Individualism: Man’s Decline into Moral Relativism

This entry is 1 of 3 essays I had to write for the upper level philosophy course, Christ & Culture, at Concordia University-Ann Arbor that has been revised to fit this blog, a total of approximately 7 pages. In the class, one of the books we read was The American Mind Meets the Mind of Christ, which is a compilation of essays written by professors at the LCMS St. Louis Seminary. In our essay, we had to pick one of the essays and write about a topic similar to the one we chose that wasn’t covered by the writer of the essay.


In his essay, Individualism as the Insistence on My Rights, Joel Biermann argues, “there are no unalienable rights, there are no basic human rights, and there are no inherent rights of the individual—at least not in the sense that these ‘rights’ are commonly understood in twenty-first century America” (Kolb, 44). He says “today’s lord and master” has become “the sacred individual” (45). This growing popularity of individualism has developed the common thought that each person has basic rights: the right to education, to vote, to own property, to sue corporations, etc. It’s extremity demands ultimate autonomy, which makes erroneous claims such as the pregnant woman having the right to abort a living infant, a person having the right to marry whomever or whatever they want to marry, and other commonalities. However, “To demand one’s right—yes, even to demand the rights of another—invariably ends with the individual self enthroned and both God and neighbor deposed” (46). As man grows in his sense of strong individualism, the further he declines into moral relativism. In moral relativism, anything becomes “good,” “right,” or “true” based on the individual’s desires and in the process deposes God and neighbour.

Deconstructionism is the valid philosophy that there can be no dependence on arbitrary signifiers because of their ultimate instability, such as the subjectivity of a collective people defining what is “true” or “good.” There are a plethora of biases with one’s upbringing as that foundation, and any fathoming of a truth is always shaped by one’s bias so much that we can never be able to get to the kernel of the truth. Therefore, in a worldview run by subjectivity (i.e. the subjective majority with the loudest voice), we can never say there is a truth because we each have a different bias and someone else’s will always be different from ours. Truth, then, becomes irrelevant, and what becomes relevant is what is “right” for each person (i.e. individualism), which when left unchecked falls into moral relativism.

With moral relativism, no one is ever speaking an unbiased truth, but always a certain bias according to his or her “inner truth.” How one views a particular issue according to one’s bias will be completely different than someone else’s. If our inner truths—these biases—become the way in which truth is interpreted, the world becomes a place where there is no absolute truth, but multiple truths. How can there be any truth if there’s more than one truth? Truth is not a plural noun; it is singular. The pluralism of truth is an insidious lie that has seeped its way into our culture and proceeds to deceive many. There can only be one truth, otherwise it is no longer truth. Concerning this issue, Biermann writes, “Man invents the rights he likes and asserts the dignity he wants… Rights are what someone, the one with the most power (the majority?), deigns to give to you” (49). Therefore, “Without a Creator, talk of human dignity and human rights is nonsensical” (50). Since, then, there can only be one truth, this one truth is found in the One God, who has been manifested in Jesus Christ. Therefore, the only way in which we can know the truth is in the person and work of Christ, for His words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) were spoken only by Him throughout all history, which He did not say these words for no reason.

Consequentialism is the bastard child of moral relativism and individualism, which proposes something is good for oneself so long as it does not hurt someone else. While this view has its good intentions as a cousin of the moral imperative, “love thy neighbour,” it ultimately fails because even if a particular thing does not harm someone, it still holds the propensity of defying God, the moral absolute. For example, a married couple may have an agreed upon open sexual relationship, but it is still adultery if another man sleeps with that man’s wife. Their sense of individualism and moral relativism does not make God’s moral imperative, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife” come to null, as well as His mandates against sexual immorality. Thus, the moral relativist deposes God.

If we function by consequentialism (i.e. moral relativism), nothing is certain, which is counterintuitive to the common human endeavour to looking for greater meaning. To each person, greater meaning is certain, but the greater meaning becomes only uncertain in a moral relativistic (and evolutionist) worldview that functions within the framework of consequentialism that proclaims nothing is certain. Furthermore, since nothing is certain, everything becomes meaningless, even life itself. In this view, the focus is on the self. Life becomes narcissistic, focusing only on our wants and desires and being inconsiderate to those of our neighbour, even whilst claiming to be considerate of our neighbour’s needs (which are, in actuality, their wants disguised as needs—and there is a fine difference betwixt the two). With a moral imperative, however, there is always certainty because what is can never be anything than what it already is (it is imperishable).

Consequentialism comes from within, which with each unique person becomes uncertain and is as trustful as the ever-changing wind. Moral relativism cannot be trusted no more than a thief in one’s home can be trusted for security, for it robs the individual of salvation. The moral imperative, however, comes from outside; it binds on all creatures. Truth can only be spoken; therefore, this binding imperative can only come from the one who is uncreated and infinite who has spoken the moral imperative: YHWH.

