Relativism and the Double Standard

double standard

I had an epiphany yesterday. Almost every time someone announces that there are no rules, they are getting ready to tell the world how to behave. Usually they are about to tell me why it is WRONG for anyone to criticize them for their choices because of course the rules are relative.

If you pay close attention, the person who says that there are no rules (or morals) almost always means there are no rules for them.  It is the parlor trick played by tolerance magicians everywhere.  They don’t like the morality that says their behavior is wrong. But they do have a long list of things that others must not do. They don’t call them rules or morals. They usually get tagged as justice, decency, or love. But a rule by any other name is still a rule.

And every human society has rules for conduct. Call them mores, norms, or whatever. Human beings all have behavior codes and we enforce them in social ways. Making judgments about the behavior of other people is one of the things that we do constantly.  So, when a person insists it is wrong to ever make judgments about other people, they are making the broadest condemnation possible.

Ironically they are making a case that it is wrong to make moral judgments, while making moral judgments.

This brand of hypocrisy is endemic to western society: A generation of people telling others how to live while insisting it is immoral for others to tell them how to live.

That Annoying Rattle- What A Snare Drum Can Illustrate About The Heart

Snare Drum
This is the bottom of a snare drum. Notice the beads stretched across the bottom drum head. 

I have two teenage sons that are both involved in high school percussion. They are in the marching band and play with several other ensembles at school and church. Prior to this high school music experience it would be safe to say that I was almost completely ignorant of the world of rhythm and percussion. I carefully maintained this state in spite of drumming on the steering wheel for most of my adult life. Anyway, I have learned a lot from their passion for drums. And I have learned that the world of rhythm is a delicate (yes “delicate”) blend of tones and instruments. Good drummers are serious about the smallest details.

One important instrument is the snare drum. The ones I have seen include a set of “snares”– very small beads strung across the bottom of the drum (see the picture above). When the drum is played the beads on the snare gently rattle against the surface of the drum adding a unique sound. This rattling is very sensitive to any action on the drum, even delicate strokes from a brush. Many snare drums have an off/on lever that can pull the snare away from the drumhead to keep it from rattling. The drum can still be played, but it makes a different sound. No rattling.  I hope you are impressed a little, and now slightly informed.

I mention this because a few nights ago I went to see one of my boys play in a concert where the snare drum featured prominently. This was unfortunate because it was NOT supposed to feature prominently. The high orchestra played first and then a visiting university symphony followed them. The music was beautiful, but because they were sharing the same space, some of the percussion instruments were left on the stage and moved to the side. As the university ensemble was playing, it was obvious that something wasn’t quite right. There was a strange noise overlaying the beautiful music. I am sure my face was wrinkled with irritation because there was something incongruent between the music I knew they were trying to play the sound I was hearing. Their group was larger and louder than the high school band. The increased volume caused a nearby, unused snare drum to vibrate. In response, the snares on the bottom of the drum began to rattle. It was NOT pleasant. After a while one of the band members walked over and switched the lever to the off position, silencing the annoyance.

This made me think of the conscience. Often this  effect is what happens inside our souls when we hear the truth of God. Human beings are unshakably moral creatures. And even relativists like to take the moral high ground when they insist it is wrong to judge them. God has reserved an ambassador within the soul, and when he speaks, our conscience rattles like that snare drum. This is especially true when we step over the line into the world of evil. It happens when we hear the truth spoken by friends or enemies, echoed in stories or songs, or read in the Bible. And often it happens during our own self-talk. We know how we ought to act, and that inner voice reminds us when we are in step or when we fall short.

Speaking of people that have never heard of the God of the Bible the Apostle Paul writes, “the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” (Romans 2:15)  I say this so that you will recognize the sound the next time you hear it. This sound is actually desirable- it was put there by the composer. Don’t try to turn it off.

Photo used by permission CC3.0 OCDP

I wrote this post several years ago, but lost track of it. It was recently discovered and I am happy to share it with you here.




Death-Row Dining – A Discussion of Last Suppers


Death-Row Dining – The New Yorker.

This is an interesting peak into the idea of the final meal.  What do condemned prisoners request on the night before they are executed? And what does that say about them? About food? And what does our interest in such curiosities say about us as humans?

The article was worth reading for me, if only for the bizarre subject. Not the standard faire of internet journalists pumping out click-bait.

I am always on the lookout to see cultural principles (and contradictions) at work. Many of us profess to be relativists.  We do not believe in the existence of good and evil in any absolute sense.  There are only personal opinions about good and evil.  But here is a stubborn fact: No one can actually live out relativism consistently.  I frequently have conversations with people that want to tell me that my concern over moral issues is ungrounded because there is no such thing as absolute morality.  And that means I am guilty of trying to impose my morality on others. These folks then go on to pound the table on various moral issues. This suggests to me that they don’t take their relativism very seriously.

Anyways…  It is fascinating to me to see what provokes outrage among a generation of relativists.  What drives the morally apathetic to impassioned protest?  In my experience, anything that smells like retributive justice is sure to do it.   Someone tried to open up a restaurant in London called the Death Row Diner- “Eat like it’s your last meal on earth.”  The menu featured a number of famous (or infamous) last meals.  But the restaurant never got off the ground because folks were offended.

“The public response was swift and marked by moral outrage. Some wondered if the project was a joke, or some kind of performance piece….

“The offense caused is easy enough to understand: there’s something undeniably stomach-turning about the gimmick of presumably well-off city dwellers forking over eighty dollars to eat fancified versions of the prison- issued food that the mostly poor and otherwise marginalized—criminal or not —denizens of death row pathetically requested before being executed. It commodifies the loss of human life—justifiable or not—and makes light of a grave and controversial issue, marrying the parlor game and its real-life counterpart without acknowledging that one is for fun and the other is an ugly truth. From another angle, the project glamorizes and memorializes people who have committed horrific crimes.”