Currently in our society it seems that everyday there’s a new report of a famous or notable person being accused of and/or admitting to sexual harassment. These reports have a shone a bright light on a sad, cringe-worthy reality that has existed for a long time. One of the interesting aspects of this reporting is watching the news and opinion media attempt to explain why sexual harassment is wrong and to speculate on how this behavior can be eliminated. Those attempts have been clumsy, awkward, and logically inconsistent. And the reason is this:
One cannot authoritatively claim that any behavior is wrong or immoral without believing that an objective moral standard exists which transcends humanity’s emotions and reason.
The outrage directed toward sexual harassers is valid, but our secular society can’t explain why. And this inability to rationally explain why certain behaviors are wrong and inappropriate is one of the major problems with the secular worldview that rejects God.
In his excellent book, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical, Tim Keller addresses this phenomenon in secular Western society…
This has led to a kind of intellectual schizophrenia. As we have observed, if we create our own values individually, on what basis could we urge anyone else to accept them? Or if we create those values collectively, how then can we recommend them to any other culture? Yet we do, unavoidably, and forcibly. For example, Marti Ruti, a professor at the University of Toronto, writes: “Although I believe that values are socially constructed rather than God given…I do not believe that gender inequality is any more defensible than racial inequality, despite repeated efforts to pass it off as culture-specific ‘custom’ rather than an instance of injustice.” Notice that first she says what she must say as a modern, secular person, namely, that all moral values are socially constructed by human beings, not grounded in God. But then she hears some say that therefore they do not have to listen to her call for gender equality, because it is nothing but a Western, culturally constructed custom. On the contrary, she strongly retorts, it is not – gender equality is a universal moral norm that must be honored by all cultures. But how could that be? If all morality is person specific or socially constructed, how can any statement of right and wrong be true for all? In essence, Ruti is saying: “Your moral values are just socially constructed, but mine are not, and so are true for everyone.” This self-justifying, self-contradictory stance is pervasive in our secular culture today.
This schizophrenia does not exist only in academic circles. It is now pervasive, especially in the day-to-day lives of younger adults. Sociologist Christian Smith found that younger American adults held two views of morality in sharp tension, even contradiction. Most are relativistic, not believing in abiding moral absolutes. And yet they have many very strong moral convictions, which they insist others should honor. When asked how they knew if an action was moral or not, most said that they “automatically know…what is right and wrong in any situation.” When asked how they would explain to someone else why they should do or not do some action, they repeatedly insisted that “everybody already knows” what is right and wrong. But there is no set of moral values that is self-evident to all people.
Again, this leaves modern, secular people in the position of insisting that other people’s morals are constructed yet acting toward others as if theirs are not. In theory we are relativists, but in practice and interaction with those who disagree with us we are absolutists. This schizophrenia is a major source of the increasing polarization we see in our culture.
Keller skillfully points out the flaw with the secular worldview when it comes to matters of morality. Secularists cannot explain why a certain behavior is wrong, nor can they explain why anyone has any moral responsibility to anybody else, nor can they find a way forward in correcting certain actions they wish to correct. Thus, the media’s rational incongruity when reporting on sexual harassment.
The Christian worldview sees sexual harassment as wrong because it violates the objective and transcendent moral values that are rooted in the moral character of God, to whom we are responsible. In one sentence, Christianity can provide a logical explanation for why sexual harassment is wrong; and as Keller also states in his book: “[Secular thinkers] should consider that their theory of the world cannot account for one of the most indelible and central aspects of human life – morality – and therefore they should be open to the possibility that another theory of the world is more true to reality.”