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It's All Relative - Or Is It?

posted Jun 17, 2017, 7:16 AM by Kelly Griffin
A tourist in Palestine saw a skull in a museum labeled the skull of St. Paul. Later, in another town, he saw a second skull similarly labeled. He went to the curator and asked, “Now which is which?” “Both,” said the curator, “this one was his skull when he was a young man.”

We all see the humor in that. But consider, it can only be humorous if there is such a thing as truth – true Truth!

This is not a popular notion in postmodern times. Philosopher Terry Eagleton claims, “There is no absolute truth; rather truth is relative to the community in which we participate.”

Others would claim it is not society but the individual who determines truth. Bertrand Russell claimed, “It is for us to determine the good life, not for Nature – not even Nature personified as God” – an expression of moral relativism which may explain his notorious womanizing and his affair with his own daughter-in- law when he was 79 and she was 53 years younger.

Ernest Hemingway’s creed was, “What is moral is what you feel good after, and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.” One wonders how both parties of a violent rape would view this definition, 

The fallacy of relativism was on clear display at the Nuremberg trials of Hitler’s henchmen following WWII. A dispute arose as to what laws should be used to try the accused. After all, the defendants averred, they had not broken any laws. How could they be accused of murder when their actions had been carried out under a legal system where personhood had been redefined to exclude Jews and other undesirables?

The fact is that relativism fails by its own definition. Relativism insists that there are no absolute truths. But the
assertion itself is a statement of absolute truth! It is patently self-contradictory. 

Furthermore, as demonstrated in the introductory story, no one can live consistently with the assertion that all truth is relative. Philosopher Norman Geisler tells of one student who wrote a well-documented term paper defending his position as a moral relativist. But when the professor returned his effort with a grade marked “F – I don’t like blue folders,” the student was incensed at the injustice of getting a grade based on the color of his folder. Would we not agree – it wasn’t fair? But he could only be right in his protest if he was wrong in his paper!

Nancy Pearcy, a staunch defender of a Christian world view, was surprised, after a presentation at Harvard defending the concept of truth, when a professor came up to defend his relativistic colleagues. He said, “They know their theories don’t explain ordinary life outside the lab. But why throw it in their faces?” Why indeed? Why not let the charade continue, even though we all make daily decisions which make sense only if there is such a thing as absolute truth?

The crux of the problem is that truth is relative -- if there is no objective standard. But everything changes if a moral law, like the Ten Commandments, is not simply a list of do’s and don’t’s based on someone’s opinion, but rather the reflection of the character of a transcendent God. Suddenly defining personhood becomes a much easier task. Defining rape and incest as moral wrongs becomes a matter of objective reality rather than personal preference. And the fact that we all have a “sense of oughtness” becomes understandable rather than an unexplainable mystery.

Jesus told Pilate during His trial, “I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37b). Pilate, 
a postmodernist before his time, answered with skepticism, “What is truth?” Given that exchange, I find it much easier to side with a resurrected Christ than a Roman functionary.

The concept of absolute truth may not be in vogue – but what if it’s true?

Published in The Tribune on June 10, 2017.