“Whatever’s right for you”

What is right? What is wrong? Is there right and wrong? Or is everything relative to the situation or the individual? Can we answer these questions?

These are complex, important, and very relevant questions. Especially because “Americans are both concerned about the nation’s moral condition and confused about morality itself.”[1] Actually, “A majority of American adults across age, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status and political ideology expresses concern about the nation’s moral condition—eight in 10 overall (80%).”[2]

According to Barna research for

“a majority of American adults (57%), knowing what is right or wrong is a matter of personal experience. This view is much more prevalent among younger generations than among older adults. Three-quarters of Millennials (74%) agree strongly or somewhat with the statement, Whatever is right for your life or works best for you is the only truth you can know.'”[3]

Pew Research also says, “When seeking guidance on questions of right and wrong, a plurality of Americans say they rely primarily on their common sense and personal experiences.”[4]

Also significant is that “post-truth” was dubbed Oxford’s word of the year. “Post-truth” means that “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief,” Oxford Dictionary says.

This moral relativism, this inability to decipher right and wrong, is problematic for a number of reasons.[5] People today say that there are absolutely no absolutes. However, that statement is absolutely preposterous because it is an absolute statement itself.

If there is no right and no wrong, just what’s good for me and what’s good for you, then that creates a lot of problems. What if I don’t care about what’s right for you? I mean, why should I? There’s no right and no wrong… (However, what if I want to punch you in the face?)

Norman L. Geisler says,

“Most relativists believe that relativism is absolutely true and that everyone should be a relativist. Therein lies the self-destructive nature of relativism. The relativist stands on the pinnacle of an absolute truth and wants to relativize everything else.”

C.S. Lewis says, “If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.”[6] If we know that we do not know, how do we know? So, relativism, in my opinion, by definition is wrong.

McCallum says, “If Postmodernism can be shown to be true, a world view with objective merit, then Postmodernism’s main thesis (rejection of objective truth) is wrong.”[7] Or as William Lane Craig has said, “to assert that ‘the truth is that there is no truth’ is both self-refuting and arbitrary.”

The success of science should lead us to say that there clearly is truth and falsehood and we should be able to discern from there that, contrary to popular opinion, there is actual right and wrong (not just the subjective idea that what is right for you is right for you and what is right for me is right for me). Again, if right and wrong are merely subjective then what if I want to punch you in the face? What’s going to stop me? Who are you to judge me?!

So, we might want to say that we should all just do what is right for us.[8] However, as McCallum says, “What happens… when culture decides a certain race or gender is nonhuman, and those non-humans are targeted for extinction? If reality is culture-bound, it would be an act of imperialism for another culture to intervene. Without an absolute standard, there is no basis for judging a Nazi or misogynist any more than there is for defining a human life.”[9]

In today’s day, we don’t live by what’s right, we live by what’s right for the individual but for how long? R.C. Sproul in a lecture on humanism said, “We don’t have any principles we have preferences. My fear of humanism is when preferences become ultimate then the question is whose preferences become ultimate?” What do we do to the person who likes to drive really fast through red lights? What do we do with the rapist’s preferences? What do we do to the person that wants to kill another person?

When we have no absolute standard to base our morality on we are free; but, in the words of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “We’re free fallin’.” Each person will do what is right in their own eyes and thus all sorts of issues will erupt.[10]

So, without something solid to measure what is right and what is wrong, all we have is what we feel is right (e.g. imagine the problem building a house with a stretchy tape measure).[11] However, we thankfully can know what is right and what is wrong because we have revelation from God; namely, the Bible.


[1]The End of Absolutes: America’s New Moral Code.”

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4]U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious.”

[5] I like what Aristotle says: “to say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that is, and of what is not that it is not, is true; so that he who says of anything that it is, or that it is not, will say either what is true or what is false; but neither what is nor what is not is said to be or not to be” (Metaphysics, Book IV).

[6] C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 81.

[7] Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, 620.

[8] “The highest good, according to our society, is ‘finding yourself’ and then living by ‘what’s right for you’” (“The End of Absolutes: America’s New Moral Code”). “Americans pledge allegiance to the ‘morality of self-fulfillment’” (Ibid.).

[9] McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, 626.

[10] Of course, I’m not saying we should all be identical drones marching along to the same orders but only that even if we are to say that everyone must be kind we need an authority to establish that truth

[11] If God is dead or, I would say, has not spoken, then all things are permitted. For an example of the implications about shaky morality see: Nietzsche: Prophet of Doom.

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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