Moral relativism is the position that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect objective and/or universal moral truths, but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances.
Moral relativism has been deplored, particularly by evangelical Christian religious leaders for a long time, usually as part of a diatribe against our current “decadent” society. The invective has intensified in recent years with strident attacks on women’s choice, same sex marriage, and gender identity. They warn of the decline of “family values,” and insist that there are a set of moral “truths,” defined by God, and you had better damn well live according to them or you are gonna be toast when you die.
This did not become a major political issue until the emergence of the Moral Majority in 1979. The goal of the organization was to weaponize (they would not have used that term) religious belief into a powerful political force. Their first achievement was the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Ronald Reagan was the first divorced President in our nation’s history. (You know who the second one was.) Reagan was not particularly religious, rarely attending church, but he defeated Jimmy Carter, an outspoken and devout evangelical Christian. Carter was the real thing, a Christian who lived according to the principles of his faith. After he left the Presidency, he was a founder and diligent worker for Habitat for Humanity. His successor was nothing of the kind…but Christians supported Reagan enthusiastically. Their preachings about moral relativism didn’t seem to carry over into their politics…unless, of course, they could point out the moral failings of political opponents.
Since then, evangelicals have consistently supported right wing candidates, many of whom had questionable moral backgrounds. But the most recent two Presidents illustrate how far down the road to moral relativism they have progressed.
Barack Obama was, by any measure, a model Christian. Family man, faithful to his wife, concerned parent, and frequent churchgoer. Christians hated him. His successor, Donald Trump was everything that Obama was not. Serial divorcee and adulterer, unethical businessman, profligate liar, and his appearances in church were as rare as solar eclipses. But those same Christians flocked to him because he supported the One Big Thing that they wanted: Anti-abortion. This takes moral relativism to a new pinnacle that is unlikely to be topped in the foreseeable future. And yet, if you go to any evangelical church today, you will get an earful about the moral decay in the nation.
The acceptance of moral failings in their chosen leader, while criticizing the same, or even lesser, failings in others is hypocritical. But their willingness to modify their moral standards to accommodate current political goals is moral relativism. It’s a deplorably dishonest combination.