Here is a portion of an exchange I recently had via Facebook with Nigel, a friend of mine. The topic of this section is about whether the Bible can legitimately be used as an objective moral standard.
The problem is, as I pointed out, the Bible can only be considered a universal standard if an individual interprets certain evidence in such a way as to suggest that it is.
Nigel, you seem to be misunderstanding
- what is meant by “an objective standard” and how that relates to the ability (or not) of others to
- properly understand and
- apply that standard. All three are separate issues.
1. Objective standard. If a standard is objective then it does not matter if no one understands or accepts it. Objective simply means that it exists independent of the subject (us). So even if there were no Christians, I would argue that the objective moral standard of Christianity exists and is binding on every person. In other words, the Bible is merely a means by which we know the standard, but it does not, itself, constitute or establish that standard.
2. As for understanding. You seem to also presuppose a deconstructionalist view of the text wherein it is we who bring meaning to a text and not the text that contains meaning independent of our interpretation whereupon it is incumbent on us, the reader, to decipher what the original author meant by any given text. You seem to be following Derrida’s deconstructionalist model when you argue along the lines that since there are many different interpretations of a text that therefore there is no objective definition. I would argue that
3. You also seem to be making the argument that since the application of the moral standard found in Scripture has not been consistent, and has changed over time, that such a change in the application of the objective standard serves as proof that there is no objective standard. Again, this seems to be an outworking of Derrida’s postmodern deconstructionalism wherein it is the subjects that bring meaning to the object and not the other way around. I would argue that we could not talk about a “more proper” application of moral law unless we first presuppose there there exists an objective law in the first place by which to judge applications of it across time. If we reverse this so that application determines the standard then what we are left with is a sort of “might makes right” notion. Interestingly enough, “might makes right” still adheres to an objective standard (a poor one in my estimation) that comes logically prior to the understanding and application.
So when it comes to the question of objective morality we need to address each category separately, starting with the question of
- whether an objective standard exists. If it does then we can proceed, if not then all things are relative and subjective. We can live as we please because there is nothing we are objectively beholden to.
- how those objective standards are understood. If there is a standard, it must be understandable by those who are to be bound by it. If we say that objective standards exist but that we cannot know them, then how can we really know they exist at all?
- how to we apply these objective moral standards? Only after we establish the existence of an objective moral standard and only after we establish the objective means we are to use in understanding that standard can we begin to talk about how that standard is to be applied. The beautiful thing here is that after we have established that an objective moral law exists and how we can objectively understand that law, we can easily correct the application of moral laws as we grow in our understanding of the moral law.