Tag Archive: truth


Imposing Values

The “Christian Right” is often accused of wanting to push their moral view on society. While there are some Christians who feel they should force Christian laws on those who don’t want them (I’m not one of them), I’m wondering if it has occurred to anyone that progressives are doing exactly the same thing. They have their own ideas and since the Enlightenment have been promoting them with an evangelistic passion.

“We’re not pushing our values on anyone” they may protest. “People just need to be free to choose”. But their supposedly value-neutral stance is a truth claim no more or less than any other, and the moral relativism it entails carries social consequences as real as those that flow from any other worldview. To insist are no absolutes is (ironically enough) itself an absolute statement, a truth claim that would please the most rigid fundamentalist.

Both sides are convinced they are right, and opponents to Christian belief are often as holier-than-thou as those they accuse; perhaps more so because at least informed Christian belief insists that believers are saved not by how good they are but by God’s naked grace. In fact, Christianity raises this issue to the point of doctrine, an understanding prerequisite to any meaningful conversion. I see no such corrective in liberal thought.

There is no truly neutral ground. No matter how you look at it, someone is trying to impose their values on someone else, and this affects everything from families to the law of the land. To accuse only Christians of this misses the true state of things.

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A thing I’ve noticed about many of the online debates lately is that people who make truth claims are often derided on the basis of their supposed affiliation with a school of thought: “you’re saying that because you’re a liberal, or a conservative or a vegan or lived at this particular point in history” …or whatever.

This approach has been called historicism, which posits that any truth claim must be judged in the context (for instance, the culture or a particular time in history) it was made in. 

Is this wise? The actual truth of the statement is not discussed; its validity is judged on the basis of what group or time the speaker belongs to, and the veracity of a particular claim is accepted or dismissed without rigorous examination.

Another less than beneficial result is that it tends to stereotype people in the discussions and promotes prejudging of motive. If what I say brands me a conservative then there is a tendency to assume all the other supposed evils of that view are are part of me as well. This discourages productive debate, steering the discussion away from issues and tending towards personal attacks. It promotes the sort of fractured discourse we see in modern politics.

This came up in a discussion I was having the other day. We were discussing the origin of moral truth and a pretty forthright statement made in a video I had reposted. The speaker’s statements were impugned on the basis that “he assumed the supremacy of the Judeo-Christian worldview” and were dismissed (if I understood my friend correctly) accordingly. The speaker was derided as narrow, bigoted, and hopelessly behind the times.

Of course the speaker assumed that supremacy. So do I: I could hardly call myself a Christian if I didn’t believe it was actually true. But Historicism assumes all truth claims are equal (by all being merely products of a particular view), a logical impossibility if there is such a thing as actual truth. It fits hand in glove with postmodern thought, and I think it’s quite useless if someone is trying to judge between truth claims.

And we must judge, for even the historicist is making a truth claim. A person with an intellectually rigorous outlook can’t sit on the fence; that many do reflects an uncritical acceptance of a prevailing (and I would suggest dishonest) intellectual climate.

Truth and Mercy

If we are to come after God, it’s important that we know Who or What we seek.

Doctrine is about understanding certain facts about God, ourselves, and our relationship to Him. Until we understand our true situation we can’t appreciate what He has actually done for us, why He’s done it, and what our response should be.

A seeker of truth must be quite ruthless with him or herself, and be constantly aware of their own tendency to project their personal preferences into their belief systems. For to believe a doctrine that is merely agreeable to is to make God in our own image. It’s do-it-yourself religion.

A starting point would be to determine the reliability of the Bible and its authority. Is is really God’s word, or just the creation of a particular culture? What does it tell us about people and God? How does it relate to the world we see?

The Bible tells us a number of uncomfortable truths about ourselves, things not agreeable to human nature.

It tells us of a good God, the source of all sensible statements about the worth of all people and the goodness of creation.

It tells us of how we should treat others. So far, so good.

But then it tells us we break that moral law (as does experience), and are guilty before Him; and that the abuse of our free will has separated us from Him.

It tells us of what He did to make a way back, and how we can freely choose to return on His terms: by changing direction and choosing to trust in Christ’s atoning work and resurrection instead of relying on our own efforts.

This understanding is key. We need to understand we can’t save ourselves, or even change our own hearts. We need to distrust our own motives, and to understand our constant need of His grace.

But we can then look past our brokenness… to HIM. The redeemed soul understands its situation, but also knows that He’s saved us, not because we deserved it, but simply because He is love. And that because of that we are truly safe, and truly saved.

It tells us that the very power of death is broken, and that we have an eternal hope.

We need to hold these as truths in our hearts before we can come to God for mercy and supply. To do otherwise is to not know what to ask for and to tell Him there are parts of our lives He is not allowed in to.

The gospel is radical. God wants our whole heart, and will use life’s trials to keep us coming to Him for help. The changing our hearts in practical fact is God’s work, and He will make us into true sons and daughters if we will let Him.

Organized Religion

Many people these days harbour a deep suspicion or even a dislike of what they call “organized religion”. They consider themselves spiritual, but want to craft a belief system more agreeable to their own felt wants.

