What is wrong with subjective morality?

by Matt Slick

A lot of people wonder why we Christians advocate absolute morals and are so against subjective morality. Many times moral relativists will complain when we hold their ethical feet to the fire, especially when they express indignation at what God does in the Old Testament.  They don't like having to account for their morality.  As a Christian, I point out that their morality is subjective and that they have no right to say that something "is" morally right or wrong.  They can only give their opinions.  I ask them what is their standard? They only have their opinions, and they do not have the right to force their opinions on anyone else.

But, sometimes they ask what is wrong with having subjective morals? Are we Christians afraid of subjectivity in this regard? Or, are we so weak minded that we need a set of rules to follow because we don't have a moral base nor common sense with which to make sense of things?  Of course we do.  But, we can justify our absolute morals that apply to all people; they can't.  The Christians absolute morals are rooted in the character of God, not the subjective preferences of the individual.

Nevertheless, following is a list of reasons why subjective morality has problems.

Without absolute morals, nothing is really right or wrong.

Is an action such as rape actually morally wrong by nature? When we ask the question, particularly of someone who is not a Christian, we get a lot of different answers. Some say that it is wrong because it hurts people.  But, then why is hurting someone wrong?  After all, some people like to be hurt.  In addition, if morals are subjective, then the rapist can say that raping someone is right, even though the one getting raped will say it is wrong.  Which is the right position?  How does one subjective opinion stand up against another and actual moral truth emerge? 

Moral values are assigned individuals who often contradict each other.

Moral values would have to be assigned by people. But then, which people? Also, would morality be determined by popular vote? Or, do individuals claim moral values for themselves and then seek to blend into the moral values of everyone else? But the problem is that people contradict each other and all sorts of things. It would be a problem to determine what is actually is right and wrong when morals are subjective, and people disagree all the time.  Furthermore, if people were to appeal to something "just being wrong," then they are not appealing to the subjective preferences but to a standard outside of themselves. This would be inconsistent with the idea of subjective morality and would be borrowing from the Christian worldview which teaches there are absolute morals to which all people are subject.

If moral values are subjective, there can be no moral absolutes

If everything is subjective, then nothing is absolute. This would mean that if all moral choices depend upon individual desires, then nothing is by nature morally right or wrong.  This would mean that nothing is right or wrong morally. It would mean that there are only preferences and opinions regarding actions such as rape, theft, sacrifice, nurturing, lying, stealing, etc. 

Moral subjectivity would work only in a world where people are nice

Without absolute rules and one has to follow, chaos follows. Without absolute morals, subjective morality can easily lead to all sorts of problems. But subjective morality would only work in a world where everybody behaved properly. Then again, what would constitute proper behavior? If everyone were nice, then subjective morality would work. But, not everyone is nice. We live in a world full of pain and suffering inflicted at the hands of moral relativists who think that raping someone is acceptable to them, where robbing is a viable alternative, where embezzlement is okay if you don't get caught, where lying is permissible, etc.

History condemns moral relativism

History has shown that those in power and have the authority to carry out their own moral preferences, sometimes become mass murderers.  Here are a few statistics taken from the article on CARM:  the myth that religion is the number one cause of war.

  1. Joseph Stalin killed over 42 million people
  2. Mao Zedong killed over 37 million people
  3. Adolf Hitler killed 21 million people
  4. Vladimir Lenin killed 4 million people

If these men had believed that there was a moral standard outside of themselves that rested in God, and not their own preferences, perhaps millions of lives would've been spared.

Morals are based on reducing Harm

Generally speaking, those in opposition to the Christian worldview, often say that reducing harm is the universal moral standard because that is what people want. They don't like being harmed. But, we have to ask what makes what people want morally right? If they say that that is just the way it is, then we can say that it's just the way it is that there are moral absolutes.  For the moral relativist, all that is left is for him to chase his own tail and never get anywhere.  Furthermore, when reducing harm is the standard all that people have to adhere to, then the moral relativist is appealing to a universal moral standard. But that means they are appealing to something outside of themselves which contradicts their subjective morality.  All that is left for them is to continue chasing their own tail and never solve the problem that subjective morality necessitates.


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.