Moral Relativity – Accepting Cultural Change

I was talking with my husband about this topic, and arguing that evangelical Christian values (at least the ones I was raised with) have no basis in reality.  My patient and often-correct husband pointed out that the values may have started in a place that made sense at one time: at one point, maybe, they were based in reality, but not in the current reality.

My husband and I specifically had been discussing how sex is treated in this culture.  Purity culture, thinking that everyone should wait until marriage to have sex, and discouraging or disallowing birth control just don’t make sense in our current cultural reality.

Imagine a time before reliable birth control and modern health care.  Sex = babies and/or disease that was difficult to treat.  But mostly, sex = babies.  It might have made sense in this time to try to regulate how others have sex so as to prevent a mess of babies that people couldn’t properly care for.  It made sense to have rules about marriage so that women weren’t always saddled with the task of raising children alone and in poverty.

Before reliable birth control and modern health care, it made sense to try to keep sex within marriage because it made sense to raise babies within family units.  Also, if women weren’t able to work or didn’t have as many rights as men, it made sense to make sure a baby had a father that could bring money home and make sure that baby had a house and food.  Some of the rules about purity made sense within this culture.  (Now I’m sure there’s a conversation to be had about the way these rules and regulations were presented and how healthy that was for people, but that’s not my focus here.)

Also, there was a time when over-population wasn’t an issue, and more children meant extra hands to help you work around your home.

But my argument is that as culture changes, our idea of what is moral must change.  Things that may have been moral at one time are not moral anymore because our reality has changed.  I would even argue that a lot of the old ideas are now bad ideas, although they may have been fine (or at least functional) at another time.

This is in opposition to the evangelical Christian attitude that I had at one time.  I thought that keeping yourself “pure” before marriage made you more moral.  If a person chose this path, I thought they were holding themselves to a higher standard.  Of course, I subscribed to the idea that there was God’s way, which meant there was One Right Way to live, despite changes in culture and technology.

I argue now that it is wrong to deny people birth control, not only because I think people should have control over their own bodies since we now have the technology to allow that, but because over-population is a problem.  We have a simple way to allow for planned family growth or for families to choose to be childless, and it will lead to a better environment, economy, and mental and emotional health; denying this is wrong.

I argue now that it is wrong to say that people must wait until marriage to have sex.  I think that this idea is really harmful to some people.  Some people get married who are not sexually compatible.  Some people get married too fast just because they want to have sex.  Some people get trapped in bad relationships because they think they must stay with a person if they have had sex.  If people choose to wait for their own personal reasons, this is totally acceptable, but saying that God wants them to wait is controlling and morally reprehensible.

I argue now that it is wrong to deny people a comprehensive sex education.  It is wrong to deny people options for controlling their reproduction and to tell them the only option is abstinence (because we all know how that works out for people).

I argue now that it is wrong to base sexual ethics on the Bible.  The Bible is full of awful recommendations and rules about sexuality and marriage.  Even leaving out the horrifying examples of marriage in the Old Testament, no where that I know of in the New Testament discusses consent-based sexual ethics.  (Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism in her post A Tale of Two Boxes has a nice graphic to explain consent-based ethics if you’re not sure about it).

As our technology improves, we can become more ethical and allow people more rights and freedoms to live full, enriched lives.  Denying people the fruit of our hard work (improved technology) is wrong.

I want to know others’ thoughts about moral relativity and changing ethics.  What are other areas where increased technology and cultural changes can lead to changes in morals?  How can holding on to outdated ideas about right and wrong be harmful?


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