As I suggested in Part 1, defending a pervasive “right to choose” is part of the moral confusion of our day, a confusion that one finds not only in debates about abortion. At the Equal Rights Institute, recognising this larger picture, Timothy Brahm and his associates are field-testing new forms of dialogue that object to abortion but which engage people on the more fundamental moral, philosophical, and religious issues.
Timothy Brahm, Director of Training at the Equal Right Institute, recognises that the “big idea”, the philosophical position, behind many pro-choice arguments is “moral relativism”, the notion that there are no absolute moral standards and that people simply choose what they themselves find best without answering to anyone else. Rather than focussing on the logical weaknesses of that position (which I outlined in Part 1), people at the Equal Rights Institute opt to do something else. Instead, they focus on the denial of that bigger, more important Person (e. g., God), whose moral authority is denied in the relativist worldview.
Timothy Brahm recently encountered a strong a pro-choice advocate and asked him biographical questions about how he became a moral relativist — not asking for the logical foundations of relativism, asking instead for the man’s personal story on how he first became attracted to relativist ideas. Brahm did not hear about a thorough philosophical quest. Instead, he heard the story of a man from a Christian background — a story of starting to doubt God, finding Christians to be shallow or arrogant, and coming to the conclusion that religious morality was just a device to control people’s behaviour.
It is a sort of chicken-or-the-egg question: “D0 most people stop believing in objective morality first and then stop believing in God, or is it the other way around?” Surprise, surprise — for many moral skeptics, like the man Brahm talked with, the God question comes first. People first stop believing in God, often for emotional rather than evidential reasons. Then, without God in the picture, there is no basis for objective morality. Having heard the skeptic’s story of loss of faith, Brahm told him that the two of them were actually in agreement on that point. If there is no God, then there is indeed no ground for objective morality.
Brahm lists two advantages of this kind of dialogue with a moral skeptic. First, the conversation clarified the fundamental disagreement — not really a disagreement about the logic of morals but rather a disagreement about God. Second, in his questions, Brahm showed respect for the skeptic, seeking to understand how he came to doubt God’s existence and hearing a story that was full of hurt.
You can find the Equal Rights Institute here: equalrightsinstitute.com
You can find Brahm’s full article here: http://equalrightsinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/January-ERI-Newsletter-Relating-to-Relativists.pdf
This encounter with a pro-choice moral skeptic is intriguing. Notice all that the skeptic has been willing to admit just in response to a few sensitive questions! Secularist intellectuals have spent the last 300 years seeking and claiming a basis for morality other than a transcendent God. Yet this supposedly hard-boiled moral relativist is willing to admit that the search for a godless foundation for morality is pointless.
That is a huge admission! Are we then left to live in a world without moral foundations? Isn’t that the same as a world without moral reasoning? Isn’t that a world that morally makes no sense? Of course, Christians do not want to live in a world like that and don’t believe that they need to. But non-Christians also do not want to live in a world like that, not if they think about it. And the point about Brahm’s approach is he and the moral skeptic were both talking and thinking about exactly those consequences.
We are back to the point that moral relativism is almost impossible to defend logically, but perhaps Brahm’s approach would be more productive than a logical contest. Rather than being a matter of logical abstractions, today’s “big idea” of moral relativism is a matter of how we make sense of life at the most basic level. The questions we should all ask are these: “What is my worldview on moral matters? Is it really this? — e. g., a world without moral foundations? And is that the kind of world I want to live in? Is that the kind of world I can endure to live in?”