Want to clear the room at a party? Just say something like, “There is such a thing as right and wrong, and everybody knows it.”
The great commandment in this postmodern, relativistic world of ours is this: “Don’t impose your morality on me.”
Obviously, it didn’t used to be this way. Once, if you mentioned basic moral rules like the Ten Commandments, everyone would agree that they were right. Not only were they right for all, but they were also known to all. Everyone knew that honoring parents and telling the truth is right for everyone. And everyone knew that deliberately taking innocent human life, sleeping with your neighbor's spouse, and mocking God is wrong for everyone. Today all of that has changed.
Or has it? According to University of Texas Professor J. Budziszewski, it really hasn't -- at least not in the way you might think.
Budziszewski has just released the revised and expanded version of his classic book, What We Can't Not Know. Budziszewski, a leading natural law theorist, explains that there are certain basic moral truths that all of us really know, even if we pretend to ourselves that we don't. The murderer knows the wrong of murder; the adulterer knows the wrong of adultery.
The Apostle Paul confirms this when he says in Romans 2 that God's law is "written on the heart" -- everyone's heart, even the hearts of nonbelievers. People who pose as moral skeptics are playing make-believe, and, as Budziszewski writes, they are doing it badly.
But how can this be true? Haven't anthropologists told us that morality is different in every culture? Budziszewski points out that different cultures disagree only about the details of morality, not about the basics. C. S. Lewis gave us a good example when he remarked that although some cultures say you can have four wives and some say you can have only one, up until very recently, every human culture has recognized the sacredness of marriage.
Of course, as I’ve said many times on BreakPoint, we can see what happens when we reject universal moral truths, what Budzisewski calls the moral “common ground.” The global economic meltdown is exhibit A.
Budziszewski admits that it's a slippery common ground, however, because somebody can know the moral basics deep down and yet not recognize that he or she really does know them. Paul said in Romans 1 that we "suppress" the truth because of our sins. But if the knowledge is really down there, then it can be dredged back up, no matter how deeply suppressed.
That's what Paul tried to do. And that's what we should be trying to do as well. And Budziszewski shows why and how we can do it.
I urge you to read the new edition of What We Can't Not Know. We’ve got it for you in our bookstore at ColsonCenter.org. And be sure to check out our new video teaching series on ethics called “Doing the Right Thing.” In it, we call on Americans -- believers and non-believers alike -- to re-embrace ethics, the idea that there is such a thing as right and wrong. And we use the same natural law arguments you’ll find in What We Can’t Not Know. “Doing the Right Thing” will be released next month. You can find more information about it at ColsonCenter.org/ethics.
Don't forget: People know more about right and wrong than they ever let on. And you can learn how to get past their denials in order to remind them of the moral truths that they can’t not know.
What We Can't Not Know
Discourse #28: What We Can't Not Know
Stephen Reed | BreakPoint | March 24, 2011
J. Budziszewski | The Colson Center BookstoreDoing the Right Thing: A Six-Part Exploration of Ethics
The Colson Center
Doing the Right Thing (official site)