by Rob Vitaro
A philosophy isn’t just some string of deep thoughts that philosophers think up and talk about with other philosophers. It is a complete manner of thinking that affects every action a person chooses to perform. A philosophy can shape a culture through art, the writing of books, political action, and, in the case of today, the other seemingly limitless forms of mass media. Philosophies have the potential for great positive change, such as the Enlightenment, or for dire consequences. Postmodernism is a philosophy which falls into the category of the latter. It has wrought in our current culture a selfish society that has begun to erode away at marriage and families, the oldest social institutions known to mankind.
Postmodern is the term used to describe the general philosophy of the world in which we live today. The Modern period, beginning in the early 1500’s, lasted over four hundred years and ended just after the Second World War. Modernism is associated with objectivity, reason, empiricism, and the search for a verifiable truth and knowledge. (Solomon & Higgins, 1996) Postmodernism, on the other hand, looks at the devastation of revolutions, colonialism, slavery and ultimately the two world wars of the early twentieth century as the horrible results of Modern thought, and as such defiantly rejects that philosophy. It claims that nothing can ever be completely known.
“Philosophy, that search for a single absolute truth, no longer exists. There are only philosophies. There is no longer Truth, only ‘discourses’… It is largely negative, rarely positive, the celebration of an ending but not clearly the marking of anything new. It rejects the old philosophical confidence and assertiveness. …there is no all-embracing, ‘totalizing’ viewpoint, no ‘God’s-eye view,’ no pure ‘objectivity.’ … There are, according to most postmodernists, only interpretations… The only healthy intellectual attitude… is a vigorous skepticism, a ‘hermeneutics of suspicion.’ ” (Solomon & Higgins, 1996)
What this line of thinking has been trying to do is create a way of life that is less dogmatic so as to prevent the horrors that ended with the Modern period. A noble goal perhaps, but what it has succeeded in doing instead is slowly create a culture that rejects the idea and the objective search of an ultimate standard of truth, replacing it with subjectivity. This concept is called moral relativism.
The proponents of moral relativism claim that truth lies in the perception of the individual, insomuch as what one person considers to be right and true is actually right and true for him or her only, because it usually contradicts what is right and true for someone else. Thus, there is no absolute, all-encompassing standard of truth which governs life, because truth is merely a perception. While there are obvious problems with this philosophy (as in the simple example: how can two people both be right when looking at the same chair and yet each of them claim it to be constructed of different materials?), it does seem to have its social appeal. We all want to live in an orderly, civilized society where we can get along with each other despite our differences. Moral relativism addresses this by stating that all beliefs are equally valid, and as such no one can claim that anyone else’s own personal beliefs are wrong. It seems like this would ideally keep heated debates and arguments at bay, but it doesn’t for the very reason that it can not answer this fundamental question: Is there a wrong way to live? It would follow from the relativist line of thinking that no, there isn’t. But then how does one explain our feelings of sadness, anger, and injustice? Quite simply, it is because we feel we have been wronged, or that something, however intangible, is wrong. So, if we know wrong when we see it, then we must also know right when we see it. How do we define what is right, then?
Moral relativism states that the individual decides what is right for them; it is a self-focused view of the world. Where does this lead? Take the dating couple who decided, “It felt like the right time,” to sleep together before marrying, only to have the man disappear when the woman ends up pregnant. “It just feels right,” says the man cheating on his wife; the wife doesn’t think so. “I had to do what was right for me,” claims the woman who leaves her husband because she doesn’t love him anymore; was it right for her children? It could be said, then, that moral relativism is a selfish ideology, because the individual is not forced to consider anything other than their own feelings of the moment. Actually, this means that one can even change his or her standard of truth to suit their current situation! These three simple situations demonstrate that there certainly are resulting repercussions and wronged individuals from these “feelings” of being right. Obviously, what these people felt was right was in fact not. What is right, it would follow, must therefore be something outside of us as individuals.
