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Ethical and Cultural Relativism Examples: Examining Cultural Relativism Alongside Ethical Relativism

Society states that morality is subjective, that each person can make up their own morality. If this is true, rape, theft, murder, etc definition would change to fit the mold of each individual person's morality. In this post, we'll examine ethical and cultural relativism and expose the downfalls of both theories.

Ethical Relativism

Ethical relativism is the ideology that moral code differs from one person or group to another. There are two subcategories of ethical relativism: moral subjectivism (Jones, 2017, p.14) and cultural relativism (Jones, 2017, p. 15). Moral subjectivism is the partiality of judgments regarding morality without objective reasoning. Some examples of this include high taxes for the social elite to benefit the lower class or vice versa, the standard for beauty, and musical preference. Cultural relativism is the standard of morality determined by culture. “. . .Naturally, one’s heart-commitment—one’s religion—will give shape to moral values, attitudes, and conduct” (Copan. P, and McQuilkin, R, 2014, p. 17).

Cultural Ideologies Regarding Ethics

Jones references cultural ideologies such as Communism and Capitalism based on individual societies’ values. Ethical absolutism, in contrast, is the moral binding of all people regardless of culture or society. Christian ethics more closely resembles ethical absolutism since it appeals to the conscious and the embedded nature of thought processes in reasoning while deriving a moral response to situations such as murder, theft, torture, etc. C.S. Lewis documented ethical responses across different civilizations in Abolition of Man. The moral laws that Lewis observed that continuously arose were “don’t steal; don’t bear false witness; don’t murder; honor your parents; keep your promises (general revelation)” (Copan, P. and McQuilkin R, 2014, p. 18).

Ethical Mores Regarding Ethical and Cultural Relativism

The ethical mores described by Jones are the building blocks that cultural relativism thrives upon. However, each country has police (order) and a court system (judgement). The court system was established to be based on the trinitarianism of God. If ethical relativism was correct, the need for law and order would be nonexistent as the definition of murder, theft, rape, etc. would be subjective. “In the Old Testament, God is often judging pagan nations who had no Bible. On what basis does he judge them? Because they violated the moral law within and suppressed their own conscious.” (Copan, P. and McQuilkin, R., 2014, p. 18). For Christian ethics to be absolute in nature, there must be an omnipresent, omnipotent creator who has objective views that were revealed to humanity.

Christian Liberty and Ethical Relativism: Are They the Same?

Ethical relativism and subjective aspects of Christian ethics are closely similar but not alike in nature. Subjective aspects of Christian ethics consist of Christian liberty. God had declared food containing blood as unclean (Leviticus 17:1). In the New Testament, God had declared all food clean (Mark 7:18-19). Paul was questioned on eating food sacrificed to idols.

Since Christ was resurrected, fellowship with God was mended and there is no longer a need for traditions since “the resurrection places God’s stamp of approval on the life and teachings of the one resurrected. Hence Jesus’ life and teachings are approved by God. Since truthfulness is part of God’s nature, God would not approve of Jesus’ teachings if they are substantially false. Hence Jesus’ teachings should be accepted as true” (Jones, 2017, pp. 110-112).

Moral Code, God, and Ethical Relativism

Ethical relativism merely states that humanity is free to decide their moral code due to what is more valued. Although the Bible states that man has free will to choose his path, he is governed by objective absolutes based on God’s nature: “for none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Romans 14:7-9, 2001, ESV).


English Standard Version Bible (2001)

Jones, Michael S. (2017) Moral Reasoning: An Intentional Approach to Distinguishing Right from Wrong. Dubuque, IA: Kendal Hunt

McQuilkin, Robertson & Copan, Paul. (2014) An Introduction to Biblical Ethics: Walking in the Way of Wisdom(Third Edition) InterVarsity Press.

For more articles like this one, please see the below publications:

  • Morality Regarding Embryonic Stem Cell Use vs Adult Stem Cell Use

  • Examining Ethical Approaches to Morality

  • Alive in Christ: A Redemption Story

  • Finding True Identity

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