Dave has posted his reaction to Geoffrey Biddulph’s article on moral relativism. It seems like this is one of those areas that could highlight the polarization between various levels of social conservatism.
Usually the two sides see each others views as follows. One side views relativism as bad because it is a slippery slope that leads to a loss of absolutes. If unchecked, soon nothing will be a sin. Absolutes do exist because we know, due to revelation or obvious social consequences, that some things should not be done. From what I gather, the other side seems to take the view that there are relatively few, if any things that can be judged out of context. Relying on absolutes is a sure way to replace the wisdom of God with the social constructs and biases with which we have been raised. Eventually one side cries “self-righteousness”, the other side cries “subtlety of the devil”.
So how does one avoid the problems inherit in judgment? First off, I believe the politically correct movement of the late 80’s and 90’s has made the debate on sensitive social issues awkward. Many minorities, or social liberals who fight for “marginalized” groups, tend to view any debate on these issues as a personal attack. Critiques are viewed not as attempts at getting to the truth, but as a way to push a set agenda. An abstract, idealistic view on issues make it easy to categorize others as either completely for or completely against things. Which way one lies depends on which paradigm one accepts. Differences are not so much due to minutiae as they are due to different paradigms. Thus, ironically enough, the debate gets framed in a way reminiscent of a fundamentalist religion.
Personally I don’t think moral relativism means that one looses (theoretically or not) the ability to judge. From Jesus’ New Testament comments, the idea I get is that one has to realize that in our imperfect world, everyone decision we make will have both good and bad consequences. Moral relativists would, I think, say that what is good and bad depends on situation, environment, or history. For instance, not cracking down in the import of sex slaves into the states may mean these poor girls have more of a chance of getting out of this oppression than they would have had in their home countries. Of course it certainly will have a large number of negatives associated with it as well. Relativists would just say you need to look into as many of the negatives and positives as you can before making the decision. Absolutists would say that God has already done this. Over the long haul the case has already been decided.
So what does the debate really boil down to? I think it comes down to a choice reminiscent of a 4 year versus 20 year mortgage. It is better to go with a sure thing knowing that at times you will be loosing out in the short run? Or is it better to play the specifics of a short term, hoping that you can take advantage of good situations and minimize bad ones. As mormons, with our view of eternal progression, perhaps we need to worry about more than the final outcome. After all, for us, the most important thing is what we become as a result.