Christians believe that God is the source of all goodness and truth. The Bible is God’s Word that He has given to us so that we might have a guide for how to live our lives. It is through faith that a Christian believes that God spoke through the writers of the books of the Bible and that the laws and principles therein are the Truth that is not open for debate; it is what it is because He is who He is. Believing in these principles and claiming them to be the truth that governs all humankind is seen as dogmatic, and Postmodernism rejects the idea of dogmatism. As such there is a cultural push that virtually forces people into relativistic thinking, rather than risk offending someone (or social isolation) when their beliefs about human behavior differ from someone else’s. Many Christians are afraid to not start their beliefs with, “I believe…” rather than with, “God says…” They fear being labeled self-righteous or “holier-than-thou.” Even well-meaning non-Christians, people just trying to live a good life, can get caught up into being politically correct, believing in these Christian principles as simply principles unto themselves, but still sometimes uttering the relativist phrase, “This is what I believe is right for me.” Both Christians and non-Christians should beware that although this can be a way to try and prevent offending someone, it can also be “practice” for one day justifying their own selfish behavior, should that time present itself. The crux of the matter is this: if God knows best, then His rules of right and wrong are meant to protect us and keep us from harm, like any good father’s rules are for his own child.
The first and foremost issue at hand is the divorce rate, affecting Christians and non-Christians alike. “45% of first marriages today are expected to break up over the course of a lifetime.” (Popenoe, & Dafoe Whitehead, 1999) The single greatest cause in the increase of divorces has been the introduction of the no-fault divorce laws that are now in place in every state. Whereas before a person seeking a divorce had to find fault in their spouse, such as infidelity, divorces could now be obtained much more easily by simply citing “irreconcilable differences.” No burden of proof is necessary, and these divorces are almost never denied. The term irreconcilable differences is so vague that it allows any possible reason to seek a divorce, including the most selfish of all: “I fell out of love.” The law has allowed the individual to easily choose themselves over their spouse (and perhaps their children) and seek a way out of situation that they feel is too difficult or too much trouble to handle. Making divorce easier has made everyone less apt to work at their marriage, and so the divorce rate has skyrocketed.
There is also the issue of the increase in the rate of cohabitation, where a couple lives together and has a sexual relationship but they are not married. The foundation that this relationship rests on is shaky at best. Each individual is saying to the other, “I want to enjoy being with you, but if this doesn’t work out for me, or if I find someone better for me, I can easily leave you without the hassle and complexity of a divorce.” Notice there is no promise in that statement; in fact, it is actually a threat! There is a constant threat that the other person can leave because they are not getting what they want from the relationship. What is keeping them from leaving? Nothing at all. It could be said, then, that the care shown to each other in this kind of relationship is not out love for the other, but out of the fear of abandonment. Now contrast this with a marriage, where the couple has not lived together before the wedding. The vows spoken aloud and publicly are promises to stay true and loyal to each other (fidelity), to stay married despite all adversity, for as long as they both shall live (not for as long as they both shall love). These living arrangements now begin on a foundation of promises, not demands, and with responsibilities that rest on each person to care for the other out of respect and love. Whether cohabitating before an eventual marriage, or just cohabitating as an alternative to marriage, the statistics are the same: cohabiters have a 46% greater risk of a break-up than for those who did not cohabitate before marriage. (DeMaris & Rao, 1992) The relationship with the most security is plain to see.
There is also an unusual trend emerging called “living apart together,” which further exemplifies the selfishness of our culture. In these cases, couples, either married or unmarried, are “committed to sharing their lives, but only to a point.” (Brooke, 2006) They live in separate homes, possibly even in separate cities, and see each other on an as-needed basis. These couples have decided that their individual lives come first, followed by their partner’s. “That scenario… assumes that other people’s needs are an imposition… A long-term romantic arrangement that doesn’t involve cohabitation ‘glorifies individual needs.'” (Brooke, 2006) It is estimated that over a million couples in Great Britain are currently in these kinds of relationships, and although The U.S. Census does not account for them, since America tends to follow European example, we are probably not that far behind in this development.
We can take the selfishness of moral relativism another step, into the realm of the sexual relationship. Since the sexual revolution of the 1960’s a vast majority of people no longer save their first sexual experience for their wedding night. When sex is taken outside of the context of marriage it is all but stripped down to a purely self-satisfying physical act, each person mutually using the other for their own gratification. It’s as if a person is ultimately saying to the other, “I don’t care about you enough to wait for you, I want you now.” Without the permanence of marriage, sex creates premature bonds that tear wounds in the hearts of the hurting after relationships end. As stated above, Christians believe God is the source of all goodness and truth. When God created Adam, he was made in the image of God; he reflected God’s goodness. From Adam came Eve, which means that when the two of them are joined as one (spiritually, emotionally, and physically) they together reflect the image of God. (Wheat, 1981) This joining was always meant to be a permanent state, and as such God hates divorce, because it destroys His image; he hates premarital sex because it misuses His image; he hates homosexual acts because they are a perversion of His image. Remaining abstinent until marriage is entirely possible, despite what our sex-saturated culture claims. Sex was designed from the very beginning to be a wonderful , good gift. (LaHaye, 1998) But like many of God’s gifts, we have misused this one greatly.
