Greg Koukl explains how to be a consistent moral relativist

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

The absolute easiest way to get into a good apologetics conversation with someone is to ask them what makes something right or wrong on their view.

Here’s a paper by Greg Koukl from Stand to Reason, in which he critiques moral relativism. His paper is called “Seven Things You Can’t Do as a Moral Relativist”. First, let’s see the list of seven things.

  1. You can’t make moral judgments about other people’s moral choices
  2. You can’t complain about God allowing evil and suffering
  3. You can’t blame people or praise people for their moral choices
  4. You can’t claim that any situation is unfair or unjust
  5. You can’t improve your morality
  6. You can’t have meaningful discussions about morality
  7. You can’t promote the obligation to be tolerant

You’ll have to read the paper to see how he argues for these, but I wanted to say a brief word about number 1.

Rule #1: Relativists Can’t Accuse Others of Wrong-Doing

Relativism makes it impossible to criticize the behavior of others, because relativism ultimately denies that there is such a thing as wrong- doing. In other words, if you believe that morality is a matter of personal definition, then you can’t ever again judge the actions of others. Relativists can’t even object on moral grounds to racism. After all, what sense can be made of the judgment “apartheid is wrong” when spoken by someone who doesn’t believe in right and wrong? What justification is there to intervene? Certainly not human rights, for there are no such things as rights. Relativism is the ultimate pro-choice position because it accepts every personal choice—even the choice to be racist.

In moral relativism, what you ought to do is totally up to you. Morality is just like a lunch buffet – you pick what you like based on your personal preferences.

I remember one particular discussion I had with a non-Christian co-worker. Both she and her live-in boyfriend were moral relativists. They were fighting because she was angry about his not having (or wanting) a job, and he was angry because when he asked her for space, she immediately ran out and cheated on him.

What’s interesting is that both of these people chose the other in order to escape being judged themselves. I think this happens a lot in relationships today. Both people don’t want to be judged by the other person, but they both want to the other person to treat them well and to honor moral obligations. Isn’t that interesting? I don’t think that you can have something like marriage work when neither person takes moral obligations to the other person seriously.

2 thoughts on “Greg Koukl explains how to be a consistent moral relativist”

  1. “What’s interesting is that both of these people chose the other in order to escape being judged themselves”

    Yes, that’s very true, we see that all the time. Also people will have a God sized hole inside of them and they will use relationships, sex, to try to fill the abyss that really only God can fill. Needless to say no matter how awesome their partner is, he or she will eventually fail miserably, because people can never give you what you seek.

    As to moral relativism, I discovered that truth a few years back. I simply cannot argue morality outside the context of faith. If we are simply bits of biological goo living a random existence, then whatever we do is up to us. In that case, it’s no more wrong to kill a person than it is to kill a plant. Outside the context of our higher selves, what is empathy, what is morality? They simply become slight emotional inconveniences.

  2. Emotional responses- yeah, that’s about it.

    The moral relativist has no legitimate GRIPES. They can’t “complain” about evil because to them there is no such thing as evil. (They dislike it, of course, but that’s as far as they can go):

    I numbered WK’s 7 points, above, for reference:

    GRIPES stands for:
    God’s responsibility (2) and the
    Responsibilities of others (1),
    Improvements (5) and intolerance (7),
    Praise and blame (3),
    Examples of suffering (4) and
    Statements of evaluation (6)

    Commas help you see the pattern of how things above are split into two parts. For example, praise and blame. I do think it makes it much more memory friendly.

    Remembering GRIPES helps me start to formulate questions to ask the relativist, such as the following:

    G- “How can you hold God responsibility for evil if, in your view, evil doesn’t exist?”
    R- “Why do you complain about hypocritical Christians if you don’t think hypocrisy is wrong?”
    I- “How can make moral progress as a nation if morality is merely a figment of human imagination?”
    I- “Why do you speak up against intolerance when you think there’s nothing wrong with it?”
    P- “As a relativist, are you willing to praise bigots and racists? Why not?”
    E- “I don’t understand. How can you complain of injustice in the world and yet believe there’s no such thing as justice?
    S- “How will we be able to have a meaningful conversation about ethics if we don’t even agree on whether or they exist?”

    All the examples above show the inconsistency that the moral relativist will typically run into.


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