Morality: absolute?

If you were to poll a congregation of Christians as to the nature of morality the most prevalent answer would be misunderstanding. Refine that poll to Christians who know what terms mean and you will get statements like
“Objective” or “absolute” often used interchangeably. Are they interchangeable?

Objective morality postulates morals are dictated by an outside judge, in our case God, who decides what is right and wrong and all things must measure up to that standard. Absolute morality postulates something is either always right, or always wrong no matter the circumstances.

So what’s the difference?

Well modern evangelical Christianity teaches lying is wrong so I will use it as an example. If morality is absolute then it sinful to lie. Therefore, those who lied about Jews hiding when nazi’s came and asked were engaging in sinful activities. On the other hand, if morality is objective those hiding Jews could appeal to the sanctity of life which superseded the obligation to tell the truth an would therefore be sinning if they gave up the Jews. Intuitively we know the second scenario to be correct.

This is why issues such as abortion get muddled. Pro-choice people are correct in asserting women have a right of autonomy, that is an objective right given by God. In an absolute morality that is final; in an objective morality it’s not. The sanctity of life also comes into play… Which right is greater?

Axiology is the philosophical study of values, which seeks to create a hierarchy of values, or what is worth more. In an objective morality this is vital, going back to abortion which right is higher autonomy or life? I think we intuitively recognize life to be the greater right but that isn’t my point.

My point is within a system of absolute morality axiological “rankings” are redundant, a right is always right and a wrong is always wrong. We live in a world with shades of grey, meaning absolute morality is useless- almost every ethical issue is when two so called “rights” conflict (for example: life vs. autonomy). In this type of world appealing to absolute morality is senseless.

Morality is objectively governed by God, it is not however absolute. God Himself instructed Moses to lie to pharaoh, which according to absolute morality is sinful. Luckily, we live under an objective morality in which the greater good (or lesser evil) is correct.


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