Moral Relativism Hurts the Poor More than the Rich

It’s no secret that we’ve seen some major cultural changes over the last few years. We’ve moved so far away from being a culture that values morality and family stability. We have the moral relativism of the last half century or so to blame for a cultural decline.

The rapid movement toward tolerance under the guise of freedom has led to the dismantling of American families in heartbreaking ways. Americans see the marriage partnership and so many other relationships as disposable. Children grow up without fathers—some never knowing a father figure at all. People of all ages see encouragement to follow whatever lifestyle makes them feel good, regardless of the relational carnage that may be left in the wake of such decisions.

In his book Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society, First Things editor R. R. Reno examines this phenomenon and makes an important observation based on his research: Moral relativism does more damage to the poor than it does to the rich. Freedom without responsibility and a moral foundation is destroying the lives of those in poverty in this country.

Reno’s research involves looking at the moral differences between the wealthy and the impoverished from two perspectives. His analysis of Charles Murray’s research into the differences between rich and poor whites from 1960 to 2010 shows not only the growing economic gap between those two classes, but a moral chasm as well. His look at Robert Putnam’s work delves into similar rifts between the haves and have-nots regardless of race or ethnicity.

The idea behind his thesis is this: The wealthy elite (some in Hollywood notwithstanding) tend to live in more traditional enclaves in intact families. They can afford to send their kids for the best education, and they even often map out their children’s career paths in advance for them. Even as they profess tolerance, as well as the freedom that supposedly accompanies such attitudes, their lives are more or less conventional.

On the other hand, poor families catch wind of relaxed morality as it is preached through the culture, and they often follow suit, regardless of their circumstances or means. The young woman whose favorite actress or singer publicly declares that she doesn’t need a husband or steady man to be a mom chooses to do so herself. The husband who hears that he should follow his heart over his responsibilities decides to abandon his family for another.

Our political and economic structures help push these cultural trends along as well. No-fault divorce laws and other legislation make it too easy for families to dissolve, and children can be the ones most hurt by a family split. Benefits tend to favor and even encourage single-parent families with multiple kids who grow up without a father (or mother).

There are some political and economic solutions to the moral issues that plague the poor. Reno suggests a tax on divorce to make it more of a financial burden to throw one’s marriage away. That may be a good idea, but I’m inclined to look for cures that don’t impose a greater governmental burden on citizens. But there’s a better way to remedy the moral crisis that plagues America in the 21st century.

Reno writes:

We cannot use freedom alone as a sword to cut the bonds of race, class, sex, or anything else. If we try, we’ll end up in the cruelest bondage of all, which is to ourselves. A voice has to come from the outside. Freedom comes when we bind ourselves to something worth serving… Freedom is fullest not when it serves itself but when it serves truths freely held. We need to resurrect the living power of the truths undergirding our society, many of them Christian truths, if we’re to restore and renew the American dream of freedom.

The truth is that there’s a spiritual solution to our moral ills, and it’s up to Christians to help their neighbors (poor or rich) seek that solution in Jesus Christ. We don’t have all the answers, but we know Who does—and as believers in the God of the Bible, it’s our imperative to point to Him.