We are now far enough past Christmas to breathe a sigh of relief. The shopping frenzy is over, the exchanges have been made, the decorations are down and stored, and the crazy relatives are home and safe. Even if that is us, our lives are back to normal crazy instead of crazy crazy.

And there is plenty of normal crazy to go around.

My little dictionary has “crazy” as “very foolish, irrational, or strange.” To witness that, all you have to do is pick up a newspaper, turn on a TV, or drive on a Phoenix freeway.

Recently you could have gone to the WM Phoenix Open golf tournament and made your way into the arena known as the 16th hole. It was so crazy there that my friend Barry — who would not call himself a golfer — forwarded me a TikTok video of it.

Those people are somebody’s relatives, I suppose, but it isn’t really crazy relatives that cause most of the angst in the world, it is relativism.

When it occurred to me to write about relativism, the goofiness at hole 16 hadn’t really made the news. What it did do, however, was provide a marvelous illustration of what relativism is all about.

Wikipedia says: “Relativism is a family of philosophical views which deny claims to objectivity within a particular domain….” (and then goes on for 23 more arcane words. Golly!)

What it means is this:

  • There are different areas of relativism: moral relativism and cultural relativism are two biggies.
  • Within an area (morality, culture, etc.), relativists believe there is no objectivity, but that all valuations are “relative.”

Whose relative?

Relative is a good and useful word, and not just to denote a person connected by blood or marriage. It is also useful when it means “considered in relation to something or someone else.”

Where are you on the smart scale? The wealth scale? The scale scale? It’s all relative.

In a conversation, the standard is often assumed. We have an idea of average height, so “tall” is more than that and “short” is less.

And in that last statement we have discovered the way we make many of our relativistic judgments: we compare everything to our concept of “the average.”

Are you good? Many will answer based on their belief about the average. If you’re even a little above that average, you consider yourself good. But is that the best way to measure good?

Let’s go back for a moment to hole 16 at the WM Phoenix Open in 2024.

For the people in that arena, their immediate world had suddenly become the 20,000 other spectators. The PGA Tour players were not part of that — they were invaders to be cheered or chided depending on whether or not they pleased the 20,000. The spectators were no longer spectators, they were self-appointed judge and jury.

How did many of those ticket-holders choose how they would behave? They watched the people around them, and as long as they weren’t worse than them, they were OK.

Consequently, the definition of acceptable behavior kept getting lower and lower. Finally the behavior became so egregious it made the news — and not in a good way.

But Mom!…

Earlier I wrote “crazy relatives.” That, too, is compared to what you think of as “normal” or “average.” What they think may be quite different.

What is the standard? Even relativists know there has to be some basis for comparison. They don’t call it a standard, though, they call it a framework.

Is your choice morally right or morally wrong? For a relativist, it depends on your framework, which is kind of like context. But the framework itself is relative to some other framework, so an objective standard becomes impossible.

Here is how you have experienced that.

Sometime when you were a kid, you did something your mom or dad told you not to do and you were busted.

Your defense was, “The framework changed.” Actually you said, “But Mom, all the other kids were doing it!”

And she asked, “If all the other kids jumped off a cliff, would you jump off too?”

Guess what. A lot of those kids that followed the crowd are now adults. They showed up at hole 16 at the Phoenix Open last week. Their answer to the cliff question was, “Yes, I would.”

What your mom knew

I’m sure your mom knew a lot, but in the cliff question she knew this: jumping off of one is very, very bad for you.

That gave you a moral standard of a sort which might be expressed, “There are things that are always bad.” From then on it became your job, with help from parents or siblings or teachers, to find out what those were.

Her other lesson for you was this: following the crowd is not always a good choice, even if you think it makes you popular.

How did your mom know? Experience taught her that her mom was right all those years before.

Legislating morality

Many years ago I heard someone say, “You can’t legislate morality.” In other words, laws will not cause people to make good moral choices. If you need proof of that, give the Old Testament a quick read.

Laws, whether from God or our parents or a civic government, can sometimes point us toward morality. But they cannot make us morally good.

Moral good is about learning what is objectively good (always good) and objectively evil, then choosing good. Do Good U, in fact, is in the business of helping people learn how to make good moral choices.

Ask parents what they want for their children, and most of them will say, “I want them to be happy and good.” In fact most of us want to be happy.

The path to happiness is not found by following the crowd off the cliff, it is found in the pursuit of good.

Next week: How to be happy. In the meantime….

Do good. It’s in you!

This Post Has One Comment

  1. steveneil

    Foundational truths can be the basis/compass of our choices if morality is honored. We are digressing as a culture to the days of Noah. Thanks for sharing this post, Lewis!

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