Is there such a thing as right and wrong? Is there an absolute standard against which we can measure every word, thought and deed? Does not our innate sense of justice demand that we have a perfect judge to determine the fate of those who transgress our moral codes? Where do morals come from?
There are two main schools of thought. Socialization theories of moral development suggest that morality is learned. In other words, we behave in certain ways, either good or bad, because of what we see others do. Especially our parents and later, more significantly our peers. In this view, our morality is shaped by the society in which we live. Extrinsic environmental factors are more influential.
Cognitive theories of moral development say that as we mature we construct our own understanding of the world. We figure out for ourselves what is right and wrong, good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable,and we do so by virtue of reason: by analyzing moral rules and making judgements about whether they should be followed or not. Intrinsic factors such as our own thoughts and reasoning are more significant in this view.
As is often the case with seemingly opposing theories, the truth of how morality develops is a combination of both theories, and then a little bit more. The little bit more is the question left unanswered by both theories. Regardless of how our morals develop, we must ask where they came from in the first place. Have we just figured it all out for ourselves over the centuries, by trial and error? Who first decided that it was wrong to murder, to steal, to lie? From where did the sense of fair play within all of us come? If morality has no origin and is not absolute, then who can truly say what is right and what is wrong? Why do our souls cry out for justice?
I am comforted by the knowledge that there is a perfect judge, and one day he will call all of us to account. Absolute morality begins and ends with God. He is absolute truth, and denying it does not alter the fact.