There’s a growing sense in our society that…at the end of the day…relax! Everyone is entitled to their opinion. About everything. And on one level I completely agree and think that is quite right. I have opinions…and I blog about them. Others have opinions about what I say…and so they respond to me with questions. This is all good and right.
But a growing problem in our culture is that people are taking the right to opinion…and turning it into something else. Something that’s not relaxing at all…something downright dangerous.
Some years ago, Francis Beckwith participated in a panel discussion that looked at the possible dangers of violence and sexual content on broadcast media to children. This debate happened years before always on, instantly accessible torrent sites, Netflix accounts…and the shrinkage of traditional TV broadcasters. During the debate, Beckwith suggested that Government censorship was not the answer. Rather, the media outlets themselves had a responsibility to make moral judgements about how their programming may affect young people.
One woman in the audience bristled at that suggestion and raised her hand. “Who are you to judge?” she asked. She wasn’t expecting an answer. She was making the point that – no one has the right to make an absolute moral judgement about an individual or society in general.
This is the dangerous problem I’m talking about. We are taking everyone’s right to opinion – and we are using it in an unhelpful…and actually quite dangerous way. Beckwith’s answer explains why.
“I certainly do have a right to make moral judgements. I am a rational human person who is aware of certain fundamental principles of logical and moral reasoning. I think I’m qualified. Your claim that I have no right to make judgements is ITSELF a judgement about me. Your claim, therefore, is self-refuting.”
“Who are you to judge?”
It’s a powerful rhetorical putdown, isn’t it? Yet it poses a great danger to our society. Why? Because it encourages and pushes us towards a place of moral vacuum. Where no one feels free to take responsibility to stand up for what is morally right. The long term effects of this on society are going to be felt as the years pass. But they won’t be good.
Why not? Well – when we are encouraged to deny moral absolutes, then that gives free reign for anyone to do whatever they feel like. Whether it is good and uplifting for society, or whether it wreaks horror and terror on people in society. Both are encouraged in a society where morals are relativized. Both are permissible in a “Who are you to judge?” society.
This society also just plainly doesn’t make any sense!! Beckwith described “Who are you to judge” as a self-refuting statement. What does that mean? Well – a self-refuting statement is one where the statement talks about itself and then makes the statement false. A part of the statement denies the whole. Here are some examples.
“No sentence is longer than 3 words.” Well – that sentence is 7 words long. Because this sentence exists, it denies the premise behind the statement itself. It is a self-refuting claim.
“There is no truth.” This is itself a statement OF truth. And so because this statement of truth exists…it denies the premise of the statement itself. It is a self-refuting claim.
“No one has the right to make a moral judgement about a person or society in general.” Do you see the problem? This statement is ITSELF a moral judgement. It is a heavy burden of judgement for moral human beings to bear. The person who fires this statement at us is themselves declaring a moral judgement. And so it is a self-refuting claim.
I think we live in an increasingly toxic culture where no one is allowed to express moral opinion. It’s often called Moral Relativism…its dangerous and illogical…
…and I think Moral Relativism flies in the face of how human beings are wired. Why do I say that? More to come in part 2!
 Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl, Relativism Feet Planted in Mid-Air, (BakerBooks, 2011), 12.