Moral Relativity

In my time at Denver Seminary, I have sensed a negative disposition towards postmodernism among some faculty and students. I have also met a number of people in the greater Denver area who seem greatly concerned with postmodernism. Postmodernism, in all of these situations, is referenced in regards to moral relativity. You’ve heard it said, “What’s right to you is right to you and what’s right to me is right to me,” or something to that effect. It has made me conclude that postmodernism is the scapegoat on which evangelicals are passing the blame for their failed attempt at moral reform. My first problem with all this is that postmodernism has been defined in very narrow terms and the whole methodological project intended by it has been rendered obsolete. It is greatly oversimplified to use it in a pejorative sense in regards to moral ethics. Everybody just blames the post-moderns for our culture’s moral relativity. But I wonder if this is really the case. Or, if it is a just another way that we place the blame. It’s easy to blame a philosophy for the world’s problems, especially when it’s a worldview that we do not espouse. By doing this, we separate ourselves from the problems of the world. Thus, the problem does not lie in us or our views but in them and their views. This is just a defensive mechanism in us because we don’t like to see ourselves as part of the problem So we shift the blame.

I am wondering though, if consumerism might play a larger role than postmodernism when it comes to moral relativity. I say this for a couple reasons. First, some of postmodernism has been a reaction against the life of generations before. Many post-moderns have rejected the comfortable, wealthy, consumeristic life that their parents lived. Thus, consumerism was present before the current situation of postmodernity. Second, consumerism breeds an instant-satisfaction culture in which are desires can be satisfied at any given moment if we have the money, the time, the connections, etc. Consumerism teaches us to satisfy these needs immediately, rather than to reflect on the decisions we are making. For example, if we have a desire to sleep with a woman who is not our wife, we just do it. We don’t reflect on whether it is right or not. It may cross our mind but only for a fleeting moment. We do it right away and after the fact, we may think about it. Or we may forget about it because we are off satisfying our next desire. What I am seeking to convey is that our decisions are more influenced by consumerism than postmodernism. When faced with an ethical decision, we do not often think about in terms of it being wrong for me but right for you or vice versa. We only think about immediate implications.

Thus, returning to the idea of shifting the blame, by using postmodernism as a scapegoat, we ignore that we are a part of the moral relativity our world faces. Because consumerism is a part of all of us. We all consume. Some more than others. And consumerism in the U.S. has gotten to the point where immediate gratification or results is elevated beyond the moral questions regarding a decision. We are a part of the problem of moral relativity whether we are post-moderns or not because we participate in the religion of consumerism. As much as we try to shift the blame, it does no good in facing moral relativity if we are unwilling to recognize how we have contributed to the problem.

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