During college it was not uncommon for me to hear professors and fellow students invoke the principle of relativity to justify the premise that morality is a purely relative concept. The argument was that because nature is not subject to absolutes, there should be no justification for the idea that morality is subject to absolutes. Most of these people however were only familiar with the principle of relativity in name, not understanding that it is built on the idea that the speed of light will always be constant in a vacuum. What this means is that all natural observations are relative to a single absolute standard! The principle of relativity is what makes the natural world rational, and without it there would be no basis for the scientific method. Science is only possible because nature will always behave the same way under controlled conditions when all variables are held constant. If whatever we are observing is giving us unpredictable results, we assume it is because there are variables we haven’t accounted for or can’t hold constant. This assumption is grounded on the principle that nature is always subject to a single absolute standard.
It is interesting to me that some of the same people who deny spirituality altogether have drawn parallels between the natural world and morality, which itself is a spiritual concept. If morality were only a vague and ever changing manmade creation why use the natural world to explain it? Perhaps the reason for is because we see the world through our spiritual concepts. If we believe that there are no absolute spiritual standards that govern the Universe, it is only natural that we should believe that the physical world be ruled by chaos and chance. It is not surprising that Christian theologians were responsible for our modern scientific view of the world; an ordered and predictable natural world was the logical conclusion of a spiritual reality governed by absolute standards.
Science could be thought of as our understanding of physical truth, where morality could be thought of as our understanding of spiritual truth. Different nations and cultures all over the world have different degrees of understanding when it comes to science, but all people have some intuitive understanding about the way nature works. Any child in any nation will expect a rock that they throw to eventually fall to the ground. They arrived at this understanding through observations while growing up, and eventually accepted as an axiom that rocks thrown will fall to the ground. In the same way different nations and cultures have different degrees of understanding when it comes to morality, but all have some intuitive understanding about the way spiritual reality operates. The concepts of love, respect, and injustice are purely spiritual concepts that are intuitively understood by every culture on earth.
Moral principles are not owned by any individual or organization, just as scientific principles are not. Truth is an absolute and objective quality that serves to benefit all mankind without the promotion of any particular group. For example to bring scientific knowledge to underdeveloped nations for the improvement of their infrastructure and technology is not to demean those cultures, but to show the highest respect. Even more important than scientific principles, moral principles form the foundation of any society and without them human civilization is impossible. Sharing moral understanding and principles is necessary in a world where civilization itself is threatened by the worst abuses of mankind by oppression and cruel injustice. Without an understanding of spirituality, the words – abuse, oppression, and injustice have little to no meaning.
Oftentimes when we think about morality we think about a long manmade list of restrictions and taboos. Jesus however instead of defining spiritual law by what we shouldn’t do defined it by what we should do, “That you should love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”-John 13:34 Jesus defined ‘sin’ not as failing to meet some religious standard, but failing to love. If Jesus Himself is the example of what that love should look like, that means laying down our own interests and desires for the sake of others. The Apostle James wrote, “From where do wars and fighting come from among you? Do they not come from the lusts that war within yourselves?” –James 4:1 The problems in our world all begin with the self motivated desires of every individual, and the only solution to the problem is love.
Read more articles by Jesse L. Smith or search for articles on the same topic or others.