But is this wise, or even honest? Those who would go their own way expose themselves to great danger, for all humans are fallible and prone to error. They separate themselves from the believing community and the correctives it contains, from the wisdom of the crowd.

Ironically, they will often cite the judgementalism or hypocrisy of organized religion as the big turn-off, not realizing that in so doing they are themselves judging. They display little grace in their own attitude towards the church.

The community of believers is certainly flawed, because it contains redeemed sinners who are all works in process. What did we expect? We must never forget it is a hospital for souls that are being healed. And I suspect that most of the New Testament would not have been written if the Church were perfect, since most of the letters in it are addressing problems or clarifying points of belief.

The solution is to go deep, and to trust in Christ Himself, not our own dreams about what we think God should be like. If God is real, we are hardly in a position to make Him in our image. He can’t be a matter of interpretation or opinion. The truth about Him, like all truth, is discovered, not made up; in our search for Him we must always beware of inserting our own ideas and preferences onto our conception. We need to be honest with ourselves.

We need the Bible. We need the structure and community the Church offers, but even then we must put our trust primarily not in it (being composed of imperfect people), but in Christ Himself. Read the Bible deeply, let it shape your life, and benefit from the fellowship and counsel of those who are also doing their imperfect best to follow Jesus.

We need our fellow Christians, and as we understand the Bible and God’s wonderful grace we can help build up our fellow believers without being shaken by their inconsistencies – or our own. For we need grace and forgiveness as much as they do.

There’s a Greek legend about a fellow names Procrustes, a rogue blacksmith from Attica. He had an iron bed, and he would force people to lie on it. If they were too short, he would stretch them until they fit; if too tall he would cut off their legs.

I wonder if we don’t sometimes do this with our own beliefs. People talk about finding a religion they like as if truth was something they could find at a supermarket; or if they already have a religion, of altering it until they are comfortable with it.

The problem is the nature of truth doesn’t allow this. If truth is really… well, true, it can’t be a matter of our own preferences. It has to be beyond opinion. It can be discovered, but not created.

We are told to be tolerant of other belief systems…
but what do you mean by tolerant? Accept all as equally true? That’s logically impossible, and quite useless if we want to discover anything real. By nature truth is exclusive; if one thing is true, its opposite must be false, just as it is possible to get a wrong answer in math.

But if tolerance means to allow others to believe differently and to put up with them in love – even when you are convinced they are wrong – that’s different; this kind of tolerance is the basis of a free and civil society.

But all belief systems – not just Christianity – must be open to examination and questioning; to prohibit this in the name of political correctness is to stifle free thought, to become less civilized and more totalitarian. And to try to convince by rational argument is not the same thing as to indoctrinate.

Christianity asserts reasoned freedom of choice, regardless of what its detractors may say; and even a casual reading of scripture makes this plain. It insists that those who come to Christ do so after considering the evidence for and consequences of discipleship. We are to “count the cost”.

This is why I don’t understand people who can look at what the Bible plainly says and then quibble about its interpretation. Are people honestly trying to figure out what the Bible is really saying, or is it a disingenuous attempt to twist it to fit how we have already decided to live? We want to be “spiritual” – but we want it on our terms. Whatever else you want to call it, it’s not discipleship.

And so we become Procrustes – but instead of lopping off an arm or a leg, we chop up the Bible to fit our own standard.

Unchangable

…while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (II Corinthians 4:18 NKJV)

A thought:
The physical world really is temporary. Change defines it: we age, we die, relationships come and go, civilizations rise and fall.

What doesn’t change?

Goodness, love, value, truth, meaning. None of these are visible; yet even if the world didn’t exist, love would still be true. “The things which are not seen are eternal”.  They are not visible, yet remain undeniably real; and this is God’s country. The physical world is only a consequence of His love and creativity, but the Source is – has to be, in fact – outside of it.

A Difficult God

If God is real, we should expect to find some things about Christianity we don’t like. Conversely, if we are just after a god who makes us comfortable, who doesn’t challenge us, we might ask ourselves if we’ve just made him up.

I know people who reject parts of what the Bible plainly says simply because they don’t like it. But if we go there, then everything’s up for grabs and the idea of any meaningful statement about grace, faith, and God is out the window.

It’s very fashionable these days to say you’re a seeker. We’re all pilgrims, seekers of that one thing that resonates with our inner beings. After all, we’re told, all paths lead to God. It sounds very fine, very tolerant and generous. But is it?

Some people say that they’ve found it. The room gets awkwardly quiet – and it gets downright chilly when the speaker suggests that this truth is not a personal opinion, but  a flat-out fact, and one that we’d all better listen to. How dare they? We start to get hot under the caller.

But I think that’s a mistake.

We usually consider two kinds of truth; personal and universal. Personal is like my preference for salty snacks instead of sweet, or my dislike of Kraft Dinner.

But there’s another kind of  truth – like mathematics, or the kind that says selfishness or hatred is wrong, or that if I jump from the fifth floor of an apartment, I’m likely to get hurt. What I think doesn’t change the facts.

