December 3, 2021

Cliff's Edge

It’s one thing for secular thinkers to argue that truth is relative, contingent, cultural. But to hear Christians spout similar sentiments? Though the Lord and Master of their faith says, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Luke 11:23) and “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”(Matt. 7:14)and “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), His professed followers argue for moral, theological, even ontological relativism? Go figure.

Relativism is intellectually incoherent anyway. The claim that “all truth is relative” must include that specific claim itself; hence, why should anyone take the claim that “all truth is relative” seriously?

One shouldn’t, but for more reasons than its own self-immolation. This relativism undercuts itself in another, even more powerful way. However vehemently the most radical relativists denounce the existence of absolute truth, none denies the existence of lies.

Yet how can lies exist without truth? Take the statement “Mitt Romney won the 2012 presidential election in the United States.” Truth or lie? It’s a lie. But how could it be a lie without the truth behind it, which is that Barak Obama, not Mitt Romney, won the 2012 United States presidential election?

How about “2 + 2 = 31.7447”? A lie, but why? Because we know that 2 + 2 = 4; thus, “4” is the truth that makes the first statement false.

What about “The sun orbits the earth every day”? Truth or lie? It’s a lie because of the truth, which is that the earth spins on its axis, making the sun appear to move from horizon to horizon daily.

Some would argue that these are trivial examples, because we know the correct answers (i.e., the truth behind the lies).  But what makes the statement “The center of Jupiter is made of creamy peanut butter” a lie? Certainly not because of anyone’s knowledge about the consistency of Jupiter’s core. A lie remains a lie even if we don’t know the truth that makes it one. You don’t have to have a correct answer, or any answer, in order to detect a false one. Yet it’s false only because the truth about the center of Jupiter, whatever it is, exists.

Most would agree that the statement “The torture of babies is morally justified” is wrong, even if we might disagree why. Whatever the arguments against that statement, they presuppose that truth must exist behind it, which is that it’s not morally justified to torture babies. Otherwise, how could the position that it is justified be a lie? How could any position, on any subject, be a lie or an error without the truths that make lies lies and errors errors?

“The world order,” wrote Czech author Franz Kafka, “is based upon a lie.” Fine, but it is a lie only because the truth about the world order, whatever it is, makes it a lie.

Some things are relative, contingent, cultural. Driving on the right side of the road is hardly absolute moral truth. If, however, one does it in England, it becomes “wrong” (and can even take on a moral tone because it could lead to an accident), but only because there’s the truth (that in England people drive on the left side), which makes driving on the right side wrong.

On the other hand, someone says, “The Flying Spaghetti monster created the universe, and She alone determined human morality.” You wouldn’t necessarily have to know who or what created the universe and determined human morality in order for that statement to be a lie. It’s a lie only because of the truth, which is that something or someone else, not the Flying Spaghetti monster, created the universe and determined human morality.

How ironic that professed Christians deny the reality of truth, but not of lies,  even though lies—whether about the small stuff or the grand metaphysical stuff—cannot exist without truth, either about the small stuff or the grand metaphysical stuff. Hence every claim declaring absolute truth a lie automatically refutes itself.