Relativism and its Regrets

I will start off by admitting to my biases.  As a Christian, I have a biased nature to think that there is something as objective truth, meaning there are ideas and concepts and beliefs and moral systems and philosophic systems that are just wrong and incorrect, regardless of whether everyone believes them or doesn’t believe them.  Obviously, I hold to the Christian beliefs and thoughts as being the correct ones, but that’s not what I’m arguing for here.  I’m arguing for a realization that we must begin to take this concept of truth seriously, and stop forfeiting the value of truth for the value of validating feelings.  This isn’t to say that we don’t respect feelings or emotions, but it’s to say that feelings and emotions need to be respected and understood, but shouldn’t be our primary source of finding truth.  And when logic and reasoning comes into clashes and odds with feelings, we need to start making our feelings conform to the truth instead of making the truth conform to our feelings.  I just can’t help but notice the whirlwind of contradiction we have thrown our society in for the sake of yielding to the seductive nature of emotions.  I’m aiming my attacks in this post towards this rampant reletivism that has invaded the minds of the youth.  There are more sophisticated forms of relativism out there that require more sophisticated rebuttals but I must admit I’m not equipped to take those on quite yet.  However, it’s the version of relativism where everyone has their own truth; that nobody is really ever wrong but just giving a different but still valid comment on the world, that I want to object to.  I want to demonstrate logically and practically, why this pragmatic and unreasonably skeptic approach to truth is most certainly false.  And how this self-defining ambiance of truth leaves us more lost and uncertain than ever before.  It’s a hard thing to get to your destination when you may not know where it is our how to get there, but it’s even harder if there’s no destination to go towards at all.  It would be better to be lost but searching for something, than to be aimlessly moving around with nothing to search for at all.

The first thing I want to say is, if you disagree with me and don’t like anything I have to say in here, but want to stay in the relativist world and “not impose your beliefs or truths on anyone else”, then you must be committed to saying that my thoughts and beliefs in here are just as valid as yours and have an equal stake in truth as yours do.  Even if we have 100% opposite and opposing viewpoints on life and the nature of truth, relativism commits you to affirming that both those viewpoints are equally true, even if they contradict each other.  If that bothers you, then maybe you aren’t committed to relativism like you thought.  Maybe you are starting to see the inherent incoherence of such a worldview.  I’ve once heard it said that we should be egalitarian with people but elitist about ideas.  Unfortunately, it seems the logic has been reversed and we are now egalitarian with ideas and elitist with people.  Once you start making truth only a matter of convenience and not that which governs reality, you have lost all modes of being able to navigate reality.  This pragmatic idea that it doesn’t matter what one believes as long as it works is honestly outrageous.  The fact that we think that anything outside of scientific experiment is unable to be verified or shown true or false is eating our society from the inside out.  How is it that we are dogmatic about things that will prolong our lives, but are unconcerned with the truth about why we should live to begin with?  We seem to leave that question up to personal preference and that whatever conclusion you find, you should keep it to yourself and not push it on others because it may not be helpful to make them happy.  With the abolishment of saying people can be false in what they believe about life, we are left with self-determination to guide us through life with no point of reference and no way to let us know if we are moving in the right direction.

I now want to turn my attention to common slogans and thoughts that I hear in defense of this relativist philosophy.  It’s honestly amazing how painfully contradictory these statements are, and yet no one seems to recognize it.  First and foremost, in the act of proposing that relativism or pragmatism is true, you would need to suggest that they are truths regardless if they have any pragmatic or practical benefit and are true beyond one’s own beliefs and opinions on truth.  But, this goes directly against the very core of these philosophies.  If the relativist philosophy would actually be true, it would immediately refute itself because it would suggest that there is a statement or thought that is not just true for each individual person, but is true for all people regardless what they think, therefore not making it a relative truth for people.  Or how can pragmaticism be true if it results in someone denying pragmatism, because that belief for them is pragmatic and useful?  It would result in us saying that if it’s useful to deny the truth, then it would be true to call the truth false.

One of the most common and pervasive thoughts, that just can’t possibly be true in the way it’s presented, is the idea that all religions are equally true.  All religions have an equal claim in the truth.  All religions are paths to God, and the different religions just reflect the different paths to God that one can take depending on personal preference or situation they were birthed into.  I think there is an immensely powerful emotional argument being deployed here in the desire to have everyone find God and salvation, and to not “condemn” any person to Hell just because they didn’t believe the correct doctrines or creeds in such a large pool of options to choose from.  As innocent and sincere and genuine of a heart and mind this belief may come from, it just can’t be true.  Here’s why.  By saying all religions are true and equally legitimate in discovering God, in effect you are actually saying none of them are totally true, unless they believe that statement as well.  You are putting forth a religious claim saying all religions are true, and positing that that is a true claim that corresponds with reality.  Well, almost no religion, besides maybe Hinduism, would agree with that statement and hold to that as being true.  Most religions hold to their own doctrines as those doctrines that hold divine truth and revelation, and so must deny the divine claims of other religions.  So, you would be making a religious claim that most religions would reject as being false and untrue.  But then you want to put forth that exact religious claim as being true, and equally true with other religions that would deny that very claim.  It would be like telling all NFL teams that all schemes are equally good and all teams are equally good.  Yet, no team would accept either of those claims and would be clear to communicate that not all schemes are equally good and that all teams are most certainly not equally good.  The win and loss record would reflect the inconsistency of those statements with reality and the fact that a belief that all schemes are equally good and all teams are equally good just does not correspond with what we see playing out of an NFL football season.  In the same way with religions, there are some that correspond more coherently with reality, at least reality as we know it, better than others and it just can’t be said that those that correspond worse are still somehow equally true with those that correspond better.  I also would just like to point out that almost all religions claim to have all the truth, they claim to have a monopoly on truth and that anything that deviates from their doctrines is false.  Many of them also have a sense of need to convert others into their system.  How can they all be true when they hold contradictory claims about the nature of reality, about the means of salvation, about the nature of God?  How can they all be true when they are calling for their followers to convert others to their beliefs because they hold that any other belief is untrue and false?  Would it really make sense for God to present different paths for reaching Him, but then have those paths be filled with signs telling them that anyone on a different path won’t reach Him and that they need to bring everybody onto their path?

