on the issue of supernatural influence.

Kristine Fiddelke said...

I believe what you stated is exactly right. Society and the time we are in seems to set the standards of Morality. Also each country or race of people has their own Morality Rules and Laws. I guess if you do not like them you need to stay or go where you agree with the laws.

Robert Ahrens said...

Precisely, Kris. You state my case succinctly!

Anonymous said...

morality is relative to person, place, and time....and not a few individual needs. jbv