What Lies Beneath

I used to work as an engineer in bridge design. One thing that’s vital about a bridge is this: it needs good foundations. If it doesn’t, the rest of the structure’s integrity is compromised, regardless of how strong the individual components are. A bridge isn’t the only thing that needs good foundations, though: so do our thoughts and our way of viewing life (otherwise known as our “worldview”). All of us (without exception) assume certain things to be true; all of us hold to certain presuppositions that undergird our view of life. My question is this: are we aware of what these things are, and are they true? If not, our worldview collapses like a foundation-less bridge.

As a Christian I’m quite used to having certain accusations thrown at me, such as “blind faith” and “un-intellectual”. Now at times such statements may be true: Christians certainly can have the tendency for intellectual laziness and naivety. But just as often (perhaps more so?) these statements are loaded with hypocrisy from those that make them who fail to realise their own unspoken and unconsidered assumptions that must be true for their own worldview to exist.

Recently I had a brief conversation with an atheist who was criticising the immorality of the Old Testament Law (in particular its allowance of slavery). When I asked him where he obtained his morals from he scoffed at me with the reply that it was “common sense” that enabled a community to function, and that he didn’t need “some other voice to tell him how to live” since he was an “adult”. Let’s examine this statement and ask “what are the foundations this man is assuming?”

Firstly he’s assuming the existence of moral absolutes: he considers the OT’s allowance for slavery to be wrong. Secondly, however, he assumes that morality comes from “common sense” and the collective wisdom of a community. Then thirdly, he assumes that the mark of maturity is the ability to independently construct one’s own morality. These three things are contradictory. If morality is fabricated according to one’s common sense then it will vary from person to person, from people to people, from culture to culture. If that is true, morality is not absolute. My atheist friend objected to slavery but what if a culture considered slavery to be morally appropriate by common sense (as per the ancient world)? Then by what basis does he have the right to criticise them? If he believes that such cultures were primitive and regressive in this then he is assuming an absolute moral standard (i.e. slavery is wrong), and therefore asserting that morality is not by common sense, nor personally fabricated. His foundation does not hold his worldview.

If morality is a social and cultural construction then moral obligation is a myth and criticizing another culture’s standards is nothing less than ethnic arrogance and superiority. If you hold to a view that denies moral absolutes then you forbid yourself from ever passing judgement on another person or worldview. If you believe in moral absolutes then can you account for a reason for their existence?

So what lies beneath? Can your worldview stand?


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