Chandler Hanson is a 2017-18 Wheatley Student Scholar
Over the past few decades, our society’s morality has drastically changed as individuals exalt the idea of personal choice. Many things which were viewed as unequivocally wrong are now obstinately fought over as being correct. Sexual promiscuity, abortion, graphic violence, and pornography, among many other things, have become normalized and acceptable. This is not to say that these things did not exist in the past, but rather, it is to show the way that our society has warped its definition of morality; consequently, many people have come to govern themselves by what they feel is right. This is due to a decline in the belief in moral absolutism.
Moral absolutism attests that every action is classified as either right or wrong. It goes against many views today that claim that there is much grey area, an undefined line, or an ambiguity in terms of what is good and evil.
A stand on moral absolutism generally depends on an understanding of life as a predominantly spiritual experience. For Christians, the Bible teaches to “lean not on your own understanding” because God is the one who sets right and wrong, and His rules are clear; as He declares, amongst many other commandments “Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal” (Proverbs 3:5, Matthew19:18-19). For Muslims, the Quran praises “those who suppress their anger, and forgive other people – assuredly, God loves those who do good,” therefore attesting to the importance of righteous actions as defined by God (Quran 3:134). Both of these religions, though in many ways different in their specific points of view, give absolute right and absolute wrong to actions.
According to a 2012 study done by the Pew Research Center, Christianity and Islam make up the top two religious groups in the world. However, this study shockingly also found that the third largest religious group consists of people who claim to no religion (Hackett and Grim, 2012).
Coming in at over 1 billion people, or 16% of the total world population, religiously unaffiliated people make up a very large percentage. Although those who are unaffiliated often may be spiritual, a large percentage of them identify as either atheist or agnostic, so they do not have a belief in a god who determines what is right and wrong (Hackett and Grim, 2012). Even more interestingly, the Pew Research Center did a follow-up study about world religions in 2017 and predicted that in the span of only five years, the Christian population would decrease by over 8 million people, and the unaffiliated population would increase by over 7.5 million people (Hackett and Stonawski, 2017).
Considering these statistics of people leaving religion and its claim to moral absolutes, it is logical that our society has changed its definition of right and wrong. An already large, and steadily rising, number of people are shifting to a lack of belief in a god or a higher power that sets absolute morals. This mindset leads people to choose their own definition of right and wrong, and therefore, we see increases in and acceptance of many actions which were previously viewed as immoral.
A 2008 study done by sociologists from different American universities studied the religious and moral views of young adults. When asked how one judges if something is right, one young adult responded, “I mean, I guess what makes something right is how I feel about it. But different people may feel different ways, so I couldn’t speak on behalf of anyone else as to what’s right and wrong” (Denton, Pearce, and Smith, 2008). The involved researchers found this example to be representative of a majority of the young adults whom they interviewed.
This clear turn from moral absolutism in our society’s young people, as well as a general decline in religious peoples means that right and wrong will only continue to blur, and those previously immoral actions will continue to normalize, while those who still believe in moral absolutism will become more and more peculiar.
While people will inevitably disagree about many moral issues, it cannot be ignored that with these increasingly blurred lines of morality, it is becoming very apparent that we, as a society, are living a huge double standard. Many people say that they cannot judge if someone else’s actions are right or wrong, but in the same breath they turn and slander our public figures for actions that they claim are immoral.
If everyone feels justified in wanting an ambiguous standard of morality, then we cannot be upset at President Trump, Secretary Clinton, Senator Moore, Kevin Spacey, or Harvey Weinstein for their various types of crude behavior. Calling them out on their immorality when we do not even have a clear, standard definition of morality is hypocrisy.
Having said this, our political figures are, indeed, becoming increasingly corrupt: they steal, cheat, lie, slander, and blackmail. These habits are working their way into the public eye in other fronts as well, including some of our movie stars, newscasters, and police force. As this corruption moves increasingly closer to our everyday lives, we should worry about the effect that it will have on us. What happens when our bankers, our landlords, and our schoolteachers gain this sense of moral ambiguity and feel that it does not matter how they act or what they do. We would be ignorant to not believe that this is the path we are headed down. The corruption will not simply stop at our political figures; it will continue through all branches of our society.
At this point, while faced with this moral relativism, I believe that we have two options. We can continue to refuse to define right and wrong and let our society remain on the path it is headed, allowing corruption to trickle down to all careers and classes. Or we can choose to change our mindsets to a recognition that people do not have the individual luxury of determining their own rights and wrongs.
If we choose the latter option, we could see a change in the trends that we are seeing now. Trends that bring corrupt people into powerful positions. Trends that exalt behavior which hurt others, degrade self-worth, and ignore the moral absolutes that esteem respect and goodness. Instead, we can choose to bolster up public figures who live by a set of defined values and attempt to make the best decisions for others and for themselves. This could promote a pattern of peace and hospitality, and they could pull our society up out of its current downward spiral of morality.
Denton, M. L., L. D. Pearce, and C. Smith. (2008). Religion and Spirituality on the Path
Through Adolescence, Research Report Number 8. National Study of Youth and Religion, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Hackett, C., & Grim, B. J. (2012, December 17). The Global Religious Landscape. Retrieved
November 30, 2017, from http://www.pewforum.org/2012/12/18/global-religious-landscape-exec/
Hackett, C., & Stonawski, M. (2017, April 05). The Changing Global Religious Landscape.
Retrieved December 01, 2017, from http://www.pewforum.org/2017/04/05/the-changing-global-religious-landscape/