Relativism and the Truth
We are all given the gift of existence, whereupon most begin the enterprise of life's most fundamental questions:
- Is there a God?
- What is my purpose?
- What is the truth?
- Is William Shatner really bald?
One simplistic answer to "What is the truth?" is Atheism, which few people buy into deep down. (See Clues.) However, the much more dangerous and popular modern lie of relativism comes direct from Hell Central—which attacks the notion that something can really be true.
What is Relativism?
Many unconsciously believe in it. Though you won't hear them say "Hi, I'm a relativist," you might identify it by attitudes such as:
- "Any spirituality you decide to believe in is good, as long as you're sincere."
- "A person's individual sexual ethics are valid if that's what they believe."
- "Jesus is not the way to heaven, but may be a way if that's your preference."
Relativism is the belief that life has no ultimate absolute standards or values. In other words, a relativist believes that truth is relative.
However, relativism by its nature is a self-contradiction! When you put it under scrutiny it essentially says "the absolute truth is that there is no absolute truth." or "I am certain that nothing is certain."
Why is it so popular?
- One reason is because modern Americans place such a high value on a democratic opinion, as if popularity determines facts. However, on a math test the most common answer isn't necessarily the correct one. We too easily confuse the right to seek the truth with the actual truth.
- Another misunderstanding is that Einstein's Theory of Relativity proved "everything is relative", including moral standards. First, the theory has nothing to do with moral standards. Second, if anything his theory contradicts philosophical relativism by establishing the existence of absolutes (e.g., the speed of light is a constant; physics laws are true regardless of the time-space reference frame.) Third, mathematics and logicupon which this theory and all rational thinking restare both examples of absolutes. (Incidentally, Einstein did believe in God's mind, though sadly, not God's heart.)
- The strongest motivation for believing there is no ultimate truth is that we want to think we aren't accountable to anything (or any One). We want to write our own rules, but this is a false sense of freedom, like a kid thinking he's better off without his father. But an effect is not independent of its cause.
Relativism vs the Truth
The following is a reading from the gospel according to ABC Nightline's Ted Koppel, given to graduates of Duke University a few years back.
What Moses brought down from Mount Sinai were not the ten suggestions. They are commandments. Are, not were. The sheer beauty of the commandments is that they codify in a handful of words acceptable human behavior, not just for then or now, but for all time. The tension between those commandments and our base instincts provide the grist for journalism's daily mill. What a huge, gaping void there would be in our informational flow. And in our entertainment without the routine violations of the sixth commandment: Thou shall not murder. On what did the Gary Hart campaign flounder? On accusations that he violated the seventh commandment. Relevant? Of course the commandments are relevant. Simply because we use different terms and tools, the eighth commandment is still relevant to the insider-trading scandal. The commandments don't get bogged down in methodology. Simple, to the point: Thou shall not steal. Watch the Iran-Contra hearings and keep the ninth commandment in mind, Thou shall not bear false witness. And the tenth commandment, which seems to have been crafted for the 80's and the me generation, the commandment against covetous desiresagainst longing for anything that we cannot get in an honest and legal fashion.
On television, ambiguity is a virtue; and television these days is our most active marketplace of ideas. You can partake of our daily banquet without drawing on any intellectual resources, without either physical or moral discipline. We require nothing of you, only that you watch. And gradually, it must be said, we are beginning to make our mark on the American people. We have actually convinced ourselves slogans will save us. Shoot up but use a clean needle. Enjoy sex but wear a condom. No. The answer is No. Not because it isn't cool or smart or because you might end up in jail or dying in an AIDS ward but, no, because it's wrong, because we have spent 5,000 years as a race of rational human beings, trying to drag ourselves out of the primeval slime by searching for truth and moral absolutes. In the place of truth, we have discovered facts. For moral absolutes, we have substituted moral ambiguity. We now communicate with everyone and say absolutely nothing. We have reconstructed the Tower of Babel and it is a television antenna: a thousand voices producing a daily parody of democracy, in which everyone's opinion is afforded equal weight regardless of substance or merit.
In other words, when we disobey God's commandments we don't actually "break God's lawsGod's laws break us. The Truth frees and; relativism doesn't.
- Sincerity vs. Reality. Relativists think all beliefs are equally valid as long as they are sincere. (Though no religion teaches this.) Sincerity is essential, but not enoughfor one can be sincerely mistaken. Someone jumping off a 7-story building may sincerely believe they won't be hurt, but below awaits a "concrete" reality!
- All Colors. Relativists say Christianity is too simple, life is not black and white. Christians respond "there are blacks, whites, grays and over 32 million colors!" However, the most important issues are black and white, and are clear. God doesn't hide from us the first and second commandments: love Him and love others. Everything is within that framework.
- Both Universal and Particular. Some object: "Are you implying that if I don't behave in your cookie-cutter Christian mold and pray with my hands raised, etc., then I'm not conforming to the Absolute Standard of Reality?" No, that's the application of a universal absolute truth: God must be praised, but He gives us the freedom to raise our hands or stand on our hands! True love is free and variedunless the Lover is rejected.
You mean that life is just a setup for love?
The Truth is a Person
When we discuss truth we easily get stuck on abstractions. However, the truth is not a set of principles, but a person. Jesus Christ stepped into our world declaring:
I am the Truth. It's Me you're looking for.
When one asks the question "what is truth?" any answer less than a person cannot contain the totality of truth, because personality is a major part of what we encounter in the universe. Anything less than a person cannot satisfy human longings.
On the surface relativism is seemingly attractive because it provides a convenient excuse to engage in any behavior we desire. So a relativist insists that there are no absolutesexcept one: "I ought to be allowed to do whatever I want to!"
However, an athlete can only win when playing by the rules; a citizen of a country is only truly free when they submit to the laws; the intellect can only be enlightened by real truth.
And the heart can only be satisfied by the personal love of God.
I know the end from the beginning. I see everything that happens as a part of a complete whole. You do not possess this gift, but you possess the one who does.
Trust Me through it all, especially when you feel things "don't make sense". Within a limited viewpoint, when you can't see how the present ties into lifetime and eternal purposes and designs, it is easy to despair. I have planned this vast universe down to the smallest detail. I am a God of details and I am intricately and lovingly putting together your life as you submit it to Me. And even when you don't, I will guide you toward My perfect will. I am ever interceding for you. It is pure joy to Me when My children prosper.
So often, the path to Godly prosperity is strewn with battles, trials, setbacks, failures. Remember, I told you that "in this world you will have tribulation." Didn't I also say, "...but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world"? (John 16:33)
No matter how much you believe you have "messed up" or missed it, I am greater than that belief, for I am your redeemer and can make any situation alive with My presence. And when some things happen even as you're "doing everything right", still, rejoice, and know that I am God, a God of victory.
My truths are eternal and every day they bear upon your life through the dominion of the loving promises I have created for My family. Trust the one who sees all and who loves deeply.