It’s a question of faith.
What is “the good”? We’ve debated this question since ancient times.
More to the point, is goodness objective? That is, does goodness go beyond personal opinion?
The morass of opinion
If goodness is subjective then it’s relative. There would be contradictory notions of goodness, negating the existence of goodness as an absolute.
And if goodness isn’t objective then progress is a less meaningful notion. You can progress in your personal beliefs, but someone else might think your beliefs are wrong.
Is libertarianism or socialism more in line with the greater good? If goodness isn’t an absolute then one person’s idea of progress is another person’s idea of regression.
If goodness is objective, however, then objective progress is possible. But no one can say they have goodness all figured out, so we’re still grappling with subjective opinions. Even infallible revelations can’t escape this problem. The Bible and the Koran are allegedly the literal revealed word of God, but both can’t be true.
This leads to two options:
We can believe that good and evil are in the eye of the beholder, which means accepting that progress is also subjective and relative.
Of course, relativism doesn’t mean anything goes. No one believes that. But it does mean there’s no objective way to settle a disagreement over what’s good, and therefore what’s right and wrong.
The problem with the Nazis is not just that they didn’t think that they were wrong—they actually thought their actions were right and good. A relativist cannot absolutely say that the Nazis were wrong. A relativist can only hope to persuade more people to abhor rather than admire the Nazis.
This leads us to a postmodern position: There is no Truth with a capital “T,” so what matters is winning the argument rather than finding the truth.
Another option is to believe that absolute good exists. This is faith—there’s no way to prove it. Relativism doesn’t require faith in the same way because a belief in absolute good is a belief in the existence of something while relativism is what you have left when you don’t take this leap of faith.
Further, goodness requires intentionality, which in turn implies consciousness. So to believe in absolute good is to believe in God, insofar as one accepts the belief that God is good.
But this leaves other questions unresolved: being perfectly good requires stopping evil, and being all-powerful provides the ability to do it. Yet, evil exists.
Another problem is that while many religious traditions believe miracles like resurrections and people walking on water, these events flatly contradict our experiences of how the world works.
So maybe God isn’t all-powerful. But that’s an opinion.
A tense situation
It’s a stark choice: Relativism’s condemnations of great evil are weak, and relative progress is not most people’s idea of real progress. A relativist must live with the tension this moral weakness creates. Absolute goodness, on the other hand, requires faith in God. A believer must live with the tension resulting from difficult questions such as the problem of evil. And while God doesn’t have to be the biblical God, this option is less appealing to many people.
We must accept that it’s our lot to ask existential questions we can’t answer. And we must constantly remind ourselves that we’re fallible and prone to self-justification. Even if we choose to believe that absolute goodness exists, we must accept that don’t fully understand it and are guaranteed to frequently get it wrong.
In either case, rigorous self-criticism and constant striving to be a better person is the best solution.