Reasons for the rise of atheism: rebellion against moral absolutes (AP7)

In morality, an absolute is a rule that cannot be broken.  There are no circumstances in which the rule can be changed; it must be obeyed.

Moral relativism on the other hand, relates what is right and wrong to the situation or the circumstances.

The 1960s in particular is seen as a very important time of social change, especially when it comes to sexual ethics and medical ethics.  The decline in religion we have already noted runs alongside that change in social and moral attitudes, so it is important to look at the relationship between these two changes.


Before reading any further, read the extract Reasons for the rise of atheism: the rebellion against moral absolutes and then continue reading.


Divine Command Theory is an approach to ethics that argues morality is determined by what God commands, so to be moral is to follow those commands.  The Ten Commandments, given to Moses on Mount Sinai by God are a good example.  These laws are considered as absolutes as they cannot be altered or adapted, and they play a central role in Christian and Jewish ethics.

So when moral relativists challenge the idea of moral absolutes, they are not just opposing the idea of unchangeable moral laws, but challenging the idea of a commander behind the commands.

These moral relativists argue that there are no absolute rights and no absolute wrongs.  Morality comes from culture so what is right and wrong depends on what culture you are in.  Something wrong in one culture or at one time may not be wrong in a different culture or at a different time.

This rejection of moral absolutes does just mean there are no unchangeable moral laws, it also means that people can adapt their own morality by belonging to a society where what is wrong in one place is not wrong there.

As well as rejecting the idea of divine commands and with it the idea of God as divine commander, moral relativism rejects both the right of God to set these laws and the ability of God to set the laws.

This is why moral relativism and the rejection of moral absolutes have gone hand in hand with a rise in atheism and a rejection of theism.