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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Right and Wrong (Moral Absolutism Versus Moral Relativism)

Some philosophical terms like moral absolutism and moral relativism can be easily understood by ordinary people. It is as simple as right and wrong.

In Mormondom, we believe in moral absolutism. In other words, we believe there are things that are always right and things that are always wrong. They were right yesterday, they are right today and they will be right tomorrow. They were wrong yesterday, they are wrong today and they will be wrong tomorrow.

Dominant in our society and culture today, moral relativism says that societies, cultures and individuals can change their minds about right and wrong.

Consider these quotes from our leaders. Mormons clearly embrace moral absolutes:

My first fundamental premise of our faith is that God is real and so are eternal truths and values not provable by current scientific methods. These ideas are inevitably linked. Like other believers, we proclaim the existence of the ultimate lawgiver, God our Eternal Father, and the existence of moral absolutes. We reject the moral relativism that is becoming the unofficial creed of much of modern culture.
But one thing is certain: the commandments have not changed. Let there be no mistake about that. Right is still right. Wrong is still wrong, no matter how cleverly cloaked in respectability or political correctness. We believe in chastity before marriage and fidelity ever after. That standard is an absolute standard of truth. It is neither subject to public opinion polls nor dependent upon situation or circumstance. There is no need to debate it or other gospel standards.
The saving principles and doctrines of the Church are established, fixed, and unchangeable.
Consider these quotes from our leaders. Mormons clearly abhor moral relativism.

But no one can blink at the fact that in this land, and in other lands across the world, there is an epidemic affecting the lives of millions of youth. It is a sickness that comes of a loss of values, of an abandonment of moral absolutes. The virus which has infected them comes of leaderless families, leaderless schools, leaderless communities. It comes of an attitude that says, “We will not teach moral values. We will leave the determination of such to the individual.”
D. Todd Christofferson:
The scriptures, for example, discredit an ancient philosophy that has come back into vogue in our day—the philosophy of Korihor that there are no absolute moral standards, that “every man prosper[s] according to his genius, and that every man conquer[s] according to his strength; and whatsoever a man [does is] no crime” and “that when a man [is] dead, that [is] the end thereof” (Alma 30:17–18).
One reason for the decline in moral values is that the world has invented a new, constantly changing and undependable standard of moral conduct referred to as “situational ethics.” [moral relativism] Now, individuals define good and evil as being adjustable according to each situation; this is in direct contrast to the proclaimed God-given absolute standard: “Thou shalt not!”—as in “Thou shalt not steal” (Ex. 20:15).
The most obvious current issue where moral absolutism and moral relativism is being played out today is homosexual behavior.


Moral absolutists, which include Mormons, maintain that homosexual behavior is wrong. It was wrong, it is wrong and it will continue to be wrong.


Moral relativists, which include most non-religious people, believe that society can change it's mind. We may have viewed homosexual behavior as wrong in the past, but that was just homophobia, narrow-mindedness or prejudice. There is nothing wrong with it and we should change how we think about it now and change the laws that condemn it.


Unfortunately, many religious people are also moral relativists. This is evident from church's that vote on their beliefs or periodically change their official beliefs from time to time.


But, as Mormons, we believe that moral absolutes are moral absolutes. Right and wrong don't change, ever.

2 comments:

  1. Really? It seems to me that Mormons love the *idea* of moral absolutes, but their definitions (as of the ideal family) change with time.

    How would you reconcile moral absolutism and continuing revelation?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Sarah, thanks for your comment.

    Q: How would you reconcile moral absolutism and continuing revelation?
    A: Moral absolutes exist whether they have been currently revealed or revealed at all.

    Comment: Really? It seems to me that Mormons love the *idea* of moral absolutes, but their definitions (as of the ideal family) change with time.

    My response: You give me very few clues as to what you mean so I will have to respond to what I think you mean.

    Moral absolutism is not unique to Mormons. It is not drawing lines in the sand, so to speak, it is recognizing the lines that exist that are unchangeable, by anyone.

    The absolute truths Mormons embrace concerning the family are explicitly stated and compiled into what we refer to as The Proclamation on the Family. You can read it at this link: http://lds.org/family/proclamation?lang=eng

    I suspect that you are referring to our prior practice of plural wives and our present practice of monogamy as being evidence of our ideal family definition having changed over time. This is a common misunderstanding about Mormons.

    Heavenly Father has occasionally authorized the practice of plural wives as He did regarding Abraham and as He did early in Mormon history. I address it in this blog posting: http://kristacook.blogspot.com/2010/09/why-all-this-about-polygamy.html

    The unauthorized practice of plural wives has always been condemned, as it is now, and was during Book of Mormon times.
    See http://lds.org/scriptures/bofm/jacob/2.27-30?lang=eng#26

    Look carefully at the Proclamation on the Family from the link above. This statement is accurate whether applied to Abraham, early Mormons or current Mormons. Marriage is always between a man and a woman. Wives are never married to each other.

    For further information see: http://lds.org/scriptures/gs/marriage-marry.p32?lang=eng&letter=m

    ReplyDelete