The Evils of Subjectivism

Jerry C. Brewer

In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25).

Man is a created being (Gen. 1:26). That he is such, presupposes a Creator. That Creator is God, who formed man from the dust of the ground and “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7). Man is both physical and spiritual. The physical is from the earth and the spiritual is from God—that which is made in the image of God. As the Creator, in all things physical and the origin of things spiritual, God is sovereign in both realms and His creatures are subject to His laws in those realms.

The laws of God are immutable, and cannot be broken. Those who violate His laws break not the law, but themselves. One law of physics says that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. That law cannot be broken. When two automobiles collide, that law is violated, but not broken. Drivers may consciously, or unconsciously, attempt to break that law, but it remains intact while the drivers are broken in the attempt.

In both physical and spiritual realms, God has a plumbline by which He measures the conduct of His creatures. While society believes that moral standards are fluid, ephemeral, and subject to the desires, ideas, and rationales of humankind, there is a higher, perfect standard of moral conduct by which man will be judged, and to which he must give account. That standard is God’s will revealed in the Bible (John 12:48).

In the 1970s, my American History professor in a Texas college handed out copies of a test for our class and gave instructions for completing it. “Mark the answer that is most nearly correct,” he said. “I don’t believe there are any right answers because I do not believe in absolutes. I pondered his last statement and raised my hand to speak. “Are you absolutely sure there are no absolutes,” I asked. He smiled and said, “I can’t answer that question.” That is the dilemma in which the subjectivist traps himself. He cannot be absolutely certain that there are no absolutes.

Our exchange was the classic example of two basic concepts of moral standards. Relativism (his concept) and absolutism (God’s law) war for the souls of mankind. The absolutist says God’s objective standard governs moral conduct. The relativist says all conduct is subjective, relative to each situation and can be determined only by those involved in it. Webster defines subjectivism this way: “The doctrine that the supreme good is the realization of some type of subjective experience or feeling, as pleasure. The doctrine that individual feeling or apprehension is the ultimate criterion of the good and right.” As we use them here, the terms relativist, situationist and subjectivist are synonymous, describing an individual. Subjectivism, relativism, and situation ethics are also synonymous terms describing the concept that there is no objective standard of morality.

Living by no fixed standard of morality, the subjectivist becomes a law unto himself—doing that which is “right in his own eyes” as Israel did in the days of the Judges. He is subject to no higher authority than his own feelings, desires, and experiences, resulting in moral anarchy. Objectivism—the opposite approach—is based upon a standard outside of man’s consciousness, and defined by Webster as, “Any of certain theories stressing the objective reality, especially as distinguished from the purely subjective experience of the phenomenal world, of moral good, or the like”

The objectivist understands that moral conduct must be regulated by a higher authority than his own consciousness, and that God is that authority Who rules in the moral realm. The objectivist understands that God’s moral law existed before he was born, is revealed in Biblical precepts, and has always been applicable to all men in all ages. The moral laws of God are fixed and unalterable. They teach what they teach, regardless of what society may think or declare that they teach. The moral philosophies of men exist in a constant state of flux, but God’s moral precepts remain unchanged in every age.

The abolition or alteration of law requires an authority as great as that which enacted it. Society has no power to change the law of God because society is not the source of His law. Basing one’s moral conduct on subjectivism is an attempt to alter and/or abolish God’s law, and a rejection of His authority. Man may ignore God’s law, but he cannot abolish it. He merely substitutes the the creature’s standard for that of the Creator. Subjectivism brought ruin to mankind in the ancient world, as Paul describes:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen (Rom. 1:18-25).

Subjectivism has always brought ruin and misery to the human race. Adolph Hitler recognized no higher moral standard than his own prejudices, developed within the matrix of his life experience. Believing he was right, he murdered millions of innocent men, women, and children. He blamed Jews for Germany’s defeat in World War One, considered them a pestilence in the German nation, and set about to “cleanse” Germany of them. Hitler was a subjectivist who based his personal moral conduct on his own feelings and experience. Would the subjectivist accept Hitler’s conduct as right?

In his book 1966 book, Situation Ethics: The New Morality, Joseph Fletcher clearly set forth the subjectivist’s viewpoint:

How shall we respond to the question whether extramarital sex is wrong? Or even paid sex? Women have done it to feed their families, to pay debts, to serve their countries in counter-espionage, to honor a man whom they could not marry. Are we entitled to say that, depending on the situation, those who break the seventh commandment of the Old Law, even whores, could be doing a good thing …if it is for love’s sake? In short, is there any real ‘law’ of universal weight? The situationist thinks not (p. 146).

Having no, “real law of universal weight,” Adolph Hitler committed mass murder, as did Jim Jones in Guyana, Charles Manson in California, Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union, and Mao Tse Tung in China. Situation ethics knows no objective evil or morality—only that which the individual determines to be so in a given situation. “Situation ethics is a brand of reasoning designed to circumvent all law. The logic of the situationist leads to the conclusion that evil may be righteousness and righteousness may be evil” (H. A. Dobbs, Anchor, Summer Quarter, 1970, p. 2).

The greatest tragedy of the 20th century was not the enslavement and murder of millions by Hitler and Stalin. It was the adoption of “Situation Ethics” (subjectivism) as man’s moral standard of conduct, from which all evil arises. Paul said, “…evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). Only evil results when man rejects God’s absolute moral standard and does, “that which is right in his own eyes.”

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