Moral Relativism – by Michael T. Pullen

How can you not be a moral relativist? You had to learn your morals from somewhere. After you learn what the moral behavior is you need to do it in relative terms to the situation.

The rabbis had figured this out a long time ago. If things were not relative to the situation why do we need a fence around the laws in the Torah. This fence or grey zone is ever widened so that you do not accidentally transgress.

Today we have the Pope giving yet another speech on the moral relativism of the world. Relative to what? Jews and Christians drink wine and Muslims don’t. Christians and Muslims eat chicken with milk but Jews do not. The law says do not boil the kid in the mother’s milk. And what does this have to do with chicken? To keep you from mistaking meat for chicken it is applied to all meats besides fish. It is all relative.

Christians pick and choose which laws they would like to follow from the Hebrew bible but remain moral relative to the teachings of Jesus. Jews do not follow any of the teachings of Jesus or Mohammad. Relative to which religion do we make the morals work?

Let me give another example where all three religions would agree. Stealing is wrong. It seems very clear. So let me ask you at what point do you believe it is stealing? Let’s say you work in an office all day long and:

  1. You remember you have a few things to do at home and you take a piece of paper and write down your list and you bring it home. Are you stealing?
  2. You have to buy your mom a present and you have some time before your next meeting, so you use the computer at work and buy a gift. You use both company time and their computer is that stealing?
  3. You are going to professional meeting not associated with work and you forgot a pencil. You go in the closet to get a pen and pencil and bring it with you.
  4. You need to print something out at home and you do not have time to go to the store so you bring a few sheets home.
  5. Your kid needs a notebook and you have an unused one on your desk. You bring it home for him to use.

Have any of these made you think that you were stealing?

Technically speaking these are all stealing. Now what if your company has a policy that allows you to do any one of these things every once in a while. Now when does it become stealing? How frequent do you need to do it to be stealing?

Moral relativism is a human trait. Those who believe that they are not moral relativists really need to provide me some good proof because I just don’t believe it.

mTp – With Intention


6 thoughts on “Moral Relativism – by Michael T. Pullen

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  1. according to the first mishna of Bava Metzia, Eilu, that deals with brands and “lost” items, technically there’re items that you can keep and things that you should return, torah is very specific on the amount, $$$, characteristics, etc….the problem is that people don’t know Torah and therefore they act by instinct, but according to the law… taking a piece of paper (a post it) is not consider stealing, taking a pencil or a pen may or may not, depending on the characteristics of the item, if it has the name engraved, if it’s the only pen that everybody shares to write, things like that.
    So, my point is, Torah is clear, a jew transgresses or not, but it’s not that we pick and choose, to each it’s own. in the case of gentiles, as they’re not obligated to know the law, only the noachide laws, then…. let’s put it like this, they’ve more flexibility

    1. Isaac, thank you for your comments. Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner. I agree that Torah gives quite specific rules but I am not sure that the way you quoted it is 100% correct. I myself do not know them but we were just discussing this topic on Shabbat at a rabbi’s house and though we didn’t specifically talk about post-its, from other things he said, I think it’s possible that taking a post-it is stealing. I’m sure it depends on where you take it from (I’d guess that if it’s from an office where you work, it might be OK) but anyway, it might be stealing.

      Also, I think that what you say is true, that Torah is very specific, but I think that there are probably laws that different people (rabbis) understand differently. So, for example, it is possible there is one understanding that would make taking a post-it OK and another that would make it not OK. I doubt it’s all 100% clear cut.

      Thanks for posting.

  2. What is moral relativism? It’s that the rules change according to the situation, right? But I don’t think that is true. Murder is wrong 100%. Killing is wrong/necessary depending on the situation. That is not moral relativism. It is a complex rule.

    The fact that we don’t eat chicken and milk but Christians and Muslims do, doesn’t mean there is moral relativism either, imo. Jews were given certain laws to follow that not everyone else has to follow. This is not relative, it is the complexity of the law.

    And the fact that in order to save your life, you are supposed to eat chicken with milk isn’t relative either because it is the case of two laws clashing and the more important one winning out.

    It’s funny because everything I am writing here actually does sound relative but I don’t think it is because it’s from a full legal system, you could call it, that takes the complexities of life into consideration. It is actually not relative at all because it is a set of rules that theoretically fit no matter what.

    The fact that we have the idea of creating a fence around the Jewish laws, I suppose it proves something about the ambiguity of life’s dilemmas. Often it’s hard to know exactly where the line is drawn between right and wrong. Does that prove that there is relativity when it comes to morals or maybe that either 1) We can never see reality 100% for what it is so we need help from some extra laws or 2) The gray area really is gray morally. Meaning, you really could go either way and either way is fine. That is not a relative thing, just an “it doesn’t matter” thing.

    fyi, I feel like maybe I just didn’t understand what you mean. If this is the case, can you please try to explain it to me? Thanks!

  3. Ah yes, I meant to also comment on the stealing thing. I think that people don’t take property seriously enough at all. We should pay attention about taking a little something here and there from the office. I think it’s a serious problem. I assume that the bottom line is, if it belongs to someone else, you aren’t allowed to take it, unless it is obviously there to take.

    A post it, I can see how it’s obvious that while you’re at work, if you think about something else, you need somewhere to write it down. (Don’t forget you’re also using the ink from the pen for this purpose.) But why would it be OK to take a notebook or a pen? Go buy a pen if you need one.

    If the company had an official policy about using post-its for personal use, either the rule could be very specific (two post-its a week are allowed) or it could be general (not exessive use). If it’s the former, then it’s not relative. If it’s the latter, it isn’t either. They’ve just decided not to be specific.

    And on that note, off to sleep.

  4. @ Deena – It does seem like you understand what I am getting at. I have a problem with conservative Christians in this case saying that the problems in the west and the US is that moral relativism is rampant.

    Soon as you say that in my “particular” religion the rules are clear you have entered into the relative to others argument. Each of us use a framework in order to guide our moral decisions. Most of us in this site use the Jewish framework. However, I grew up with a different framework which colors what I believe is moral and not. A Muslim, Christian, Zoastrian, Hindu, Buddist, Jane, Pagan all have their own frameworks. I am making the pluralistic assumption that they all have moral standards. This alone makes the moral decision making relative (to the belief system). Within each of these, take for example Judaism, there are many moral subjects in the hypothetical world are very clear cut. However, in the real world the moral choices are made relative to the situation at hand. (If you asked 2 Jews what the correct thing to do is I bet you would get 3 answers.)

    Here are some other thoughts I had on this topic:

    Behira Point

    Behira Point Moving?

    Your morals are contagious

  5. This post is confusing me!!!

    In short moral relativism is that what I say is right for me, which may be opposed to what you say is right for you, so no truth claim for either of us. From that point, I agree that what can we be but a moral relativist. But how is that a human trait???

    Selfishness is our greatest weakness, and that is our human trait. And I think the claims of moral relativism land themselves well to those who are seeing a way to gain for their specific self-interest.

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