We want to think that religions are similar because they all practically preach the same thing.  That is unfortunately such a large mistake to think that’s true.  They may have similar types of moral teachings, but have striking contrast on the questions of the meaning of life, the nature of reality, the nature of God, and the means of attaining salvation.  There are at best superficial similarities, and yet profound differences.  Where as many want to claim there are superficial differences and profound similarities.  It is blatantly obvious that the nature of truth is always exclusive.  Truth by definition holds to exclusivity.  When saying that something is true, you are by effect saying that the negation and denial of that statement or idea is false.  It can’t be the case that a statement and its negation both be true.  When saying that certain religious beliefs are true, you are saying that beliefs that are not in line with those beliefs are false.  When Christians hold to the belief that Christ is the Son of God, and Muslims are very clear in saying that God has no son, both those statements can’t be true in the same way and same sense.  It’s the case that both mean these statements in the same way and same sense and both religions are contingent upon the truth of it.  One of them has to be right and the other wrong in this case.  If the Muslim is right then Christianity is worthless, if the Christian is right then Islam is a lie.  The Jew will profess that God is a personal God who interacts in the world and takes interest in people, yet the Buddhist will claim that God is an impersonal God who doesn’t make divine interactions with this world.  Even God can’t be personal yet impersonal at the same.  One has to be true and the other false.

I can almost hear the skeptic relativist screaming through the last paragraph saying, “Okay, maybe not all religions can be true, but what gives you the right to say Christianity is true?!  Why are you right in saying Christ is the means of salvation?!  Why should I believe in the Christian’s narrative of life over the Buddhist?!”  This is a legitimate objection and would bring us to a topic of the evidence for Christianity which is not the point of this post.  I do just want to comment on these sorts of objections.  In any sort of objection like this, the person raising the objection must have a valid reason for raising the objection for it to be a legitimate objection.  In this case, there needs to be a valid reason for questioning the authenticity of Christianity, or any other religion, in order to make the objection legitimate.  If you want to ask why we should believe Christianity is true, but don’t have any sort of argument against it, then it’s perfectly legitimate for the Christian to respond with “why not”.  If you can’t articulate reasons for not believing something besides just appealing to some ultra-skeptic position that dilutes all possibility of knowing anything, then a fair response is to just ask why not believe it.  If you don’t want to hold any religious belief because you think it’s impossible to figure out which ones are true, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t one that is true and it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t believe one of them to be true.  If you don’t know if any are true, then you don’t know that Christianity isn’t true, and can’t use mere ignorance as means to object and say that it isn’t true.  Also, if someone wants to ask what gives you the right to say Christianity is true while others false, it would be wise to point out that it’s not you yourself that is claiming the truth of Christianity but it is God who says it’s true and you just trust His voice.  Also, ask the accuser what gives them the right to object, and to object in an accusatory way as to say Christianity isn’t true.  If they don’t trust your ability, or any human’s ability, to decide what is true for all people, then why should you respect their ability to say the same?  By saying Christianity isn’t true, or not true for everybody, they are making a statement of truth for everybody that Christianity just isn’t true or is just true for some but not all.  But if they don’t think you have the ability to say Christianity is true for all, then they shouldn’t think they have the ability to say it’s false for all, or in terms to all people it will only be true to some and not to others.

It’s such a sad sight to see people think they have defeated religion and in turn truth with self-defeating statements that don’t even meet their own criteria.  Statements like “all truth is relative”, “there is no truth”, “everything is meaningless”, “no one can know truth”.  Just upon simple and patient reflection they would see the inherent incoherence.  If all truth is relative then is that statement of truth only relative, or true for all people?  If relative, then how is it meant to be insightful or meaningful for all people?  If there is no truth, then is that statement even true?  If everything is meaningless, then is that statement even meaningful?  If so, how so?  If not, why pay any attention to it, and why do you feel the need to perpetuate that thought?  If “no one can know truth” is meant to be a true statement, then how can you, or anyone know that statement is true?  If it isn’t meant to be taken as truth, then what is it and why say it?  We have reduced our minds to rely on rhetorical retorts that sound wise and insightful, but are really hollow and void of any meaning.  They are intellectually bankrupt beliefs that we hold up as champions of reason and intellect, as we bring them to the bank anytime debates of truth develop.  I want to end on one last thought.  As wonderful and insightful as a pluralistic society can be, is it better that we promote this sort of pluralism for the sake of interacting with different ideas even when some of them must be false, rather than moving towards a society that holds truth on a pedestal and works towards living in a world where people only hold and believe true beliefs?

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