The 1960’s sexual revolution’s greatest anthem, “Do what makes you feel good,” still rings loud and clear today in a culture that tells the youth, “We know you’re going to do it because you can’t help yourself, but at least try to be safe about it.” Even so, adults are still in shock of the statistics concerning teenage sexual activity. The teenage sex rate is 47%, but is actually higher since most teenagers do not consider oral sex to be sex. (Denizet-Lewis, 2004) Why should any of this come as such a surprise? Moral relativism would likely dictate that no one can tell a parent how to raise their children, yet that is exactly what our current culture is trying to do. To be fair, it’s not so much telling parents what to do, but what not to do: don’t spank, don’t yell, don’t teach them your truth (let them decide what is true for themselves). Ultimately a selfish ambition, parents that fear their children’s disapproval rather than helping them to become functioning, beneficial members of society has led to indulgent parenting. Indulgent parents make “few demands for responsible behavior, punishing infrequently and inconsistently, and exercise little control or power over their children’s decisions.” (Cobb, 2001) Postmodernism being concerned with the self, many people even have children simply to fulfill themselves. They then become disappointed with or resentful of their children if or when that fulfillment doesn’t happen. Children that were the result of an accidental pregnancy might also end up as the product of neglectful parents, those that “provide little nurturance or supervision, are cold and uninvolved, and set few limits, letting their children do whatever they choose.” (Cobb, 2001) Postmodernism isn’t just making adults selfish so that their parenting is affected, it’s also affecting their children. When asked whether “hooking up” worked out well for teenage boys and girls equally, one girl replied, “It’s equal… Everyone is using each other. That’s fair.” (Denizet-Lewis, 2004) The youth is simply watching the behavior of their parents’ generation, so it must be asked again: Why the surprise?
In just over sixty years we have seen the effects of postmodernism: half of all marriages end in divorce, cohabitation is increasingly taking over standard marriage, and teenage sexual activity is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Yet moral relativism claims that as long as the people involved consider it right for them, then it is perfectly acceptable. But that brings up one last issue: What about those who do not consider it acceptable? This is where relativism becomes self-defeating: those that promote it aren’t really interested in preventing anyone from speaking their own beliefs, but rather to make everyone think the way they do. This is inherently contradictory to the idea of moral relativism. Its proponents cannot tolerate what they consider to be intolerance. One can think whatever they want, as long as they don’t disagree that it’s all relative. This is ultimately a slippery slope that has a potential for anarchy if taken to governmental levels, because in practice, then, how can one punish criminals if what those criminals did seemed right to them at the time? Clearly, there must be some ultimate standard of truth upon which we must use to govern our lives and our society so that right and wrong can be determined. It was never to take away our freedom that God gave us His rules; it was to keep us free and safe within them that He gave them to us. Indeed, Father does know best.
Brooke, J. (2006, May 4). Home alone together. New York Times.
Cobb, N. J. (2001). Adolescence: Community, change, and diversity (4th ed.). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.
DeMaris, A., & Rao, K. V. (1992). Premarital cohabitation and subsequent marital stability in the united states: A Reassessment. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 54, 178-190.
Denizet-Lewis, B. (2004, May 30). Friends, friends with benefits and the benefits of the local mall. New York Times.
LaHaye, T., & Lahaye, B. (1998). The Act of marriage. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondevan.
Popenoe, D., & Dafoe Whitehead, B. (1999, January). Should we live together: What young adults need to know about cohabitation before marriage. [Article]. The National Marriage Project Rutgers State University of New Jersey. Retrieved May 1, 2006 from the World Wide Web: http://www.smartmarriages.com/cohabit.html
Solomon, R. C., & Higgins, K. M. (1996). A Short history of philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press.
Wheat, E., & Wheat, G. (1981). Intended for pleasure. Old Tappan, NJ: Flemming H. Revell Company.