Response to: "All morality is culturally determined

and is therefore relative, not absolute."

by Gary C. Burger, MDiv

Initially, cultural relativism sounds attractive. Isn't it reasonable to conclude that if different cultures would simply appreciate each other's similarities and differences and not try to change or even annihilate each other the world would be a peaceful place?

Let's play a medley of criticisms we hear from the cultural relativists:

"Who are you to impose your moral values on someone else?"

"Christian missionaries impose their values on tribal cultures."

"Western culture is imperialistic and must be stopped."

"Who are you to say another's values are wrong?"

Many of the criticisms students and teachers have about Western culture and its negative effects are well founded and should be taken seriously. But does this mean Western culture and Christianity have nothing good to offer the rest of the world? Hardly. Furthermore, would moral relativism be a better policy?

Let's put the cultural relativist on the spot. If the challenger is logically consistent he should agree with the following statements:

I could go on ad nauseum, but hopefully this is all anyone needs to see the hypocrisy and double standard necessary to teach and practice cultural relativism.

While the cultural relativist is squirming we could continue, "If you answered, 'no' to any of those questions then you don't really believe in cultural relativism, because you think there is a moral standard above everyone that applies to everyone. If you answered, 'yes,' then you either didn't understand the question, or you should be admitted into a mental hospital as a sociopath. Do you still believe that we don't have the right to impose good values on another culture?"

It is a fact that blacks are free, women have equal rights, the Nazi's didn't kill all the Jews in Europe, and people all over the world are being fed and clothed because of all the people in the West who believe it is absolutely wrong to stand by and do nothing to prevent another person's suffering when it is in our power to do so. Think of what the world would be like if we practiced cultural relativism consistently. We would see greater horrors than we care to imagine. The cultural relativist couldn't bear the consequences of his relativism.

Cultural relativism is also self contradicting. It is vogue on campus to try to replace Western culture with another "better" culture, but if there is no absolute standard then how can they say one culture is better than another. They have nothing to compare both to in order to decide. If everything is relative then there can be nothing "wrong" with Western culture.

Each culture does determine it's own moral codes, but that does not automatically mean they are right simply because they have gone to the trouble of establishing them. The inescapable observation is that all cultures do agree on some basic universal moral absolutes. These include sanctions against murder and injustice. The question is how well does a culture follow those standards? This is where we need to compare each culture's achievements, including our own, to the highest of ethical standards. Many groups of people have attempted to build perfect "utopian" societies, but every one of them failed because of the imperfect people who belonged to them.


We all would like to live in a perfect society, but that perfect society exists only in heaven and will be perfect because Jesus is the most perfect ruler possible. Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world." (John 18:36) He meant that, for example, it won't be characterized by greed, corruption and injustice. He is perfect in his love, grace, mercy, goodness and righteousness. He rules with perfect wisdom.

Heaven won't be a utopia just because we finally have the perfect leader and government. As long as there are imperfect people there won't be a utopia. The other ingredient to this perfect society will be the people whom He allows to inhabit it. When we choose to follow Jesus Christ, He does a radical overhaul of our very nature. This change begins to happen while we are still on earth. The apostle Paul wrote, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2Cor. 5:17)

When we are finally released from this world through death we will have eternal life in heaven with all the other people from every race and culture who have also been perfected by Him. Our broken moral compass will be replaced by a new one. There will be no racism or sexism or inequality. There will be no crime, no selfish grabs for power and control. There won't be any need for police or lawyers. We will only want what Christ wants, because we want only that which is perfect, and He alone has what is perfect to give to us. We will freely choose it. All of our intrinsic, deepest longings for perfect love and justice will be realized. Only in this heavenly culture of moral absolutes will we ever be completely fulfilled."


Copan, Paul. True for you, But Not For Me: Deflating the Slogans That Leave Christians Speechless. Minneapolis:Bethany House Publishers. p. 48.


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