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I've noticed that people tend to prefer moral relativism to moral absolutism because of the idea of moral progress. Moral progress is the notion that the world is on a trajectory towards a better and better understanding of what the right thing to do is.

Morality as being socially constructed seems to harmonize better with moral progress than a fixed, unchanging morality. However, while I believe in moral absolutes myself, I also believe in some version of the moral progress idea, although with serious qualifications. (i.e. I believe that moral progress can over time result from our efforts to faithfully live out God's Word).

I would like to know of any resources where people have reconciled the idea of moral absolutes with the idea of moral progress, from a Christian perspective.

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    Maybe you could state explicitly what you mean by "moral progress". – Matt Gutting Mar 3 at 4:08
  • . . . and when you say 'moral absolutes' do you mean 'righteousness' or do you mean something else ? – Nigel J Mar 3 at 10:56
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    The term "Moral Progress" sounds dangerous – Marc Mar 3 at 12:41
  • The idea of society moral progress OP is talking about is probably similar to the enlightenment 19th century thinkers and politicians idea of moral progress. But while their assumptions about inevitable progress were discredited after the 2 world wars and the holocaust, I believe we can still talk about a way to measure the health of people's morals in today's society. OP needs to be more explicit on what to talk about: theory of how sociological / political process can improve society's moral health, the way to measure, the standard to judge a typical member of society's moral health, etc. – GratefulDisciple Mar 21 at 18:53
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    It seems to me that the notion of "moral progress" needs a lot of clarification. You defined it in terms of "a better and better understanding of what the right thing to do is." Can you explain what "better" means here, without basing your explanation on some moral absolute? – Andreas Blass Jun 16 at 20:16
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The idea of Moral Progress is actually less compatible with moral relativism than with absolute morality. The very idea of being "on a trajectory towards a better and better understanding of what the right thing to do is" implies that there is an absolute standard of morality that you can progress towards. Without that there is just "moral change" with no standard by which to judge if any change is "better" or "worse".

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Paul in Ephesians said this:

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

This process of attaining maturity in faith and practice could well be described as "moral progress", but it is moral progress towards a perfect, unchanging, absolute goal, namely Christ. The central challenge is overcoming the "cunning and craftiness" of people. The normal state of human society is wandering, not progress. It is wandering away from the truth in one area in one generation, only to wander back towards it in another. This occasional return to the truth is then trumpeted as progress, as though some new human achievement was in view. One antidote for this is to read Job's ethics and decide if we have passed him by with our progress.

  • Feminism? Job gave his daughters and sons an equal share in his inheritance.
  • Racism or caste systems? Job considered all people, from the beggar, to his servants, to the fatherless, to be equal in God's eyes with himself.
  • Labor relations? Job took the complaints of his workers seriously and was conscientious in paying them fairly.
  • Sexual ethics? Job foreswore all sexual immorality, even that sanctioned by the religions of his time.
  • Politics? Job sought to do the right thing even when his popularity would let him get away with bad decisions favored by the crowd.
  • Vengeance? Job refused to curse even his enemies, and forgave his persecutors.

The man lived about 3700 years ago. I do not see much sign of moral progress, merely struggling again and again the reach the same standard. (See Job chapters 29 and 31 for many examples of his ethical beliefs and practices.)

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The resources that you are asking after might be a book, or a further understanding of God's Word. You say, "our efforts"? From the Christian perspective I think that when people are in Heaven they will not be saying,"look at what I did,I did this, I did that". Rather they will say that it was all of grace and the progress I made was an outworking the Holy Spirit and the Word [truth see John 4v23]. "our efforts" will be seen not as our efforts but, as Peter progressed from denying Jesus to preaching Him, as in Acts 4v8, as acts of the Holy Spirit. ...To use your language, God is the moral absolute and moral progress what He works in us, "for of Him ..all things" Rom 11v36.

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