This article was originally posted on The Spectator.
The whole same-sex marriage debate involved a lot of talk about right and wrong. Whether someone voted “yes” or “no” depended largely on what that individual considered the most moral choice. We were told that “love says ‘yes’,” and that human rights, justice, and equality were at stake. Almost the entire issue was framed as a wrong that desperately needed to be made right. In other words, the language and arguments used implied the existence of a real moral measure – a standard that would be violated if one were to vote “no”.
Of those who participated in the survey, 62 per cent (7.82 million) voted “yes” to the question of redefining marriage. But perhaps a more important question is, what moral standard were Australians appealing to when they decided how they would cast their vote?
Philosophers have tried to grapple with the subject of morality in a multitude of ways, but perhaps we could reduce all of our options down to two: Either morality is defined by individuals and culture, or outside of individuals and culture.
In the first instance, the moral relativist would suggest morality is essentially a social construct, and therefore, non-existent apart from individuals and culture. What is normative is purely a matter of preference. There are no absolute truths, only those which a particular individual or society may choose to accept. Ultimately, right and wrong only exist in relation to a particular standpoint which is defined by time and culture.
This is the thinking many adopt in a post-Christian climate. Unsurprisingly, this is also the reason why the majority voted in favour of redefining marriage. Voting “yes” was the right thing to do because in the end, good and bad, right and wrong, are defined by the moral fashion of the day.
While some may favour this way of thinking for its democratic approach, we must think long and hard before wholeheartedly embracing this type of moral relativism. What could it mean for us as a nation? If good and bad are ultimately defined by culture, then the moral relativist must grant that there is always a circumstance in which every act, even the most heinous, can be justified. If right and wrong are defined solely by democratic vote, then one must concede, if Australia ever voted in favour of hurling homosexuals off rooftops, any opposition must be regarded as immoral.
To bring it home, the only reason why 62 per cent chose “love” was not because they possessed some altruistic virtue, but merely the fact that everybody else was doing it. If everybody else was not doing it, then there would be no basis for calling the “yes” vote loving or right or good. When cultural consensus rules that homosexuality is immoral, there is no moral basis for any objection. In fact, any objection undermines the notion that morality is defined by culture.
It’s at this point that we begin to see, those who subscribe to this way of thinking and neither consistent nor honest. And yet ironically, they present their positions as the higher moral ground, even though, according to moral relativism, there is no moral high ground. Paula Gerber from Monash University recently provided us with a vivid example when she argued, “Australia should lend its support to persecuted LGBTI people in other parts of the world. This includes the Asia-Pacific region where 19 countries criminalise homosexuality.”
If morality is a social construct, then why should Australians undermine the moral standards established by other cultures? Would it be equally acceptable for any of the 19 countries that criminalise homosexuality to lend their support to those who wish to make homosexuality illegal in Australia? On what basis would their influence on Australia be objectionable?
In the end, no culture can stay afloat long without a moral compass to guide them. In fact, Peter Kreeft has called moral relativism, “the single most important issue of our age” because “no culture in history has ever embraced moral relativism and survived…” Kreeft argues, “our society will do one of three things: either disprove one of the most universally established laws of all history; or repent of its relativism and survive; or persist in its relativism and perish.” C.S. Lewis similarly warned, relativism “will certainly end our species and damn our souls.”
The alternative view, that of the moral absolutist, argues that good and bad exist outside of the thoughts of the individual, or collective thinking of a society. That’s to say, an action is either moral or immoral, regardless of context. The ancient practice of child sacrifice was just as immoral then as it is now. Right and wrong exist outside of time and place – it is not something we create, but something we conform to. It’s the only basis we have for arguing that throwing homosexuals off rooftops is as immoral in Iraq as it is in Australia.
This reality has been rejected because, quite simply, we don’t like to live our lives governed by laws and standards that we can’t define ourselves. If a moral standard exists outside of our own thoughts, then somebody has defined that standard. Often the notion of a moral lawgiver is ridiculed. The proposed alternative for those “enlightened” enough to do away with the idea of God is: If it feels good, do it. If it hurts anyone, don’t. They are one proposition above the animal kingdom.
The frightening reality is: moral relativism can turn a democratic vote into two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Removing God from morality, law, and even politics, may work in your favour today, but tomorrow, there are no guarantees. Would you rather a nation that submits to the equality, freedom, and love as defined by Christianity, or an unrestrained nation at the mercy of the moral fashion of the day?