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Sunday, January 08, 2006

On the Relativism of Truth

Then Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world--to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." Pilate said to him, "What is truth?" --John 18:37-38 (ESV)

In declaring that “truth is relative”, we are making a truth claim. However, it is one’s definition of the words themselves that will be deciding factor of whether the statement can be validated as authentic or dismissed as nonsensical. Let’s first take time to do a word study starting with the word truth:

a (1): the state of being the case :
FACT (2) : the body of real things, events, and facts : ACTUALITY (3) often capitalized : a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality b : a judgment, proposition, or idea that is true or accepted as true
c: the body of true statements and propositions.

And now relative:

RELEVANT, PERTINENT 3: not absolute or independent: COMPARATIVE .

As we can see from the definitions above, when we speak of truth, we are stating the facts. If we wanted to put it another way, we are declaring the proposition that upholds the standard. In short, truth is. Truth, by its definition, is passionless. Regardless of how I feel, negatively or positively, truth will stand. In this definition, we have no problem. It is only when we begin to attach the word "relative" to truth that we begin to see a shift or change in what the word actually means. Our key word, truth, now becomes dependent on which definition of relative we choose.
As we look at the definitions of our second word (relative), we can see how this would cause conflict in terms of our definition of truth. The first definition will further affirm or solidify truth’s absoluteness. To say it simply, truth [is] relative based on the fact that it is relates to everyone and everything. As the definition states plainly- it is relevant and pertinent to our understanding. Truth being relative in this case would mean that everyone and everything is accountable to its propositions. Without truth, we cannot relate and furthermore, no truth claim would be relevant. This leads us right into the second definition of the word relative, which states that truth is [relative]. Here there is an emphasis change. The emphasis is no longer on truth’s being relative, as in our first definition, but rather on what relationship a particular truth has to us. To be sure, truth is independently relevant based upon an individual’s views and passions, not on the facts and propositions that it may actually present. The absoluteness of truth in the latter is in the eyes of the beholder. It is with the greatest of conviction that we must affirm the former (first) definition and vehemently deny the latter (second).
This case can confidently be made upon us further looking at the nonsensical “claims” of the second definition of what would more commonly be know as Relativism. The purpose of said movement is to do away with the objectivity of truth. We can here it echoed in statements such as, “Your truth is not my truth”, or better, “It’s true if it works for him/her”. In the first remark we can see that by the very definition of the word truth itself, such a ludicrous idea falls under its own weight. While it is true that both truth claims could be wrong, it cannot, by nature of truth, be true that both claims stand as true. If someone tells me that the sky is blue and I say it is green, by the claims of the previous statements I would be right! Relativism is based not out of objective propositions of truth (in this case, all that we know about color and the names given), but on the feeble shoulders of my subjective whims and wishes. In short, we have crossed the wires of our understanding so that [relativity] is truth. The relationship defines the reality. If I be it out of ignorance or out of volition, don’t relate, then it is truth that must bend and become accountable to me. I, as the independent, decide its relevance (a truth unto myself). This ideology is the folly of wishful thinking. If followed to its rational conclusion, it would not take long for one to see that in a world of truth based on relativism and the subjective nature of individuals, "true truth" (as Francis Schaffer would put it) becomes extinct. Even the beloved credo of “Your truth is not my truth” dies by its own hand, for the only absolute in this arena is [no] truth. A truth cannot be “true” and “not true” at the same time.

[ As I stated earlier, the only way to keep the definition of truth in tact is to affirm the first definition of relative in regards to truth. This is the only way that one can state the “relativity of truth” without robbing it of its glory. “Truth is relative” has meaning because truth is. For example, The law of gravity is not an illusion or a state of mind. It is a matter of FACT. If I do not “relate” to this truth and choose to jump from the top of the Empire State Building, believing that if I flap my arms with all conviction I will begin to glide and soar, I will be more than a little disappointed. Barring some grand act of God, I will in fact, be dead. And no one will say, “Wow, I don’t know what happened. His belief was so strong”. More than likely, it will be said by all (who are not institutionalized), “What could he have been thinking? That’s plain suicide”. In saying so, they would be correct. Regardless of the gap in my ability to relate or comprehend, gravity is real. I am still held accountable to it whether I acknowledge this or not. Gravity, being real, will do its job, no matter how feeble or stubborn my understanding of it may be. It won’t, better yet; it cannot accommodate my fool heartedness. To do that, it would have to cease to be. Gravity would have to become “not gravity”. Gravity is what it is.]

And so it is with all truth claims. They must be objective. For a claim to be considered true it must stand alone based on the evidence and propositions given and must not be given over to the soft pillow of subjectivism which has been placed over the sleeping face rationality of our present day. It is because of this prevailing trend that words, such as truth, have no real meaning (or have lost their meaning) and are therefore left to be defined at the convenience of the individual. This will eventually bring us all under subject to convoluted absolutes and no clear answers to some extremely relevant and pertinent questions. Things such as law, crime, love, hate, right, wrong, good, bad, etc. are left up for grabs in such a society, as the lines become ever more increasingly blurred between them. This will only lead to the greatest of tragedies. People will eventually stop searching for objective truth, becoming satisfied with their own inclinations of what these things mean, from situation to situation, judging these crises only by what pleases them at the moment. Such a way will have an overarching effect on all parts of our life and academia. Ultimately, much liken to our illustration of gravity, this would lead to intellectual suicide which will most assuredly avalanche toward drastic moral decline and the detriment of mankind. We must say with tears, these are signposts that can so prevalently be seen in our culture today, yet continue to go unheeded.

It is under the influence of the current relativistic view of the truth that ultimate truth, God's word, has come under attack. Sadly, this is not only in the secular realm, but in the evangelical realm as well. It is time for confessing Christians to take a stand on the Bible as the inerrant, infallible word of God in order for the Church to regain it's identify, purpose and focus in this world.

"If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free; So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."
-John 8:31-32,36 (ESV)

**"Sanctify them in the Truth; Your Word is Truth."
-John 17:17 (ESV)

**Jesus does not pray for the temporal well-being of the disciples, but for their sanctification. He wishes above all that they be holy. "Truth" is the means by which holiness is attained. Error and deception are basic to evil, and truth is basic to godliness. - notes on John 17:17 from the Reformation Study Bible

"If there is no absolute by which to judge society, society is absolute."
-Francis A. Schaffer
(pictured above)

Soli Deo Gloria,

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