One of the funny things that strikes me is how we tend to consider belief in God as something more along the lines of the first category; a personal thing best kept to one’s self.

I’d agree that if there is no objective truth, then this makes good sense –  if God is something we made up, then we can allow for different opinions. And that’s what lies as the foundation of much modern thought: all truth claims equal because God is what He is according to our cultural background. If you think about it, it assumes we made God up!

But if there is a real God who exists on His own, regardless of what we may think of the matter, and who has real likes and dislikes  – this changes everything. If that’s the case, wouldn’t the sensible thing to do be to examine those truth claims, to look at the data points, and then make our decision?

Most of us don’t want to go there. We want something that fits, something that tastes good. We want, in fact, to make God fit us instead of the other way around, and we don’t like those narrow minded bigots who have the gall to suggest otherwise.

But aren’t we being just as narrow? We’re insisting that there is one truth claim is absolute: that it’s all relative; that there is no absolute truth. It’s self-contradicting.

You can’t sit on the fence. The only honest thing to do is to look at the credentials of each truth claim and, having weighed the evidence, make a decision from there. If there really is a God, then the main business of life is to find out what He’s like and learn the state of our relationship to Him.

When we seek, are we looking for what is true and right, or are we looking for something that we just happen to like? Truth, or convenience?

Belief and Everyday Living

I remember seeing an amusing skit on Monty Python’s Flying Circus about a football match of some sort between philosophers. They would wander around, chin in hand, until one was ready with a platitude or postulate of some sort – then (and only then) could they play the ball. Of course it was voiced over by a commentator: “It looks like… yes… Archimedes has had an idea!” and the ball goes into play.

The musings of academics and philosophers may seem anal, but these lines of thought have a way of finding their way to the ordinary person. The other day I made a statement concerning someone famous for his polemic against faith in God.  When someone countered that this was “just my opinion”, I was taken aback. I might be wrong, but there is no relative truth here. Either he or I are wrong: either it’s “just my opinion”  or I’m right.

Is not the business of life to search after truth, and order our lives accordingly? Is it “just my opinion” that a bridge around the corner is washed out? Of course not. Either it is, or is not. And in our hearts I think we believe that concrete issues can be either true or false; but that matters of morality and spiritual truth are somewhat softer; that mere opinion informs us, and no particular person is right. But can this really be so?

Ideas matter. If we believe morality is relative, for instance, we may have less scruples about cheating, or even about speaking out against injustice: who are we to judge the perpetrator, or even ourselves? But if we believe in real morality based on truths considered self-existent and self evident, then we have a basis to judge situations and to act.

We can’t tell someone they need Christ if morality is a relative issue. We can’t even (in all honesty) disapprove of some heinous act we witness if everything’s relative. Who, after all, are we to judge?

But the falseness of this position is obvious.  Do any of us think we should not condemn the act of rape, of child abuse or genocide? Of even bullying, and ordinary selfishness? If we are to be thoroughgoing relativists, we’d better keep our mouths shut. Nearly everyone is better than that, and we’re horrified at such acts, but nobody stops to consider the apparent contradiction.

Regrettably, this sort of  moral relativism is rampant in society today, and has had dire consequences for society and for eternity. Such accommodation seems open, more pluralistic, more democratic; but if we are looking for truth, it’s less than useless.

Without some sort of overarching moral consensus, we become essentially competitive. We may say thing are all relative, a matter of opinion, but that’s easy to say in a society where there’s plenty to eat and the rule of law is enforced. When food is scarce, and it’s someone’s “opinion” that they want the food I have, if they are the stronger they will simply take it. I can’t complain about the wrongness of the act, because they are just acting according to their own particular reality. There is no moral restraint on the other party to leave me alone, or even to share what they have taken.


Nature and Time

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins suggests that designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger question of who designed the Designer. Evidently materialists like Dawkins seem to think that they have theists over a barrel: “Oh yeah? Well, who created God, then?”

But the answer is: nobody. A First Cause has to be uncreated; it couldn’t be caused to exist by anything else by definition. Further, this First Cause would have to stand outside time, because time is necessary for cause and effect to function. Something causes something else; one follows the other in time. It is therefore evident that for a First Cause to be what it is – underived, not the result of something else – it has to stand outside time.

These logical facts have been attributed to God for thousands of years. I don’t understand why materialists would think they were scoring some sort of “gotcha” here. It just shows that their concept of God doesn’t match up with what Christians have always believed about God.

Cosmologists tell us that before the Big Bang time as we know it didn’t exist; that the laws of physics end when we extrapolate backwards to the singularity that became the birth of the Universe. If everything finite has a cause, what caused the thing that started time? While I don’t want to lean too heavily on this, it occurs to me that an underived God fits the job description quite nicely. An underived being by definition is Something that has to be eternal.

When the the first Russian cosmonaut went to space, the atheists gleefully reported that they didn’t see God up there, as if this proved something. I think Christians would have been worried if they had: God would have had to be pretty small to be viewed in such a narrow locality. The present objections of militant atheists such as Dawkins seem of the same sort: their bias reveals such a narrow idea of God it’s almost laughable. I’d find their idea of God hard to believe in too.