Tonight I happened upon a video made by a person on YouTube who refers to himself as “Prophet of Zod.” The Prophet of Zod and I have been in a discussion before on YouTube in which we discussed whether we have objective moral values and duties to do what’s right. He is an atheist who believes we have objective moral values and duties, yet he feels they are grounded in the minds of humans. I concur that we are bounded by objective moral values and duties, yet I am of the strong opinion that our objective moral values and duties are grounded in a transcendent moral lawgiver. The intention of this essay is to respond to a video he made on the topic and to expand upon the aforementioned points. “Apologists and their Nazis” can be accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meVbGyVS-iE.
In conversations I have had with other atheists, I have discovered that some endorse moral relativism, rejecting objective moral values and duties. Richard Dawkins is an example. In his book “The God Delusion,” Dawkins suggests that moral values and duties are culturally contingent. In other words, the moral values and duties are subjective and ever-changing, so if a culture finds it suitable to endorse cannibalism or incest, the culture has made a morally acceptable decision within that culture and we (as outsiders) are in no position to judge the culture.
To counter such an assertion, I often use the example of the Nazis. I say that if the Nazis believed the horrors they perpetuated on Jews and other “non-Aryans” were perfectly acceptable within their cultural frame of reference, we are in no position to judge them.
Objective Moral Values and Duties
But we ARE in a position to judge them. They are bounded by our universal moral duties to do what’s right. We can look back on the atrocities of World War II and we can make a strong case that the Nazis broke the laws of basic human rights to life, love, liberty, equality, and the pursuit of happiness.
Accordingly, I present the following assertions:
1. The Nazi people were “duped” by Hitler.
2. The Nazi people had a moral compass, which they violated.
3. We all have a moral compass, as clearly stated in the Bible.
“They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” – Romans 2:15
4. The Germans after WWII regretted what happened, because it violated their moral sense of what’s right.
5. The Germans today dislike charismatic leaders because of Hitler and the way his charisma duped them. (Charisma is a very desirable leadership characteristic in other countries. See the GLOBE study headed up by Robert House for details).
A secondary point is that we are not bounded by only relative moral values or duties. We are bounded by a combination of both relative (to our culture) and objective (to all of humanity) moral values. Relative moral values vary as a function of what’s acceptable in a culture and people’s opinions. Objective moral values do not vary. They serve as the universal standards against which we judge actions, including those within cultures around the world. Objective moral standards are superior to relative moral standards as the former are the goal posts against which we can judge the latter’s moving targets.
If the Nazis were only answering to “Nazi constructed cultural values,” they would have found their deplorable activities against the Jews to be perfectly morally acceptable. They wouldn’t have regretted their actions. They wouldn’t have shunned everything related to Hitler just following WWII and today.
But they do. They regret their actions and they shun everything that serves as a reminder of the way they were duped because they are bounded by the objective moral values and duties to do what’s right, what’s just, what’s loving, what’s empathetic, and what’s truthful. In other words, they are bounded by God’s laws, just as we all are.
Other points to ponder:
1. We have universal moral duties to do what’s right.
2. These are shown in multiple studies, including one by Kinnear et al. and a second by Shalom Schwartz. Schwartz calls the fact that no matter the country and the prevalent values (“what is”) within that country, people across all countries share an “astonishing” consistency. In all countries, “benevolence” and “universalism” are the most highly prized values of how we “ought” to be. Click here for details: https://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1116&context=orpc
3. Kinnear et al. found that across all major world religions, atheism, humanism, and the United Nations, all humans share the desire to seek a higher purpose and to follow the “Golden Rule.” For details, click here: http://personal.tcu.edu/pwitt/universal%20values.pdf
4. Where did these moral duties that transcend all cultures, religions, economic classes, and ethnic groups come from?
A divine and transcendent moral lawgiver has grounded all of humanity, giving us the preference to be selfless over selfish; empathetic over apathetic; purpose-driven over hopeless.
If you’re an atheist and you’re reading this, you may be thinking to yourself, “What about biology? Biology explains our empathy. We’re an evolved social species.”
Please note that I am not speaking about “WHAT IS” in a society. Biology is descriptive and can only explain what is. I am instead pointing to “WHAT OUGHT TO BE” in a society, which is prescriptive. I am pointing to God’s prescriptions.
The bottom line
The bottom line is simple. Without a divine moral lawgiver who transcends generations and cultures, there is no objectively moral “right and wrong.” There are only people’s opinions on what seems “good or bad.”
Thank you for your time.
Kinnier, R.T., Kernes, J.L., and Dautheribes, T.M. (2000). A Short List of Universal Moral Values. Counseling and Values, 45: 4-16.
Schwartz, S. H. (2012). An Overview of the Schwartz Theory of Basic Values. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.9707/2307-0919.1116