By Eric Dorris
Twenty-Five years ago the Barna Research Group released the results of a study that asked American adults if they agreed with the following statements: “There is no such thing as absolute truth”, and “Two people can define truth in totally conflicting ways, but both be correct”. Seventy-two percent agreed with those two statements. Think about it. That is three out of four people. Isn’t that quite alarming? Not only that, this study took place twenty-five years ago so it is likely more would agree today. This study reflects the thinking of a society where Relativism is the predominant world-view. Relativism claims that truth is subjective. Everything is relevant depending on a personal viewpoint. What this means is a proposition can be true for one person, but not another, based solely on how each person sees the issue at hand.
One of the dangers of Relativism is found in the erasing of moral absolutes. If truth is relative, stealing may be morally wrong to some, but it doesn’t have to be to others. So instead of saying to your child, “stealing is wrong”, according to Relativism, stealing is potentially wrong, depending on ones’ values. This line of thinking is not helpful, but sadly this is nothing new by any means. We have tried to redefine truth to shift outcomes in our favor for as long as humans have existed. See the 3rd chapter of Genesis for reference.
The problem we have now is that the majority of people believe this is inherently the right course of action unless they find themselves on the short end of a lie. At that point, moral absolutes begin to reemerge quite quickly. Using our stealing example, if someone stole your vehicle, you would not say in your mind, “Well, in my opinion, stealing is wrong, but the person who stole my car may have personal values that allow him to steal. I don’t need to notify the police because what’s true for me may not be true for him.” This would not be a sane response from anyone. Instead, you would immediately call the police and expect consequences for the thief. In spite of this inconsistency, the notion of subjective truth has still found a foothold in the world today. So much so, the popular publication Time Magazine released an issue, in March of 2017, with the statement “Truth is Dead” written boldly on the front cover. If that is so, where do we go from here?
Important Terms to Know
Society as a whole is now considered to be secular. A secular society is a society in which religious ideas or institutions have lost their social authority. We have seen this occurring at an alarming rate with more and more people renouncing faith in God and anything sacred. This reduction or decrease in the value of religious ideas, especially Christian ideas in America, has left the door open to pluralism. Pluralism is defined as the introduction of competing world-views in a culture without one world-view being dominant. Our culture is also defined by philosophers as a postmodern culture. Simply stated, it means a culture that attempts to: subvert or undermine foundational doctrines, principles, and social traditions, by simplification and redefinition. In other words, post-modern society is one where the majority of people would rather question any absolute idea. This allows people to find new, progressive ways to reconstruct truth and any absolute moral standard they may disagree with.
Feet planted in the midair
This post-modern culture infused with pluralism is a petri dish for Relativism. We see this out in the town squares of our culture. Watch the news and you will see divisive arguments based on the subjective feelings of those participating, carried out daily. These arguments, based around each person’s subjective view of truth, all result in futility. The common foundation of truth, for any argument, has been cast aside. Malcolm Muggeridge paints this vividly with his statement, “argue with their feet planted firmly in midair”.
Secularism + Pluralism + Post-modernism = Relativism
Even the most fundamental truths are now in question. Anything can now be redefined as long as someone sincerely believes it to be true, even if it doesn’t conform to reality. We can no longer define who is male and who is female, what marriage is, or what constitutes a family. These days the definition of these concepts depends on the feelings of each individual and it doesn’t stop there. Those who oppose these ideas are considered intolerant and bigoted. Those individuals are shunned by the “enlightened of this age”. They are placed within the same category as the racists, intolerant, oppressors of the civil rights movement and they must pay social restitution.
How do we confront this movement?
We must do it the “old fashioned” way. We simply seek the Truth. It is the most valuable thing in the world. You can not have Love without Truth. 1 Corinthians 13:6 tells us, “love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” and 1 John 4:10 tells us “God is love”. We see that love originates from God. True love rejoices in what is right. It can not exist inside of a lie. Its joy will fade and it will no longer come from a pure motive and then it will cease to be love. Love is the most important thing we can obtain and we must learn how to discern the truth from a lie. There is a simple test to perform when seeking the truth and it involves only three steps.
First, we must determine if the proposition is logically consistent. The statements Barna asked in its survey do not meet these criteria. We know this by using innate ideas that govern our process of rationalization or you can say, we know this because of the Laws of Logic. One example of these Laws is the Law of Non-Contradiction. It states that something can’t be true and untrue at the same time, in the same sense. That simply means I can’t be male and female at the same time. The second step would be that it must be empirically adequate or in other words, it must match what we know in reality. The third step is that it must be experientially relevant. It must agree with what is known. (For more studies, listen to Ravi Zacharias give a real-life example on the laws of logic https://youtu.be/JWVzHOhGSC0)
We have the world’s knowledge available to us at any time and we are more confused now than ever. All of this knowledge, combined with a Relative world-view, without absolutes to anchor us, will leave everything meaningless. We can no longer define what is sacred. What should we do? We must engage this mindset and show others why it breaks down or it will spread like a virus, even into the Church.
Jesus is the Truth
We must always be defenders of the truth in every arena and seeking truth should be our primary goal in life. The reason we should continually defend and seek truth is that, unlike Pontious Pilate, we know who Truth is and where it is found. On a quick side note, John 18:38 has to be the most ironic statement ever uttered by a man. Pilate was standing next to Truth incarnate and asks “What is truth?”. To be fair, haven’t we all asked that question at some point in our lives? Maybe we didn’t phrase it as Pilate did. Maybe we asked: “what does all of this mean?” or “what’s the purpose of this life?”. It’s the same question Pilate asked. Read through that passage and you’ll see that it was a rhetorical question. He doesn’t wait for an answer. He asked the question like “What good is any of this? Where can I find meaning?”, then walks away.
If Pilate would have honestly asked Jesus that question and was honestly seeking truth, he would have seen the One who gives us the ingredients for the meaning of life. He would have realized Truth was draped in humiliating makeshift garb, beaten beyond recognition, wearing a crown he did not deserve and was standing right next to him. Pilate would have seen the Truth about to allow himself to be nailed to a cross to save the world from its sin. Pilate would have seen Truth die for all of us. Better yet if he would have stayed around for a few days he would see Truth resurrected. If he would have been sincerely seeking meaning for his life, he would have realized that the man standing there is the Truth that must be sought. He bestows us with a sense of wonder, loves us unconditionally, and He provides us the security we need.
If Pilate would have waited for an answer, he could have heard something like this: “I am the way, and the TRUTH, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus tells us why finding and defending the Truth matters. He is Truth incarnate. He is the standard of Truth. What is true is true because he has declared it to be true. John 1:3 tells us that Jesus created all things, and Hebrews 1:3 tells us that He sustains all things moment by moment. Jesus created and sustains all of reality as well as determining every aspect of this world. All true statements must correspond to and cohere with the reality Jesus created.
When Time Magazine declares Truth is dead and our secular society tries to redefine what Jesus has already defined, they are committing a huge offense against the Creator of reality. When we attempt to discard truth, we are trying to be God. In such attempts, you can hear echoes of the serpent saying, “you shall not surely die”. Don’t fall for the deception. Always “Abide in His word, be His disciple, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-33).