More on Moral Relativism…

The same cognitive failure that allows people to believe that Winston Churchill was made up and Sherlock Holmes is real influences our sense of what is right and what is wrong.

I recently stumbled upon a Ted Kopple speech from about 20 years ago (ancient history to many) that addresses this. Here are some excerpts.

Look at MTV or Good Morning America and watch the images and ideas flash past in a blur of impressionistic appetizers. No, there is not much room on TV for complexity. You can partake of our daily banquet without drawing on any intellectual resources; without either physical or moral discipline. We require nothing of you; only that you watch; or say that you were watching if Mr. Nielsen’s representative should call. And gradually, it must be said, we are beginning to make our mark on the American psyche. We have actually convinced ourselves that slogans will save us. “Shoot up if you must; but use a clean needle.” “Enjoy sex whenever with whomever you wish; but wear a condom.”

No. The answer is no. Not no because it isn’t cool or smart or because you might end up in jail or dying in an AIDS ward — but no, because it’s wrong. Because we have spent 5,000 years as a race of rational human beings trying to drag ourselves out of the primeval slime by searching for truth and moral absolutes. In the place of Truth we have discovered facts; for moral absolutes we have substituted moral ambiguity. We now communicate with everyone and say absolutely nothing….

Our society finds Truth too strong a medicine to digest undiluted. In its purest form Truth is not a polite tap on the shoulder; it is a hallowing reproach.

What Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai were not the Ten Suggestions, they are Commandments. Are, not were.

The sheer brilliance of the Ten Commandments is that they codify, in a handful of words, acceptable human behavior. Not just for then or now but for all time. Language evolves, power shifts from nation to nation, messages are transmitted with the speed of light, man erases one frontier after another; and yet we and our behavior, and the Commandments which govern that behavior, remain the same. The tension between those Commandments and our baser instincts provide the grist for journalism’s daily mill. What a huge, gaping void there would be in our informational flow and in our entertainment without routine violation of the Sixth Commandment. Thou shalt not murder.

On what did the Hart campaign flounder? On accusations that he violated the Seventh Commandment. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Relevant? Of course the Commandments are relevant. Simply because we use different term and tools, the Eighth Commandment is still relevant to the insider trading scandal. Thou shalt not steal. Watch the Iran/Contra hearings and keep the Ninth Commandment in mind: Thou shalt not bear false witness. And the Tenth Commandment, which seems to have been crafted for the 80’s and the Me Generation. The Commandment against covetous desires; against longing for anything we cannot get in an honest and legal fashion.

When you think about it, it’s curious, isn’t it. We’ve changed in almost all things — where we live, how we eat, communicate, travel; and yet, in our moral and immoral behavior we are fundamentally unchanged.

Jesus summed it up: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So much for our obligations towards our fellow man. That’s what the last five Commandments are all about.


There have always been imperfect role models; false gods of material success and shallow fame; but now their influence is magnified by television. I caution you, as one who performs daily on that flickering altar, to set your sights beyond what you can see. There is true majesty in the concept of an unseen power which can neither be measured nor weighed. There is harmony and inner peace to be found in following a moral compass that points in the same direction, regardless of fashion or trend.

He was right on 20 years ago. I think he’s right on today.

11 thoughts on “More on Moral Relativism…

  1. Wow! Ted Koppel?

    Forgive me, but I looked this up on Snopes just to be sure, it seemed too good to be true…


  2. I think you have to be sure to state clearly why the 10 Commandments are binding- because Jesus is King of the World and that’s what He wants. I think a lot of times the older generations (not necessarily TK) talk as if morality is good because it’s the way they like it. Then the younger generation says “Well this is how we like it”.

    Aside to Wendy: I was at Shaw Library yesterday, and they had a book called “A View From…”, a collection of essays from the Progress published in 97. Is that book available for sale, do you know??

  3. Yes, it is. There are two books and they’re avaliable at the Progress office in Clearfield in the downstairs business office.

  4. I think you have to be sure to state clearly why the 10 Commandments are binding- because Jesus is King of the World and that’s what He wants.

    I had a professor who used to ask classes, “Is right right because of something intrinsic in rightness? Or is right right because it coincides with God’s nature?” It sounds like mhoover is saying that right is right because it reflects God’s (Jesus’) nature.

    Right? 😉

  5. Steve- yeah, that’s right. When Doug Wilson did the debate on Christianity Today with the atheist Christopher Hitchens, Hitchens kept saying that “being an atheist doesn’t mean you believe in moral anarchy”. But every time he would judge something as right or wrong, Wilson would ask “What makes it wrong?”. If you ask that enough, there’s no right answers other than “This is how the universe is made by God”. From there it’s just a matter of deciding what that God is like.

    Wendy- thanks. I read about a quarter of it at Shaw PL and really enjoyed it. That sort of local interest stuff is one of the best things about the Progress.

  6. In a discussion on another forum, the question came up:
    Is it ever better to tell a lie than the truth?

    Then the example came up of during WWII when various families hid some Jews. If the soldiers came up and asked, “Are there any Jews in your house?” they could:
    1. Tell the truth and say yes.
    2. Lie and say no.

    Option 1 would put the Jews at risk, and might put the people hiding them at risk. Of course there is option 3, which is not to volunteer to hide any Jews, and if asked to hide some, say “No, it would put me and my family at risk”. So there are two options that do not require lying. Which of these three options is the best?

  7. Well, it’s easy for me to say, in my nice, safe, office at my nice, safe (relatively, when the drawers don’t stick) desk and say the “right” answer is to hide Jews and lie like the dickens. I think of all Corrie ten Boom and her father and sister did (and brother as well) and all they suffered because they did what was right instead of what was safe. And they lied too. “Where are the Jews?” and she wouldn’t tell them. And her father was offered the chance to go free if he promised to never help another Jew and his reply was honest…he promised that if released that moment he would immediately return to helping Jews survive, and he died in prison.

    I pray I never have to make such difficult decisions. But sometimes, yes, lieing might be the better option. “The good of the many outweighs the good of the few…or the one.”

  8. I think the Bible teaches that it is OK to tell a lie when it is the only way you have to thwart a great evil. Think about the Hebrew midwives in Exodus 2 who lied to Pharaoh when he commanded them to murder the Israelite babies. It says that this was a sign that they “feared God” (Ex 1:17,21), and God blessed them greatly for doing it. So I would say option 1.

  9. Yeah — I am with Rahab on this. The difficulty for the Christian who desires to reflect God’s holiness is that both lying and betraying the one in your care are violations of God’s nature. If I lie, I fail to reflect the One who is the Truth (John 14) and if I betray the one I am protecting………

    I don’t like lesser-of-two evils scenarios. That’s why I will have trouble voting this year. As I have every year of my life. 🙂

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