The moral imperative cannot be argued against; it simply is—it is imperishable, whereas human beings are perishable. Being perishable, we cannot put on this imperishable imperative of our own volition. Rather, it must be done from outside ourselves. The apostle Paul describes it in the following way in 1 Corinthians 1:50, 52b-57:

Flesh and blood cannot inherit the imperishable… For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then it shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The idea of putting on the imperishable for immortality is to achieve the perennial human endeavour: escaping death. The cult of personality belonging to science is the elongation of life and youth. Each religion claiming separation from the God of Christ denies God’s manifestation in Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Being perishable, we cannot achieve this goal; therefore, to achieve it we must become imperishable. However, we cannot do this ourselves. The finite cannot do the infinite. The apostle Paul wrote above that “the dead will be raised imperishable,” which is a passive condition. Who’s doing the raising? The God of Jesus Christ. God raises His children imperishable, clothing them in immortality. By this, they escape death, not of their own doing, but by the doing of God our Saviour. Paul says it himself at the end of the above passage, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus conquered death (2 Timothy 1:10); therefore, we also become conquerors of death by abiding in His Word, which enables us to know the truth (Christ), which will set us free (John 8:32). Ergo, because Jesus Christ is the truth (John 14:6), only by abiding in Him as our moral imperative can we know truth and be saved from death (see 1 John 4:12-13; 2 John 9).

Moral relativism seeks to respond to the human condition (sin), as any religion attempts. The failure of moral relativism is that it focuses on the self—what is good, right, and true for the individual comes from within, and that is what saves them. Holy Scripture, however, does not speak this way about salvation. If there are multiple ways in which a person can save him or herself, then it is questionable whether man really needs saving at all, since the plethora of salvation methods are apparently “equal.” Perhaps the most significant failure of moral relativism is that while it demands a right for oneself and/or the rights of others, it at the same time denies the rights of the minority.

For example, in demanding homosexuals’ “right” to gay marriage, the moral relativistic proponents simultaneously deny the religious rights of Christians who refuse to serve homosexual weddings since it’s against their religious views, whilst ignoring the Muslim countries that behead homosexuals and throw them off buildings to their death (hence their intellectual ignorance, dishonesty, and sloth). By demanding the “rights” of homosexuals and transgenders, they simultaneously reject the 1st Amendment rights of American Christians in the United State Constitution as well as the rights of the women who do not want men in their bathrooms. They argue this “right” they’ve surmised is somehow inherent in nature. However, “Nature (or creation) does not bestow rights on the individual; rather the Creator graces the person with the gift of life, the gift of salvation, and the responsibility to care for the surrounding creation” (50). Such moral relativistic people as described ironically depose their neighbour when attempting to defend the “rights” of another. In America, we are blessed with many “rights” not because they are inherently bestowed upon us by nature, but only because God has deemed it fit to grace us with such enormous gifts. We live in a free country such as America not because life or nature owes it to us, but because God simply allows it, which He could easily take away in an instant. Out of His good, gracious, and merciful will, He has not.

Even though these moral relativistic proponents often get their way (i.e. the tyranny of the majority), it does not suddenly become right, good, or true (argumentum ad populum fallacy), for God is the definer of those terms. “While sin and its consequences infect and pervert the Creator’s intentions for His creatures, the plan is still in effect… Man exists to serve the creation. Man lives for the good of the neighbour” (50). Man’s purpose is not to depose God and neighbour, which moral relativism commences. Man may pervert God’s will and order in his sin, but God’s will does not come to null when this happens. God’s will is not contingent upon man’s actions; man’s actions are contingent upon God’s will. The beauty of the moral absolute is that He simply is, and thus it is the same with the moral imperative—God’s mandates.

As the moral absolute, God has set certain standards of behaviour in which His people are to act given in the Ten Commandments and teachings of Christ. Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-38). He also said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Just as a child shows his love for his father when he obeys his commands, so we show our love for our Father when we obey His commands. Love of God fails when man, in his moral relativism, loves himself rather than God and thus makes himself sacred rather than God. When man loves himself in moral relativism (i.e. individualism), God becomes deposed.

When man only looks out for his own interests—yes, even the interests of others whilst ignoring the interests of other people (i.e. discrimination)—the neighbour becomes deposed. For example, as the moral relativistic proponent supports the “rights” of homosexuals for gay “marriage” while judging their opponents of bigotry and discrimination when they are innocent of these accusations, the proponent ironically becomes bigoted and discriminatory, thus deposing his neighbour. Under the moral imperative, however, which is God as the moral absolute, one seeks the things pertaining to God and the good of the neighbour in the love of Christ.

Bibliography

Kolb, Robert. The American Mind Meets the Mind of Christ. St. Louis: Concordia Seminary, 2010.

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